RHI makes Biomass a forerunner for renewable heating investment.

Biomass Heating

The government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) has been giving the industry a boost in recent months, none more so than in the biomass sector with new tariffs for both domestic and commercial properties accelerating the uptake in biomass technologies. Depending on the type of biomass technology installed and how much energy is produced and used, properties, both commercial and domestic, can earn from 1 pence per kWh to 5.6 pence.

According to a report issued by four of the largest biomass suppliers in the UK, biomass can offer a 90% reduction in carbon emissions in comparison to burning oil. For biomass heaters to meet sustainability targets and be eligible for the RHI, they have to prove that they have 60% lower CO2 emissions compared to the EU standards for fossil fuel heaters.

While the suppliers say they are already meeting this standard, and then some, organisations such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth argue that their figures don’t take into account the carbon footprint caused by the process of providing biomass fuels such as delivering and transporting and the removal of timber from forests.

Is Biomass Carbon Lean Enough?

Biomass Boilers are increasingly being used to replace oil and gas based heating systems in homes and commercial premises. They burn vegetable matter, predominantly wood, to produce both heat and electricity (CHP counterparts). Because it is generally thought that biomass heaters produce a fraction of the CO2 emissions of fossil fuels they are considered to be a carbon lean solution to our renewable energy problems.

There’s no doubt that now they are included in the RHI scheme that many homes and businesses will start to see them as an attractive technology that can increase their green credentials and improve efficiency by as much as 90%, whilst making a little money back on the side.

While the biomass heating industry may well benefit with businesses and households installing new eco-friendly boilers and heaters, there are growing issues with finance when you look to produce energy from the process on an industrial scale. The problem is that the large scale biomass industry is suffering from the recent wide ranging cuts in subsidies. The Telegraph reported this month that plans for a £300 million biomass plant in Port of Blyth had been axed primarily because of uncertainty over funding from the government.


But for other businesses the option of biomass heating is becoming more appealing. The Bradford Industrial Museum this year began work on installing a low carbon biomass boiler that will heat the entire building and the Council estimates that it will help cut carbon emissions by some 130 tonnes. It seems that many councils across the country have also been hard at work installing biomass technology over the last few years.

Poultry giant Bernard Matthews also made the news when it was revealed that the company was looking to cut down its environmental impact by installing over 200 biomass boilers with the help of a £24 million investment by the Green Investment Bank.


For those who can afford the installation, biomass heating now represents a clear opportunity to reduce that carbon footprint, save on existing heating bills and get a feed from the potentially lucrative RHI scheme. While the initial cost for a domestic biomass boiler can be in the region of £6000 to £14,000, as with other renewables that enjoy the benefit of the RHI, many suppliers and installers are now beginning to offer a free installation in exchange for a share of the RHI payments.

The Potential of Modern Micro CHP for Commercial Markets

Modern Fuel Cell Micro CHP

Micro Combined Heat and Power (CHP) systems are designed to pull a greater amount of energy from a fuel and turn it into both heat and electricity. Although the energy is drawn from fossil fuels such as gas and LPG, it is still thought of as low carbon technology that can benefit both domestic households and commercial markets.

Micro CHP isn’t a new invention, many industrial premises have been using it since the 1960s, but the question remains, how much of a benefit can it be in a world that needs smart energy? While many see mCHP as vital to making fossil fuels such as gas more cost effective in the domestic arena, reducing carbon footprints and getting more kWh for our money, it is also has potential for a commercial market that is always looking to reduce costs.

In recent years, the holy grail of Micro CHP technology has been to develop ever more efficient fuel cells that uses an electrochemical reaction to produce heat and electricity from hydrogen rich fuels such as gas and oil. This new technology works at a chemical level rather than burning which means that it has the potential for having a much lower carbon footprint than those powered by Stirling or internal combustion engines.

BDR Thermea recently announced that it was forming a partnership with Toshiba Fuel Cell Power Systems to help develop the technology for domestic homes. The hope is to produce an efficient and affordable home heating system and, according to BDR CEO Rob van Banning: “From both an environmental and energy management perspective, the widespread use of CHP represents a significant step toward the reduction of CO2 emissions as well as a more sustainable approach to the management of energy resources.”

A CHP boiler is also now subject to the government’s feed-in tariff so that it becomes a more attractive proposition to many businesses that need to factor in the initial cost of installation for a new system. Last year, Forbes reported that Japanese company Panasonic had partnered with German heating firm Viessmann to develop a new heating product powered by mCHP fuel cells. According to the report: “The system generates 750 watts of electricity and one kilowatt of thermal energy with a combined efficiency of 90%.” http://www.forbes.com/sites/williampentland/2013/09/12/panasonic-gambles-on-micro-chp-fuel-cells-in-germany/

There’s no doubt that fuel cell technology for CHP has been stuck in the developmental stage for a while, but many believe that the progress over the last 12 months means that it will begin to make huge strides forward in the near future.

The European Commission and related industries have now got together to set up a £1.4 billion research and development phase that will see fuel cell production speed up. Projects such as Ene-Field are already up and running, with over 1,000 fuel cell mCHP systems deployed and more to follow.


In short, fuel cell mCHP technology may well now have passed the point of no return and it could be an ideal opportunity for businesses that use gas and other fossil fuels to further cut their carbon footprints whilst reducing their energy bills over the longer term.

Solar Panels for the Commercial Market

Commercial Solar Panels

Across the globe, commercial enterprises are trying to reduce their carbon footprint in the shadow of spiralling energy costs and increased scrutiny on their carbon accounting. Nowhere is that more noticeable than in the world of commercial solar panels. The technology provides businesses the opportunity to lower their carbon footprints and provide an obvious and long term boost to the solar panel production and installation industry.

But it hasn’t come without some resistance.

While George Osborne earlier this year threatened to get rid of all “this green crap”, David Cameron has recently received an open letter signed by many in the solar panel industry, including Good Energy and Ecotricity. The letter urges Cameron to get behind the solar industry and help it reach the stage where it can exist without subsidies and fully compete with the fossil fuels market.

Friends of the Earth and two solar power companies went to court this month following the government cut in subsidies, winning a ruling that the change had damaged the industry and put thousands of jobs at risk. While the government said they would appeal, companies are breathing a short sigh of relief.

According to Solarlec spokesman Nick Keighley on the BBC: “The feed-in tariff is now stable and the costs of solar panels are slowly reducing, representing increasingly better value for consumers and a very cost-effective way of generating green energy.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-28236317

Despite the attempt to reduce subsidies, solar farms are on the increase as the industry starts to become a viable commercial market that can compete on its own two feet. Wales already has 21 sites covering around 190 acres while there are a further 24 that already have planning permission.

And it’s not just solar energy suppliers that are working hard to develop and promote their green credentials with solar PV. Businesses too are getting incentives to put panels on their commercial premises. For a while now, domestic homes have been receiving offers by companies to get their panels installed free – the installing company then reaps the rewards offered by the feed-in tariff. This is now being offered to commercial premises with many now able to afford to go green.

While experts say that 20 million homes will have solar panels by the year 2020, commercial premises may well be more of a slow burner as many businesses start to come out of the slump caused by the 2008 financial crisis.

For many commercial enterprises it’s also a question of the return on investment – when it takes up to 7 or 8 years to break even on the initial outlay, many may be reluctant to spend that money on a property they might not remain in. A lot also depends on the level of energy consumption and whether solar panels can provide all the energy needs from lighting, through to heating and those who operate 24hrs a day.

There are many who believe that the solar PV revolution is now moving too fast to be stopped, despite a drain on subsidies. This year, with some of the best sunshine in recent times, the Guardian reported that both Germany and the UK had broken records for generating solar electricity. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jun/23/uk-and-germany-break-solar-power-records

There’s no doubt that the large amount of commercial and industrial property available in the UK represents an opportunity to increase output with solar PV and to many in the industry it’s a no-brainer. The change in FIT for businesses may just be the stimulus that the commercial market needs.

Finding the Best Solar Panel Installer

The Best Solar Panel Installer

The best solar panel installer:

We’ve known about the power of the sun to harness energy for a while, and more recently it is has become an increasingly accessible and affordable option for both households and businesses who want to reduce their energy bills and become less reliant on expensive and ‘for the large part’ environmentally harmful, grid supplied electricity. As with most big jobs however, the perennial question remains: How do you find the best solar panel installer?

Within any industry, there are good and bad providers and it pays to do your research and take your time before parting with your hard earned cash. You will want to be assured that with investing a reasonably sized sum, that you will see some form of a return over the life of the system and this return will not negatively affect the value of the larger investments associated with it, such as your home or business.

Six Tips for Finding the Best Solar Panel Installer for your project, in Your Area

TIP 1: First and foremost, do your research. And that’s not just about finding the right solar panel installer. It’s everything you need to know about solar panels but were afraid to ask. Is your house or commercial property suitable for solar panels? What are the different tariffs and deals? Do you need planning permission? What maintenance will be needed over the years? Having solar PV installed is a long term commitment that comes with a broad range of issues and they deserve your undivided attention.

TIP 2: With more and more people opting to have solar panels fitted, the chances are you may know someone already who has them on their roof or office building. Now would be a good time to sound them out – find out what their experience has been, the good and bad things, and who they got to do the work. It’s a good place to start but it isn’t the be all and end all of finding your perfect installer.

TIP 3: A better way to find the best solar panel installer in your area is to use a reputable website that not only lists the qualified providers close to you but also offers a full profile and shows honest reviews. At the end of the day, you are going to be making a significant investment in both time, money and a change in lifestyle. It pays to get the right information about your prospective installer from a trusted source.

TIP 4: The next step is to get companies in to have a look at your property. Don’t take the path of least resistance and settle for the first quote you get, even if you do have a referral from someone you trust. Make sure you get at minimum of 3 quotes from different installers. If you have done your research then you should also have a list of questions for your prospective installers. Make sure they tick all the right boxes.

TIP 5: First and foremost, that means certification. There are a number of approved bodies in the renewable energies industry. The main one is the Microgeneration Certificate Scheme (MCS) and should ensure that your solar PV installer has the appropriate quality controls and safety standards in place. A reputable installer should also be a member of the Renewable Energy Consumer Code which is there to ensure high standards, not only in the initial installation but the maintenance afterwards. You can check whether your installer is registered on The Renewable Energy Hub.

TIP 6: Don’t be pressured by either an offer to do the work quickly or the sudden appearance of special offers that are designed to get you to sign the installation contract. If an installer is reputable they will not push you into an agreement and will be happy for you to take some time to consider your options.

The main advice for finding the best solar panel installer, as with any other contractor who is going to be carrying out major and important work, is to take your time. If you want a good starting point then visit The Renewable Energy Hub and begin your journey to a greener and more sustainable future.

The Growing Ingenuity of the Green Agenda

We tend to think of being eco-friendly along quite narrow lines, from recycling our waste to cutting down on energy usage, developing wind farms and solar energy. But there are others, researchers and innovators, who are continuously trying to push the boundaries to make the world a better place to live in.

Bio Fuels from Clothes and Sofas

In Edmonton, Canada, researchers are having a long and critical look at waste sites, taking our discarded shoes, clothes and furniture and turning them into something useful. Heat and pressure are used to break down materials to be used for electricity production, chemicals for plastic, and ethanol for cars, all produced in a matter of minutes.

Too good to be true? New patented technology from Canadian firm Enerkem says otherwise.

Our rubbish is big business in Sweden too. Environmentally friendly energy from waste is being used to power 800,000 Swedish households – their process is so efficient that they have to import waste from other countries including the UK.

And they are very interested in Enerkem’s new technology which could provide an important boost to getting more energy out of our household waste in less time.

Insulating your Home and Office

More and more waste products are being used to produce insulation for our walls and homes. From that old pair of curtains to the carpet on the floor, they can all be used to keep us warm according to James Robinson Textiles Ltd. The process is still in its developmental phase with experiments being undertaken at Salford and Leeds universities but it could be another way that we use our waste to make the world a more eco-friendly place.

Solar Power Takes to the Air

We may in the future also be seeing planes that are powered by solar power. The Solar Impulse has already flown from the West to East Coast in America, and now the Swiss firm that developed it are hoping to fly around the world.

The photovoltaic cells are placed along the plane’s wings and generate the total power to fly the plane. Pilot and developer Bertrand Piccard says that it may seem a strange thing to do but it shows what renewable energies are really capable of if we start to push the boundaries.

It’s hoped the Solar Impulse 2 will begin its round the world trip in 2015 and is expected to take several months with around 20 flights.

Innovation is Booming

Across the globe the growth in sustainable energy research and innovation seems to be growing rapidly, creating new and exciting solutions to the global warming crisis. We appear to have reached the tipping point where ne’er sayers and doubters have had their day – the green agenda is at last moving forward. And with pace.

Nowhere is this more obvious than with the opening recently of the Fife Renewables Innovation Centre in Scotland which is to act as a hub for firms that have renewable focused agendas such as Energy Project Management which is helping develop tidal energy devices and Samsung Heavy Industries which is working on a wind farm installation for the Korean market.

There is no doubt that innovation combined with investment is not only boosting the jobs market but is also pushing the green agenda to greater, and perhaps more useful, heights.

Oceanus 2 Set to Make Waves

Seatricity Oceanus 2

Wave energy tends to take a back seat when we talk about renewables. Wind farms and solar energy, that’s the key, or so we are led to believe. Most people don’t know that there is a Wave Hub testing facility in the South East of England and that it is soon to host a 10m ring of marine grade aluminium called Oceanus 2.

Oceanus 2
Oceanus 2 – ocean tests

And that could have a huge impact on how we view the renewable energy market. If it is successful.

The Wave Hub lies 10 miles off the coast of Hayle and is a test facility for renewable energies. The Oceanus 2 recently shipped out from Falmouth where it was constructed by renewable energies developer Seatricity, and if the test goes to plan it could lead to a further 60 units and a full scale trial. Tied to blocks on the sea bed, the device uses pressurised water to drive a hydroelectric turbine that creates electricity. Not only that, it can also be used to produce fresh water via a reverse osmosis process.

If the preliminary testing is successful then the other 60 arrays could be in production soon and, put together, they will produce enough electricity to power 10,000 homes.

The developers of Oceanus 2, Seatricity, have put a large amount of time and investment in trying to bring our ability to harness the power of waves a little closer. It’s an industry that has had its fair share of trials and tribulations but the company think they have finally solved the problems that have made the technology so elusive in the past.

Oceanus 2 at Falmouth docks

They are not the only ones hard at work trying to harness the waves. In America they are pushing hard to develop the technology and the infrastructure. The Florida Institute is working on wing wave technology to provide power to around 200,000 homes in the State. And in New Jersey they are investing heavily to bring a new Wave Farm online.

The problem over the years has been the cost of producing the electricity leaving it far behind renewables such as wind farms and solar energy, and hence fossil fuels. It’s one thing to look at the waves crashing onto our shores and realise the potential, it is quite another to harness that and produce something that works, generating electricity that people can afford and is sustainable in the long term.

Salt water corrodes and finding the right materials that last long enough and are not high maintenance is one of the problems. Another is finding the areas where there is enough wave power to produce the electricity supply that is needed.

There’s no doubt that wave energy is playing catch up with the rest of the renewables market and that it still has some way to go. But if the Oceanus 2 test at the Wave Hub goes well, then we may see further investment in the future that could see it become more viable.

Is Scotland Winning the UK Renewables Race?

Scottish renewables

The go ahead was given recently for the third largest off shore wind farm in Scotland, large enough to power some 1 million homes. Meanwhile, the Scottish Herald newspaper reported last December that 40% of the country’s electricity is now coming from renewable sources.

With the vote for Scottish independence looming there has also been some political back stabbing. A London based energy minister boldly stated that Scotland would lose out in the energy stakes if it separated from the rest of the UK. A Scottish minister even more boldly countered that the lights would go out in London if it wasn’t for Scotland’s commitment to renewables.

There is no doubt that the country is at the forefront of developing and using renewable sources of energy and the statistics back it up. Some 29.8% of electricity in 2012 was produced from renewables north of the border with the comparable figures at 8.2% in England and 8.7% in Wales. According to Scottish minister Fergus Ewing, the industry is going from strength to strength and on target to produce over half of electricity from renewables by 2015.

Glasgow is the Eco-Friendly City

With the Commonwealth Games set to get underway in this Scottish city, there have been some moves to highlight new green credentials. It is replacing its 10,000 sodium street lights with LEDs, reducing the city’s carbon footprint and drastically lowering the council’s electricity bill. There are also innovative plans to make Glasgow the nation’s first solar city. Already areas of waste ground are being identified as possible sites for solar farms that could power homes and businesses.

It is estimated that 1 hectare of solar panels could power over 150 homes and Glasgow Council has teamed up with Strathclyde University to see how they can realise their £24 million ‘Future City’ project that will see a massive reduction in the carbon footprint, more renewable energy projects and greater access to clean, affordable electricity.

Scotland Has More Than Half the UK’s Wind Turbines

Over 2,315 wind turbines have been constructed in Scotland compared to the UK total of 4,350 which has led some critics, particularly south of the border to suggest that the Scottish Government’s energy policy is out of control. There are many who feel that the landscape is being swamped by wind farms and pressure is being put on councils to allow for more.

A recent poll amongst walkers and climbers suggested that almost two-thirds thought that the construction of so many wind farms was making the countryside look unattractive. Other detractors have pointed to the fact that Scotland only uses 10% of the electricity but seems to have 50% of the wind turbines.

For others, it is important to move the country away from reliance on fossil fuels and the nuclear energy agenda and investment in sustainable sources is set to continue well into the next decade.

Liverpool Finds Cheaper Solar Energy Solution

Liverpool Solar Panels

It is one of the perennial problems of developing renewable energy sources – how to produce it on a cost effective, industrial scale that competes with current fossil fuels. While politicians and activists talk of subsidies and carbon footprints, the scientists have been working hard to come up with effective solutions.

Now researchers at the University of Liverpool may have come up with a solution for replacing the toxic components of solar energy cells and the new manufacturing process could well bring down the cost in the process.

The replacement? A material found in bath salts. The research team led by Dr Jon Major believe that it may even bring down the price of solar energy comparable to fossil fuels. It has been a long search for a cheaper version of the solar energy cells. Approximately 90% of them have been made using silicon but around 7% are made from cadmium telluride which is considered cheaper and lighter.

The problem is that cadmium telluride requires toxic cadmium chloride to manufacture, and a large portion of the cost is used in making it safe for people to work with and disposing of the side products. On its own cadmium telluride actually converts 2% of sunlight into useful energy. Add the cadmium chloride and this shoots up to 15%.

The team from Liverpool University has discovered that the process can work equally well with the non-toxic magnesium chloride – a core constituent of household favourites such as tofu and bath salts.

One of the challenges of solar energy has always been how to make it cheap enough to compete with fossil fuel production and, according to some experts, this could be a major breakthrough in making that possible.

It is still early days but Director of the Stephenson Institute at the university, Professor Ken Durose, said that the cost reduction may well bring the price of electricity production for something like a large scale solar farm down below the current cost of gas electricity production.

It is not a claim that has gone uncontested. Some industry experts believe that the scientists may be over stating the potential impact of their discovery. The cost of dealing with cadmium chloride and the use of toxic materials presents a small fraction of the production costs and telluride is too rare a material to ever be manufactured cheaply.

The Stephenson Institute is part of the Faculty of Science and Engineering at University of Liverpool and was set up to explore the future of clean, renewable energy sources.

According to Dr Major: “Cadmium chloride is toxic and expensive and we no longer need to use it. Replacing it with a naturally occurring substance could save the industry a vast amount of money and reduce the overall cost for generating power from solar.” Magnesium chloride can be extracted from seawater

It remains to be seen if this new discovery will have an impact on solar cell production but it is a step in the right direction, helping to bring the cost down and raise hopes of a more sustainable future.