AgTech specialist Light Science Technologies is part of a consortium of four British companies that have earmarked a series of sites between Dumbarton and Dundee for the locations of Scotland’s next generation of hectare+ scale vertical farms, powered by 100% Scottish renewables. These farms would provide locally produced fresh foods (salads and fruits) to over 60% of the Scottish population.
The vertical farms will help meet the Scottish Government’s ambitions to produce more homegrown fruit and vegetables. Each vertical farm would be powered by locally produced renewable energy.
Next generation vertical farms use advanced soil-free growing techniques and stack crops in specially designed beds and trays. They minimise water, fertiliser and pesticide use which is highly beneficial to the environment and make use of artificial lighting and climate control to get the desired results.
The four companies have signed a collaboration agreement to explore the potential to identify and then construct joint projects which combine vertical farming, renewable energy generation and High-Density Hydro® energy storage. V-FAST stands for Vertical Farms and Storage Technologies.
Each new V-FAST vertical farm would provide high quality food at a lower cost than can be achieved by a typical indoor farm drawing energy from the local grid.
The V-FAST consortium has identified the line of low hills from Dumbarton to Dundee (Campsies, Ochils and Sidlaws) as ideal for their projects. One hectare scale vertical farm can provide premium fresh produce for a year for a town of 10,000 homes and one RheEnergise project can provide the energy storage needs for a town of the same size.
Each site would host wind, solar, energy storage and vertical farming all in one place, often utilising exactly the same footprint to maximise the efficiency of land use. Furthermore, the V-FAST projects can utilise lower quality land which is not ideal for traditional farming.
The principal challenge vertical farms face, to fulfil their ambition of supplying high quality foods to local markets, is the cost of energy, a problem made far worse in recent months. 24/7 renewable energy is the solution to the problem but as the wind does not always blow and the sun does not always shine, Long-duration energy storage (LDES) provides the answer.
LDES offers reliable and low-cost energy that is needed by vertical farming companies. Renewable energy generation is already low cost, but intermittent. To solve this problem vertical farms need a long duration energy storage solution of 8-12 hours to ensure near constant low cost carbon free energy. 8-12 hours, however, is longer than batteries can economically provide.
RheEnergise’s High Density Hydro® storage system would be built to provide the necessary grid stability and reliability, utilising the abundant existing local renewable generation (which is often curtailed) across many parts of Scotland, whilst the predictable base energy demand of a vertical farm (with its controlled environment agriculture) would be provided by one or several members of UKUAT’s membership network.
Simon Deacon, CEO and Founder of Light Science Technologies commented: “As land becomes scarcer and electricity and gas prices are soaring, we urgently need to find alternative farming methods to ensure food security in a more sustainable, energy-efficient way.
“The collaboration with RheEnergise, UKUAT, Light Science Technologies and Vertegrow presents a unique opportunity to revolutionise the food system in Scotland and to enable the year-round supply of fresh, flavoursome produce with less food miles and a reduced carbon footprint, thereby reducing the UK’s reliance on overseas exports.”
Stephen Crosher, CEO of RheEnergise said: “Food production and energy are inextricably linked, with both industries striving to rapidly decarbonise and meet environmental goals. The consortium offers a home-grown solution, utilising the very latest innovations to maximise food production at the lowest cost. The advantage of storage collocated with a vertical farm are multiple: we use the same footprint, where the farm takes the upper levels and we utilise the basement; we use the same grid connection, often a significant cost for farming and storage; the energy storage solution can provide additional local energy services to local consumers, enabling them to benefit from lower energy costs too.”
Graeme Warren, CEO of Vertegrow said: “Energy and labour are the two biggest operational costs for any vertical farm. V-FAST can reduce the cost of energy and so would go a long way towards enabling vertical farms to offer affordable and competitively priced produce. Vertegrow considers sustainable and carbon neutral growing to be of key importance when replacing imported crops, and V-FAST will play a large part in these ambitions.”
Energy use and efficiency is recognised and much discussed across the entire industry, as a critical challenge that must be addressed. This project will make a major contribution to doing just that.
Stephen Crosher added: “Renewables plus High-Density Hydro can not only provide stable low-cost power to the vertical farms, but also extend these very same benefits to consumers, industry and businesses across the entire Scottish central belt.”
“Our consortium approach means that supply-chains are shortened, resilience is increased, substantial environmental benefits are realised, jobs are created, and wealth is retained locally. And each project means a reliable, local supply of fresh food and carbon-free energy which serves local communities and will support the Scottish Government’s ambitions to integrate controlled environment agriculture with renewable energy.”
Subject to detailed site investigations, planning and financing, the first V-FAST project (estimated combined cost £28m) could be completed by 2025 including 10,000m3 of vertical farming floor area and 80MWh of energy storage, producing 20 to 30 times the food production as could be grown on an open field of the same size.
Notes on companies involved
RheEnergise has developed a revolutionary, low-cost and environmentally-benign pumped-hydro like energy storage solution which can be deployed rapidly in small hills, rather than conventional pumped hydro schemes that are located mainly in the remote Scottish Highlands. www.rheenergise.com
Vertegrow is Scotland’s first commercial scale vertical farming business, operating 300m² of growing area on their farm in Aberdeenshire. Starting life as a diversification from an arable farm into sustainable growing, Vertegrow is on a mission to provide quality, nutritious food locally. By growing indoors, their crops are as fresh in January as they are in July: all whilst minimising inputs, eliminating pesticides and using harvested rainwater. www.vertegrow.com
UK Urban AgriTech, or UKUAT, is an industry association which brings together the UK’s key players in modern agricultural technologies, and is devoted to promoting urban agritech as a solution for food and environmental crises. With more than 50 organisational members, ranging from start-ups to multinationals to universities, it is the leading voice for the sector in the UK. www.ukuat.org
The Scottish Government has identified that there are many benefits to locally produced food, including shorter supply chains saving on delivery miles; sustainable produce with higher standards benefitting the natural environment – production that emphasises relationships of trust, information, fairness and support between local food producers and the people buying their food.
The Scottish Government has identified that there are many benefits of “Vertical Farming”: A new environmentally controlled indoor farming technique where crops are produced in vertical structures such as small towers, in reused buildings or purpose-built facilities, to increase food production per square metre. Vertical Farming offering opportunities for Scotland to increase its local food production closer to the consumers in cities or remoter communities.
The SNP manifesto for the 2021 election made a commitment to support the development of vertical, low carbon farms, fuelled by renewable energy, to produce more homegrown fruit and vegetables.
Because of their small land use and controlled climates, vertical farms can be situated in areas where the climate is not as favourable to the crop being grown and they can also support production out of season. Communities and even countries benefit from security of supply and fresher produce. Food production can be close to urban centres and use brownfield sites.
Vertical farming offers substantial efficiencies in water (up to 250 times less), fertiliser and pesticide usage. However, vertical farming is energy-intensive compared to outdoor production. There is the risk that the food miles saved are less than the increased energy consumption and associated CO2e emissions.