What is renewable heating?
Posted by: Vincent Wilkins: 28/04/2013
Turn your home into a mini power station with renewable heating
With this extended winter of our now behind us and the heating hopefully turned off for a good few months it’s all too easy to forget just how fragile the energy market can be. With UK gas supplies coming apparently perilously close to depletion in March when we should have been enjoying some spring sunshine kids were outside building snowmen, cars were being abandoned in snowdrift and they were burning furniture on the Scottish isles to keep warm. The Daily Mails claims that we had only 36 hours of gas left may have seemed somewhat alarmist but the reality is it doesn't take much to tip the balance in ensuring the lights (and heating) remain on.
Climate change or simply freak weather, call it what you will, one thing’s for sure with the weather these days be prepared to expect the unexpected. Though the world has its fair share of climate change sceptics many scientists are in no doubt Climate change is real and if the extreme weather conditions being experienced around the world are anything to go by we may do well to take heed.
They have just had record heat temperatures in Australia and grain prices have raised in America where the mid-west is in danger of becoming a dust bowl due to heat. If indeed the world's average temperature have been increasing in direct proportion to the amount of carbon we are putting into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution it will keep rising unless we take positive steps to change it. So apart from planting lots more trees, and keeping rain forests intact perhaps it really is time to start seeing renewable energy as a real alternative.
Harnessing the elements
I have seen huge changes in the last 10 years since I first started installing solar heating, despite the ridicule I endured from some I stuck with it. Why? It simply makes sense to me harness the energy of the sun, wind, waves, and biomass. No doubt we have a long way to go in becoming a more sustainable society even so some are raising doubts asking Can the Utility Industry Survive the Energy Transition?
The only way is up
With our heating costs doubling in the last seven years turning our homes into mini-power stations means you could both reduce your bills and carbon emissions by generating a significant proportion of our heating and hot water needs ourselves. Despite renewable heating technologies having been around for many years it’s only very recently that the public are sitting up and taking notice. Though most people now have some vague idea about Solar very few have heard or know anything about Biomass Boilers.
We still have a long way to go. Whilst David Cameron announcement that his would be the Greenest Government ever is being met with some scepticism especially after yet another Renewable Heat Incentive delay announcement the Government could make a start by raising public awareness and promoting the benefits of renewable's and their place in a more sustainable way of living.
So what is renewable heating and what are the technologies you can install if you are considering moving off fossil fuels. Renewable energy is energy from any source that is naturally replenished when used. Often called ‘renewable's’, ‘green energy’, ‘ micro-generation’ or ‘sustainable energy’. The main sources of renewable energy for heating the home are sunlight, plants grown for fuel (biomass or bio fuels) and heat extracted from the earth and the air.
Using renewable energy has a number of benefits such as reducing your dependence on fossil fuel, helping to keep the air clean and reducing the production of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Most importantly, with the introduction of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) you will save money and could even generate an income.
Though a fairly new concept in the UK, Biomass boilers are a tried and tested technology that have been around for many years being used successfully in many other European countries. Biomass boilers are relatively simple in principle and use wood pellets, logs, chips and numerous other bio fuels. A modern Biomass boiler has the same or higher levels of technology when compared with a typical fossil fuel boiler and can be up to 96% efficient and will meet all your heating and hot water needs, when a system is specifically designed for your needs by someone with the relevant expertise and knowledge. Advanced Biomass systems operate fully automatically and are equipped with control and safety devices for reliable, efficient and safe operation.
A heat pump performs the same role as a boiler does in a central heating system, but it uses ambient heat from the air or ground rather than burning fuel to generate heat. Our environment is full of energy, surprisingly even at sub-zero temperatures there is still plenty of energy available. Heat pumps extract the Sun’s stored energy from our environment by using conventional refrigeration technology, in the same way a fridge extracts heat from within.
An air source heat pumps extract heat from outside (air or ground) this extracted energy is then raised to a suitable temperature for heating purposes. As electricity is required to drive the pump a heat pump can’t be considered completely zero-carbon unless of course this is provided by another renewable source, such as PV. Even so, a heat pump will produce more energy than it consumes. Approx 25% of the energy used in its operation will need to be provided either from an electrical supply or from a renewable source. The other 75% of the energy is taken from either the air or the ground.
Solar heating panels are a relatively cheap option for renewable heat technology. A Solar water heating systems harnesses the energy of the Sun to heat water throughout the year as the system works all year round. A solar water heating system can provide most of your hot water in the summer but solar gain may be limited during the Winter when your water may need to be heated further with a conventional boiler or another alternative heat source. Sunlight is free so you will reduce your heating bill. In a family home, solar energy could meet up to 60% of the energy required for heating domestic hot water.
If you are interested in finding out more about how the different renewable heating technologies perform, the latest Ethical Consumer magazine Buyers' Guide looked at the three main options – ground source heat pumps, biomass boilers and solar hot water.