The company behind two major UK wastewater-heated greenhouse projects has unveiled a radical vision for glasshouse construction that could turbo-charge British horticulture.
Low Carbon Farming, which is developing two projects in East Anglia with Greencoat Capital, has identifed potential sites for a further 41 giant, low-carbon greenhouses.
The company believes that the coronavirus pandemic has underlined the need to boost domestic fruit and vegetable production, adding that the UK's net-zero target and the impending release of the government's clean heat strategy boosts the case for more environment-friendly production sites.
It calculates that if the 41 sites were constructed, they could create over 8,000 new jobs, inject £2.67 billion into regional economies and increase the UK’s clean heat output by almost 3 TWh per annum.
Low Carbon Farming said the move would help the UK to become self-sufficient in tomatoes and cucumbers, while removing the food miles associated with importing such produce. In practice, growing capacity is likely to be allocated to a wider range of produce, including peppers and flowers.
Using heat pumps to capture waste heat from nearby water recycling centres, the projects displace traditional gas-fired greenhouse heating methods, and will increase significantly the production of low-carbon, British produce, the company explained.
Andy Allen, a director at Low Carbon Farming, said: “Our East Anglian projects provide British farming with a bankable template for the nationwide rollout of transformative, renewable heat solutions. Having secured the financing and proven the business model, and with the case for secure and sustainable British produce having been thrown into such sharp focus, it’s time to plan for the next stage.
“Policy decisions made the innovation behind our first projects possible – specifically, the entirely logical extension of the Tariff Guarantee until the end of the Renewable Heat Incentive in 2021. We now look to government for a clear and far-sighted decision to extend revenue support for renewable heating in British farming far beyond 2021.”
Through its tenancy agreements with third-party growers, Low Carbon Farming’s East Anglian projects will supply low-carbon, British tomatoes to retailers including Subway and Sainsbury's.
Anglian Water is working with Low Carbon Farming on the first projects to supply the waste heat and help solve the environmental challenges associated with heating local water courses.
David Riley, head of carbon neutrality at Anglian Water, said: “These projects are helping us fulfil our environmental obligations and represent the kind of innovative approach to sustainability we are embracing right across our business in our own challenge to become zero carbon by 2030. Finding alternative sustainable uses for land close to water recycling centres which also make use of excess energy makes sense for UK businesses.”
A fund managed by Greencoat Capital, the UK’s largest investor in renewable energy, acquired the two East Anglian projects in September 2019. James Samworth, partner at Greencoat Capital, said: “Renewable heat is a new frontier for UK climate action and every sector will need to play its part. Our projects have demonstrated that it’s now perfectly possible to strip the carbon out of British growing and, with the appropriate policy environment in place, we look forward to considering the role we can play in financing a wider rollout of this solution.”