The dairy farmer as renewable energy supplier

René van der Linden & Ruth IJspeert

Energy by solar energy, wind energy, and mono-manure digestion

Reading time:
3 minutes

Case FrieslandCampina aims to be a frontrunner in sustainability and its objective is to be carbon neutral by 2050. An ambitious programme has been developed for this purpose as part of Our Purpose, Our Plan: “Lead with Sustainability” strategy. The programme covers the nutrition, farm, production facilities and packaging domains. In realising this objective, renewable energy throughout the entire chain plays an important role. René van der Linden and Ruth IJspeert, both Project Manager “Renewable Energy”, tell us more about this.

Collectively adding value to our product and selling it on the market through cooperative entrepreneurship

René: “Our ambition is that by 2025 all electricity used by FrieslandCampina globally will be generated sustainably within our own chain. To achieve this, we are working together with our member dairy farmers to generate electricity on their dairy farms. This takes the form of solar energy, wind energy, and mono-manure digestion whereby energy is extracted from biogas. If on average every dairy farmer were to generate twice his/her own energy needs, we could realise this ambition.”

Healthy and sustainable business operations throughout the entire chain

Many member dairy farmers, on their own, are already involved in generating renewable energy. René: “We aim to further accelerate this by working together in the triumvirate dairy farmer, FrieslandCampina and an external partner. The dairy farmer is at the centre, and at the same time fruitful cooperation and gain for every party is created. This enables the dairy farmer to make his/her farm sustainable and earn money with this at the same time. And the cooperation enables our partners to develop their business and proposition. For FrieslandCampina, the gain primarily lies in achieving our energy goals and in cooperative entrepreneurship, so that the entire chain benefits from healthy and sustainable business operations.”

Renewable energy production

Solar, wind and biogas

Solar and wind energy from the dairy sector

Ruth: “In the Netherlands there are now approximately 2,500 member dairy farms with solar panels. A number of these members decided to install them at their own initiative. To increase the number of member dairy farms with solar roofs, we initiated the Solar project in 2016 in cooperation with GroenLeven [GreenLiving]. This project enables member dairy farmers to install solar panels on the basis of a roof rental construct through our partner GroenLeven. In 2019, in cooperation with our partner E.A.Z. Wind, it also became possible to install a small windmill on dairy farms. This way, FrieslandCampina provides a full-service solution to member dairy farmers and offers additional benefits – such as a discount for its members – in support of installing installations for generating renewable energy. Currently there are approximately 120 member dairy farmers with small windmills and there are at least another 450 who are interested.”

“Is it also possible to install a combination of small windmill and solar panels?” Ruth: Certainly, in fact this is a perfect spread that makes it possible to effectively generate energy throughout the entire year. There is more sun in summer and more wind in winter.”

Energy from manure

In addition to solar and wind energy, it is also possible to extract energy through mono-manure digestion. René: “This is an installation whereby biogas is extracted from manure. The biogas is converted into green gas or into electricity and heat. Mono-manure digestion has several benefits – on the one hand, it reduces the emission of the methane greenhouse gas and nitrogen, and on the other, it can be used to generate renewable energy. Currently, there are eight such installations in use by our member dairy farmers and another ten are under construction. Thanks to the cooperative initiative Jumpstart and the efforts of partners*, this technology has developed quickly. It offers many prospects for continued growth over the coming years.”

Enough electricity for 140,000 households

The dairy farmer can use the energy generated for his/her own farm, or if the energy generated exceeds the farmer’s own needs, he/she can become an electricity supplier for other users. In this case, the electricity is fed back into the grid. “The total of these three flows (solar, wind, biogas) generated approximately 420 gigawatt-hours of renewable energy in 2019,René continues. This is enough to power 140,000 households and represents approximately 40 percent of the objective of being electricity neutral in our chain by 2025. This is also an important step towards our aim of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. When you consider that already today, approximately half of all renewable energy generated in the Netherlands involves farmers, this is something to be truly proud of.”

Additional opportunities abroad and in the chain

“Over the coming three years, FrieslandCampina will also be looking at renewable energy production opportunities for member dairy farmers in Belgium and Germany,” says Ruth. “And of course, we will also be looking further within the chain for opportunities to make it even more sustainable and energy neutral. For example, by placing solar panels on the roofs of our plants.”
* Biolectric, Host, BiogasPlus/Engie, Fabiton & Askove



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