Renewable energy

Introduction to renewable energy

Worldwide we are heavily dependant on fossil fuels for electricity and heating and reserves are becoming increasingly difficult and expensive to access. Energy prices are therefore expected to increase significantly over the coming years and recent figures from the Department for Energy and Climate Change suggest we can expect gas and electricity prices to rise by a further 30% above 2012 levels by 2020. By using renewable energy (energy captured from on-going natural processes) we can reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Renewable energy sources include direct solar radiation, wind, flowing water, tides, photosynthesis and geothermal heat flows.

Emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases resulting from fossil fuel consumption contribute to climate change. International and national legislation strongly encourages energy consumers to reduce their demand for energy and also to increase the amount of renewable energy generated. Householders, businesses and the public sector all have their part to play.

The 2008 Climate Change Act set a national target to reduce CO2 emissions by 34% from 1990 levels by 2020 and 80% by 2050. The Government has also recognised the need to develop the UK renewable energy sector and has signed up to the EU Renewable Energy Directive, which includes a UK target of 15% of energy from renewables by 2020 (a seven-fold increase on 2008 levels).

Reducing the Council's own carbon footprint is one of our key objectives and in 2009 the Council set an ambitious 5-year target to reduce our CO2 emissions by 40% from 2008 levels. Further details are available in the Councils Carbon Management Plan which outlines a number of energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

Some of our schools and other Council-owned buildings are already leading the way with installations of solar photovoltaic panels and wind turbines. Click on the map below to see more information about renewable energy technologies in our buildings.

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Overview of renewable technologies

Some of the more frequently used renewable technologies are summarised below:

Solar thermal:
Solar thermal systems use the suns energy to heat water. Energy is absorbed via flat plate or evacuated tube collectors usually mounted on a south-facing pitched roof.

Some systems use a small amount of electricity to pump the heated water from the collector. In the UK such systems can provide around 50-60% of a households hot water requirement.

Solar panels

Solar photovoltaics (PV):
Panels made from semi-conductor materials (most commonly crystalline silicon) can generate electrical energy from sunlight. Light hitting the panels creates a negative charge in one layer and a positive charge in an adjoining layer creating a direct electric current.

A solar PV installation usually consists of a set (or array) of panels connected together and an inverter to convert the electricity to alternating current which can be fed directly into the grid system.

Such systems are less efficient than solar thermal panels, however they require very little maintenance and should continue to produce electricity for several decades after installation.

Heat pumps:
Heat pumps accumulate low grade heat available from external sources such as the air, water or the ground. They can be used to feed pre-heated water into a conventional heating system or used with under floor heating which can work with water at 30-40°C (as opposed to 50-60°C in radiators). Heat pumps can also be used to cool buildings.

Ground source systems involve burying lengths of flexible piping in trenches 2-3m underground where the temperature remains at a fairly constant 10 degrees C year round. Useable heat can also be accessed by drilling vertical boreholes to 70-100m deep. A mixture of water and antifreeze is pumped round the closed loop of pipe.

Although heat pumps are usually classed as renewable energy they do require some electricity to operate. The amount of heat provided per unit of electrical power is referred to as the Coefficient of Performance. Ground and water source heat pumps are the most efficient producing 2 to 3 units of heat for 1 unit of electricity.

Small wind turbine

Wind turbines use aerofoil shaped blades to create movement which is converted to electricity using a generator. Turbines can vary greatly in size from less than 1m to more than 120m in diameter. There are a great variety of designs available including horizontal and vertical axis turbines.

Not all sites are suitable for wind energy and it is important to assess the wind resource available as landscape features, vegetation and surrounding buildings can significantly reduce the potential for wind energy. The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) provide a windspeed database that can be used to estimate wind energy potential. However the potential can only be established accurately by using anemometry equipment to record wind speeds over a matter of months.

Wood chips

Biomass and biofuels:
Biomass fuel is usually derived from wood, crops or waste material. These are either burnt to provide heat or processed to create biofuels.

The heat can be used for space heating or to generate electricity. Biofuels can be used either on their own or in combination with fossil fuels to power vehicles.

Domestic-sized wood burning stoves

Anyone considering using biomass or biofuels has a duty to ensure that they are compliant with all relevant air quality legislation.

If you live in a Smoke Control Area and install an ordinary wood burning stove you would be required to burn smokeless fuel on it in order to comply with the regulations and wood is not a smokeless fuel. A list of approved fuels is available on the DEFRA website:

Some stoves are exempt from the regulations because they have passed tests to confirm that they are capable of burning solid fuels without emitting smoke (subject to manufacturer's instructions). A list of approved / exempt stoves is available on the DEFRA website:

Please note stoves that are not listed as exempt on the DEFRA website are not approved and cannot be altered to become approved.

All stoves whether approved or not must be fitted by a competent engineer to ensure compliance with Building Regulations and you may also need to speak to the Planning Department if any external alterations are made to your property.

The Council's Environmental Protection section provides further information about Smoke Control Areas in the borough. Read more

Combined heat and power:
The production of electricity usually results in a large amount of waste heat. Our existing centralised power stations are only around 30-50% efficient due to the heat lost in cooling towers and power lost in transmission.

If heat consumers are sufficiently near to the point of power generation the waste heat can be captured and used for space heating/hot water and efficiencies exceeding 80% can be achieved. The term combined heat and power (CHP) refers to this simultaneous production of usable heat and electricity and systems can vary in size from those that serve a single household to a whole community or industrial plant.

Although CHP systems can be designed to run on almost any fuel, including biomass, most existing CHP plants use natural gas which is not a renewable energy source. However with the improved efficiency CHP is considered to be a low-carbon energy source.


The Feed-in-Tariff (FIT)

The Government is encouraging small scale renewable energy generation through the Feed-in-Tariff which was introduced in April 2010. Owners of renewable energy installations which generate electricity and meet the schemes criteria receive payments for both the power generated and used on site and any surplus exported to the grid.

The scheme applies to installations up to 5MW in capacity which generate electricity using solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, hydroelectricity, wind power or anaerobic digestion.

For installations under 50kW both the product and the installation company must be approved under the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS). Installations with a capacity over 50kW and anaerobic digestion must be accredited under the Renewables Obligation Order (ROO-FIT accreditation) administered by Ofgem.

Payments are guaranteed for 20 years (from 1 Aug 2012 onwards or 25 years for earlier installations) from the date of installation. The tariffs vary for the different technologies and sizes and will decrease over the years to reflect the expected reduction in costs as the market grows.

The tariff rates for solar power have been subject to review and are now substantially lower than initial rates but prices have also dropped significantly so solar PV systems are still a good investment. From April 2012 eligibility for the Feed in Tariff is also be linked to energy efficiency and applicants will need to show that the building has attained an Energy Performance Certificate of Level D or above. The proposed new rates can be found on the Ofgem website.

It should be noted that the tariff changes only apply to new entrants to the scheme.

'Rent-a-roof' schemes:
Some companies are offering free installations to householders and businesses whereby the building owner gets the benefit of the electricity generated and the installation company claims the Feed-in-Tariff payments. These are often referred to as 'rent-a-roof' schemes.

It is very important to read the terms and conditions carefully as some are unfavourable. For example you may have to pay to have the equipment removed after the agreement finishes or may be liable for costs of any damage.

Other useful links:
Ofgem - The Feed-in-Tariff webpage
Microgeneration certification scheme - Certified installers and products
REAL Assurance Scheme - Top tips for purchasing renewable energy installations

Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI)

The Renewable Heat Incentive is a similar scheme to the Feed-in-Tariff but rewards technologies that provide heat rather than electricity. The RHI is being introduced in two phases and Phase 1, which is targeted at non-domestic consumers, opened for applications on 28 November 2011.

The RHI supports a range of technologies including biomass, solar thermal, ground and water source heat-pumps and biogas. Tariff levels have been set at a level that should ensure that renewable heat costs no more than conventional fossil fuel based heating. Payments are issued on a quarterly basis and will last for 20 years.

Phase 1 also includes some support for householders through the Renewable Heat Premium Payment, a grant based system supporting installation of solar thermal hot water systems, heat pumps and biomass boilers.

The second phase of the RHI scheme will see householders moved to the same form of long-term tariff support offered to the non-domestic sector.

Read more about the RHI on the DECC website:

Planning permission

Our Development Management section can provide advice about whether or not your proposal for renewable energy requires planning permission if you provide some details in writing (by letter or e-mail).

Download the Planning enquiry form.

If you live in the National Park you need to contact the North York Moors National Park Authority planning office at Helmsley, Tel: 01439 770657.

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