A good investment

Huttie, renewable energy, biomass, space heating, heat pump, solar
The best way forward — Jim Harvey.

Investment In renewable heating is common sense, as demonstrated by a range of projects. Jim Harvey, of Huttie, looks at the scope of renewable energy.

Renewable heating of commercial buildings has a long history. Roman architect Vitruvius described hypocaust design in 15 BC, outlining wood burning for underfloor heating in ‘caldariums’ and bronze ventilators for heat adjustment. At this time no alternatives were available though, of course. Henry Ford used renewable heat in his Rouge, Michigan factory from the outset in 1928.

Now we have abundant choices for effective heating of commercial buildings and a combination of thermal efficiency, financial support, business advantage, legislation and the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) is driving the growth of renewable heating. Renewables work brilliantly, and increasingly bodies like the NHS and central Government demand them. In addition planning laws and policy mean that renewables are increasingly being used to meet ever-more-stringent Building Regulations.

Today, we can utilise the very best modern methods to heat commercial buildings renewably, which is being driven by efficiency, cost savings and changes in behaviour. Positive growth in commercial renewable energy is being seen. While not a linear growth line, the trend in commercial renewable energy is upwards, and reputational advantage is driving much of this investment, not to mention reducing energy costs, making better use of finance and ultimately improving the bottom line.

Large shops like Marks & Spencer and Sainbury’s are increasing their use of renewable heat and supporting suppliers to do the same. A large tulip and lily grower in Norfolk, Collison & Sons, has turned to a £400 000 wood-chip biomass boiler to heat its greenhouses. This has not only enabled Collison & Sons to extend its growing season, but has also helped lower the company’s carbon emissions, which they have described as ‘ best practice and common sense.’

Working with Geothermal International, Sainsbury’s has rolled out geothermal energy use in many of its stores, and ‘aims to deliver up to 100 MW of renewable energy sources in supermarkets by the end of 2016. It’s also part of Sainsbury’s 20 x 20 sustainability plan renewables commitment, which includes reducing its absolute operational carbon emissions by 30% by 2020 and delivering a fully renewable heat strategy for its supermarkets by 2030.*

Schools, offices, hospitals, industrial buildings and poultry farmers are just some of the key clients benefitting from renewable heating. Uptake in renewable sources such as biomass is clearly being incentivised by RHI income, but also offers energy security, durability and reliability. Some biomass suppliers are pioneering plug-and-play biomass boilers in bespoke containers to supply additional energy. And in many cases finance is available from some suppliers who offer ‘free’ installation, but base their finance repayments on RHI.

Huttie, renewable energy, biomass, space heating, heat pump, solar
Uptake in renewable sources such as biomass is clearly being incentivised by RHI income

Renewable heat for poultry is ideal; the birds grow quicker in the dry heat, they are healthier, and the litter is drier. Using large heat exchangers and strategically placed convection fans also supports a quicker breeding and growth pattern for the birds and increases income for the farmers.

Of course human beings require heat levels to be good and controllable — especially people who are in hospitals or day-care centres. Staying warm is vital for recovery and health. Somerset Primary Care Trust contracted an installation company to install a biomass system to meet NHS mandated 30% CO2 reductions by the end of this year (2015). The 24-bed hospital required the biomass system to met half its heating needs. Two 99 kW biomass boilers were installed, along with fuel stores with automatic sensors for fuel uptake, a 3000 l thermal store and touchscreen control. The project also benefits from RHI income of around £33 000 per annum for 20 years, index linked to inflation.

The Energy Act 2011 mandated that from April 2018 it will no longer be lawful to let a commercial property with an Energy Performance Certificate of F or G. This will also apply to residential buildings, especially multiple occupancy properties, such as apartment buildings. Property owners and investment bodies are both progressing with improvements to their stock, using renewable heat to meet these targets, some in a property-by-property method and other companies with a strategic focus on their entire portfolios.

A manufacturer of air-source heat pumps (ASHPs) has installed ASHPs in a zoo building in Dorset to give the 200 000 visitors a year a comfortable experience when they visit. This system is linked a 60 kW ASHP with a 1000 l cylinder; heat is emitted through separate underfloor heating zones. This gave the zoo the required heat for visitors and animals at a 60% reduction in cost compared to fossil fuels. This also provided 15% lower than anticipated running costs.

A renewable-energy installer installed biomass into a school in Oxfordshire. It utilised a 12 kW biomass boiler and 6000 l of thermal storage, providing heat and hot water for students to concentrate in comfort and hygienic washing facilities.

Renewable heating for commercial buildings is increasingly being seen as a first choice. While oil may be historically cheap at the time of writing, this arguably reflects oil producers aim of undercutting and rendering fracking financially unviable. This will change, and it is a fair bet that oil prices will rise again. Commercial renewable-heating solutions are the best way forward, and the variety of commercial incentives, requirements and direction of travel suggest a strong future for growth of renewable heat in commercial buildings.

Jim Harvey is director of renewable energy with Huttie Ltd. His experience includes head of renewable energy with a major UK installer of renewable energy and head of market intelligence at the Department of Energy & Climate Change.

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