Wednesday, April 09, 2014

British building owners can now make money by generating renewable heat

The first scheme in the world that will pay owners of domestic buildings for generating renewable heat has been launched in the UK by Energy Minister Greg Barker (seen right with MP Chloe Smith opening a 'Mr Renewables showroom' at the beginning of April).

Like feed-in tariffs for generating renewable electricity from technologies such as photovoltaic solar panels, the financial incentive scheme offers householders a fixed amount per kilowatt-hour generated from various technologies, even though the heat is only consumed in the home and not made available for others (as with home-generated electricity that is fed into the electric grid).

Called the Renewable Heat Incentive, it is based on a similar scheme for business, the public sector and non-profit organisations, that has been in operation for some time in the UK, as well as a smaller domestic scheme aimed at solid-walled, hard-to-heat homes, called the Renewable Heat Premium Payment.

Property owners apply to all schemes through the Energy Saving Trust, a government-sponsored body which promotes energy efficiency and renewable energy at the domestic scale.

The purpose of the RHI is to stimulate the renewable heat industry in the same way that feed-in tariffs have done for the solar PV industry. This has seen remarkable growth in the last four years with the cost of a typical PV system installation dropping by more than half.

The UK Government and industry body the Solar Trade Association (STA) have a target of covering over one million roofs with solar thermal and solar PV panels by the end of 2015. Over 200,000 solar thermal systems are already installed in the UK.

Global capacity for solar thermal is over 200GW - around double global installed capacity of solar power. The technology is proven and well established across Europe and elsewhere, and back in the days of previous support systems when grants were offered for installation of many types of renewable energy technologies, solar thermal was by far the most popular technology of choice for householders.

Stuart Elmes, Chair of the Solar Thermal Working Group at the STA, welcomed the launch of the RHI, saying: “Solar heating is popular with householders and quick to install, integrating easily with existing heating systems. We calculate that the returns from solar water heating are similar to those from solar power when you take into account the high price inflation for gas and heating oil.”

Paul Barwell, Chief Executive of the STA said: “With the launch of the Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive the final piece of support for household solar technologies slots into place. Together with the Green Deal for insulation improvements and the Feed-in Tariff for solar power, householders now have a great choice of Government-backed financial incentives to choose from to best suit their clean energy needs.”

Launching the scheme, the Government Minister for Energy Greg Barker (pictured right) said: "Not only will people have warmer homes and cheaper fuel bills, they will reduce their carbon emissions, and get cash payments for installing these new technologies. It opens up a market for the supply chain, engineers and installers – generating growth and supporting jobs as part of our long-term economic plan."

Technologies and payments

The technologies currently covered by the scheme are:
  • Biomass heating systems, which burn fuel such as wood pellets, chips or logs to provide central heating and hot water in a home. Biomass-only boilers are designed to provide heating using a ‘wet system’ (eg through radiators) and provide hot water. Pellet stoves with integrated boilers are designed to burn only wood pellets and can heat the room they are in directly, as well as provide heat to the rest of the home using a ‘wet system’ (eg through radiators) and provide hot water.
  • Ground or water source heat pumps, which extract heat from the ground or water. This heat can then be used to provide heating and/or hot water in a home.
  • Air to water heat pumps, which absorb heat from the outside air. This heat can then be used to provide heating and/or hot water in a home.
  • Solar thermal panels, which collect heat from the sun and use it to heat up water which is stored in a hot water cylinder. The two types of panels that are eligible are evacuated tube panels and liquid-filled flat plate panels.
Air-source heat pumps7.3p/kWh
Ground and water-source heat pumps18.8p/kWh
Biomass-only boilers and biomass pellet stoves with integrated boilers12.2p/kWh
Solar thermal panels (flat plate and evacuated tube for hot water only)19.2 p/kWh
Only one space heating system is allowed per property but homeowners can apply for solar thermal for hot water and a space heating system.

The guaranteed payments are made quarterly over seven years for households in England, Wales and Scotland. (Northern Ireland has its own RHI scheme). The scheme is designed to bridge the gap between the cost of fossil fuel heat sources and renewable heat alternatives.
According to renewable energy expert Richard Hiblen, who has more than 14 years’ experience in this field, the RHI tariffs are ‘good for some and better for others’, but even the worst figures make the technologies more attractive than installing oil or LPG heating.

Phil Hurley, managing director, NIBE Energy Systems Ltd., a renewable heating manufacturer, called the RHI "a game changer for the renewable heating industry". He continued: “The introduction of the domestic RHI gives the industry the security and confidence it needs to realise its growth potential".

But Neil Schofield, Head of External and Governmental Affairs at boiler (furnace) manufacturer Worcester, Bosch Group, cautioned that: “the funding is weighted heavily in favour of biomass, which is one of the most expensive systems to install and one requiring the largest amount of user intervention. Questions have already been raised over whether DECC has backed the right horse in this respect."

UK Solar Strategy

Earlier this week, the UK Government also launched its Solar Strategy, which contains plans to turn the Government estate as well as factories, supermarkets and car parks in cities around the UK into “solar hubs”.

Energy Minister Greg Barker  said he believes that “there is massive potential to turn our large buildings into power stations and we must seize the opportunity this offers to boost our economy as part of our long term economic plan. Solar not only benefits the environment, it will see British job creation and deliver the clean and reliable energy supplies that the country needs at the lowest possible cost to consumers.”

The UK has an estimated 250,000 hectares of south-facing commercial rooftops, and the government believes that solar increasingly offers efficient and cost effective onsite generation opportunities to both businesses and domestic consumers.

In a further initiative, the Department for Education is working on ways to improve energy efficiency across the 22,000 schools in England, to reduce their annual energy spend of £500 million, and to encourage the deployment of PV on schools alongside promoting energy efficiency. The British Education Secretary Michael Gove said: “Solar panels are a sensible choice for schools, particularly in terms of the financial benefits they can bring. It is also a great way for pupils to engage with environmental issues and think about where energy comes from.”