The renewables market – the latest state of play in the UK

Adrian Wright – CEO of renewable energy specialist Happy Energy looks at the key solutions supplied through renewables, the opportunities they present and the practicalities and benefits of building renewables into the fabric of any development:

With the UK legally committed to meeting 15 per cent of its energy usage by 2020 from renewables as part of the wider EU commitment of sourcing 20 per cent of all energy from renewable measures and the government’s Code for Sustainable Homes which in 2006 set a target for all new homes to be Zero Carbon by 2016, the renewables sector has an increasingly important role to play within the UK’s built environment.

Globally, the built environment accounts for 40-50 per cent of natural resources use, 20 per cent of water use, 30-40 per cent of energy use and around a third of CO2 emissions.

As an island, our over reliance as a nation on fossil fuels over the past 300 years has meant that – compared to many of our Northern European neighbours – we closed ourselves off to the possibilities that energy efficiency and renewable energy offered us and as a result have lagged behind our neighbours.

Despite a shaky start with the government looking to artificially pump prime the renewables market with its over generous Feed in Tariffs (FiT) for Solar PV, which created the Solar Gold rush, flooding the market with thousands of companies which sprung up seemingly over-night looking to jump on the financial benefits the FiT levels offered, renewable technologies are developing and solutions for the domestic market are increasing.

And while the targets still exist, there seems to be a broader and longer term look at the benefits that renewables offer us here in the UK.

To increase uptake, renewable incentives have been created for wider measures such as biomass boilers and ground source heat pumps for community heating projects to actively encourage developers and housebuilders – largely through community heating projects on new developments – to build renewables firmly into their plans and projects.

But with this growth in the market has also come some confusion as different government-led initiatives – the Green Deal, Energy Company Obligation (ECO), Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) to name but a few – have been publicised, some to greater degrees than others, leaving those wanting to look more closely at renewables sometimes scratching their head over what initiative offers and covers what.

So when it comes to renewables what should you be looking at and what are the environmental and financial incentives of doing so? The key measures for housebuilders and developers to really consider currently include:

Biomass boilers

Particularly beneficial for those areas not serviced by mains gas, which have traditionally had to rely on LPG or oil, a biomass boiler system should be looked at when planning new developments. Burning either wood chips or wood pellets, biomass boilers are extremely efficient with low or zero carbon emissions if the CO2 absorbed by the tree is taken into account.

When correctly designed, biomass boilers can run for several months before the fuel store needs replenishing or the ash cleaning out.

Supported through the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), biomass is an excellent solution for community or larger scale heating systems – which can be classified when as few as two homes are heated right through to large scale developments which would come under the non-domestic biomass category.

Given the level of energy used by larger scale community heating systems which will be housed in their own containerised unit on the development, the RHI tariffs surrounding non-domestic biomass provide excellent returns and are paid over 20 years. Cutting fuel bills – particularly for off mains gas developments – it makes developments much more energy efficient and cheaper to run for the property owners.

For those wanting to pay for and install a non-domestic biomass boiler system, an initial investment of £150,000 can offer a 20-year return of upwards of £500,000 for a 200Kw boiler.

With a community heating system run by biomass, individual properties can be fitted with digital heat metres and pre-payment heat metres, which can be connected up to social pay points.

Tapping into the benefits of biomass without facing the capital expenditure

For those not wanting to purchase the biomass boiler system outright but who are keen to benefit from having one installed, some companies are now starting to offer free biomass boiler systems where everything including maintenance is provided free of charge over the 20 year lifetime, all that is required is the purchase of the wood pellets, with the company that supplied the free biomass boiler receiving the RHI tariff.

Ground source heat pumps

Suitable for single properties or multiple developments, ground source heat pump systems harness natural heat from the ground by pumping water through it. The heat pump then increases the temperature, and the heat is used to provide home heating or hot water.

The pump needs electricity to run, but the idea is that it uses less electrical energy than the heat it produces.

The heat pump performs the same role as a boiler does in a central heating system, but it uses ambient heat from the ground rather than burning fuel to generate heat.

Community ground source heat pumps are particularly suited to new build developments, given the trenches that need to be dug into the ground to house the subterranean piping which needs to be laid to service each property. Ground source heat pumps are also eligible for the RHI funding.

Renewable energy is playing an increasingly important role in the UK’s built environment – select the right range and you will not only enjoy the environmental benefits but tap into the financial incentives that the market can offer.

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