Renewable Energy

The issues of sustainability and carbon reduction are key themes of our times.  Our duty to reduce carbon emissions, coupled with a challenging economic climate make it difficult for companies to agree to implement new technologies, which in the short term may cost more. Renewable energy and Government grant schemes are a complex area but there are sustainable solutions to most problems and these need to be explored.renewable-energy

Major UK contractors belong to a trade association called UKCG (UK Contractors Group) which is affiliated to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).  A central topic is the low carbon agenda.  A study group set up by the government called The Low Carbon Construction and Innovation Growth Team has published a report entitled ‘Emerging Findings’.  They are now working towards a final report, to be published later this year, which will set the agenda for the de-carbonisation of construction to meet the requirements of the legislation that is now on the statute book.

The Climate Change Act of 2008 requires an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. In other words the UK construction industry will over the next 40 years have to become a low carbon or carbon free industry. That will influence the way we design, manufacture and construct our buildings and infrastructure for the future. It means as a nation we will have to remodel our existing building stock and infrastructure to remove carbon and improve energy efficiency. Renewable energy installations are a key component and Ecovision are dedicated to designing and installing the solutions.

Britain has the oldest stock of existing buildings of any nation in the world – 9 million properties over 60 years old, so the task is huge. Whether economic circumstances will actually allow us to achieve the objectives that have been laid down is another matter but the direction of travel is clear.

It is estimated that buildings are responsible for between 40-50% of UK energy consumption. This figure is derived from operational energy – where energy is consumed. It would be more accurate to say that this is the amount of energy consumed by people in buildings. It also excludes the energy consumed in the manufacture of the materials or products required for the construction work, or transporting and assembling them. If this is the amount of energy consumed by people then how can we develop a built environment that supports and encourages a dramatically lower level of energy consumption?

We need to look at ways to reduce carbon emissions in the construction process but operational energy is equally important.  Ecovision aim to get involved with building projects in the early planning stages.  Huge amounts of time and energy can be saved if for example, the orientation of the building is considered or optimum use of local natural resources is used. As in the Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus, which is sited over one of the largest natural aquifiers in the UK. This allowed the consultant design team to adopt an ‘open loop’ geo thermal well system as opposed to the more commonly used ‘closed loop’ system.  In this case the use of specialist consultants in the early planning stages has saved time, money and most importantly energy.  If construction companies are to reach the required targets then renewable energy solutions need to be decided at the beginning of a project.renewable-energy1

An excellent example of a client’s desire to cut carbon emissions is the installation for the Hon Simon Howard at Britain’s finest historic house, Castle Howard in York.

Simon Howard’s energy bills for the 140,000sqft house were approximately £40,000 per year.  Two years ago he set about researching ways of reducing them. He was advised by many ‘renewable’ consultants that a house of this age would not be suitable for a renewable energy installation. He was not to be defeated, he wanted to reduce carbon emissions and make the house sustainable for future generations.

Renewable energy experts, Ecovision designed a system that used his lake to provide the heating and hot water. The project is one of the largest of its kind and is proof that natural heat absorbed by the earth and water can be used to provide warmth for buildings.  A vast network of plastic pipes extract heat from the water in the lake, this is then passed through a compression system that makes it warm enough to heat the house and provide the required hot water. At the end of his first year his fuel bills demonstrate a saving of almost 80%.  This installation showcases the innovative use of a water source heat pump.

Another major installation but using a ground source heat pump is the state of the art new sixth form centre at Wyke College in Hull.  The £20 million construction includes the use of 50 boreholes, each 112m deep, sunk into the college’s playing fields.  This provides all year round indoor comfort for students. The holes are placed between 8 to 10 metres apart throughout the rugby pitch which has been replaced and is now ready for the new season. The system provides heating in the winter and cooling in the Summer.

Ecovision’s technical expert Mark Witzenberger designed the system and recommended and installed two Dimplex ground source heat pumps.  The project had to take into account the unique thermal conductivity of the rock and soil at the site.  Out of this came the design specification for the heat pump system and it was this that determined the number and depth of the boreholes required. The boreholes are used in three ways, firstly to supply energy for the heat pumps for heating the building, secondly to provide free cooling via an under floor system, with heat being transferred back into the ground during the summer and thirdly as an energy source to drive reversible heat pumps to provide refrigerant-based cooling via air handling units.  The normal temperature of the ground 100m beneath the surface is a steady 10 deg c throughout the year. As a result of the boreholes and operation of the heat transfer system, this can fall to as low as 1 deg c in winter because of the removal of energy for heating the building but it is replaced during the summer months from the building itself when in cooling mode.

In the UK we face considerable challenges to meet the targets set, the economy does not help, Government cuts have badly affected the construction Industry and reduced the focus on carbon reduction but the drive to reduce carbon emissions will not go away. The Industry needs to direct the client and lead the way to ensure buildings are efficient and sustainable. The Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) starts at the end of September 2010 and the next forty years will be a period of considerable change.  We should view this as an opportunity, not a problem. Every day we design and install renewable solutions for largescale commercial projects and small scale domestic projects, for historic homes, giraffe pens and greenhouses, put simply, If a building is worth heating it is worth installing renewable energy.

Julian Sowerbutts
Director of Ecovision
Photos :
Drained lake with coils at Castle Howard
Drilling at Castle Howard

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