The horticultural sector is increasingly looking towards low carbon energy to provide a competitive advantage as consumer demand for sustainable produce grows.

Minimising reliance on volatile energy markets and rocketing prices, as well as the environmental benefits of renewable energy sources, have fuelled rapid growth in the sustainable energy market.

AMP Clean Energy is working with several horticultural businesses who are reaping the rewards of on-site low carbon energy assets.

Depending on the space available and budget, anaerobic digestion, Combined Heat and Power, biomass, solar PV and LED lighting are some of the fully-funded renewable solutions available. Biomass has proved one of the most popular renewable energy sources in recent years with business and government incentives helping drive interest amongst growers.

Kent-based Jolly Tom supplies peppers and tomatoes to Tesco. AMP Clean Energy fully funded, develops and now operates a biomass CHP facility, to increase business productivity in the face of competition from the 70% of tomatoes imported into the UK annually.

Jolly Tom’s biomass energy system supplies the heat and contributes to the electricity needed to support the 15-acre nursery which cultivates two million kilos of tomatoes each year under glass. Under an energy supply agreement, these low carbon measures have reduced their gas spend by £200,000 and cut CO2 by more than 1,800 tonnes per year.

“One of our largest costs is energy and in order to be competitive with other countries like Spain, which has free heat, we need sustainable energy.”

Michael Gibilaro, owner Jolly Tom

Strawberry grower Global Berry grows 400 tonnes of strawberries, supplying leading UK supermarkets including Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Asda. Since replacing their oil powered boiler they are saving 1,000 tonnes of carbon emissions each year. 

Under a boiler buyback offer they received a cash incentive and AMP Clean Energy now manages the 1MW biomass boiler, including fuel supply, operation and maintenance.  

“Sustainability is at the top of our agenda and biomass provides the perfect renewable heat source for our business. The buyback scheme has enabled us to focus on growing, whilst we leave AMP Clean Energy to look after the biomass installation and supply us with heat.”

John Downes, managing director at Global Berry

Emissions from protected horticulture production are considerable. A University of Warwick report found that lettuce and strawberry had the highest carbon footprint of all the commodities chosen; almost three times greater than those from field-grown vegetables. 

“The protected cropping sector can make savings through retrofitting, but businesses should also carry out carbon footprint reporting in response to retailer and consumer demand. The type of renewable energy production that meets their requirements will be determined by whether it grows protected edible, ornamental or soft fruit crops. With the rise in energy prices, increased haulage and labour costs, it has become a no brainer to minimise energy costs wherever possible. It’s about making the most out of your glasshouse resource. Businesses are facing a number of pressures so worrying about their carbon footprint is a difficult but necessary process if they want to have a market advantage.”

Dr Debbie Wilson, Head of Horticulture Knowledge Exchange, the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB)

The UK Government-backed RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive) has now ended for new entrants to the scheme but there are still opportunities to take advantage of existing RHI accreditations which are available from specialist operators such as AMP Clean Energy under Energy Supply Agreements.

“Reducing exposure to volatile energy markets and prices, whilst increasing productivity, makes an on-site low carbon energy facility an attractive prospect for the horticultural sector. Those who take action now will gain competitive advantage and future-proof their business as we make the transition to Net Zero.”

Stuart Ried, Head of Customer Solutions at AMP Clean Energy. Stuart has been supporting the