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Keeping up with the renewables rush

The renewables market is on the verge of runaway growth. But there is still a lack of knowledge across the industry, writes James Sopwith of Nu-way
Keeping up with the renewables rush
IN the past 12 months, there has been a huge escalation in the global green agenda. Terms such as carbon footprint and renewable energy are now familiar to the heating and building services sector, as well as the general public.

The UK renewables market is accelerating. It is estimated that volumes of product into the market place are at best 1% of the total domestic heating market for heat pumps and around 0.5-1% of the commercial heating market for biomass.

But this is changing rapidly - with predictions varying but all showing an increasing shift to these new technologies.

The Stern Report indicated the substantial economic cost of not tackling global warming and states 'there is still time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change if we take strong action now'.

To this end, the UK government has made its objectives clear on the form this strong action is going to take, with anticipated legislation to ensure the inclusion of renewable energy in new build for both commercial and domestic developments to achieve planning consent.

Some local authorities are intent on achieving carbon neutrality by 2010 with the London authorities believed to be aiming for 30% renewable energy usage by 2009.

This has led to a requirement within the combustion and energy provision sector rapidly to develop fully integrated solutions, combining fossil fuels with renewable sourced energy solutions.

Total renewable heating is relatively easily achieved with new builds for both commercial and also domestic properties. But the real challenge is the inclusion of renewable energy into existing applications.

If those responsible for specifying and installing equipment are to meet government and corporate targets, there is a real necessity to integrate heat pump and/or biomass solutions into existing systems.

Also, it is vital that new build arrangements are able to support current and future systems.

Further, boiler manufacturers are finding there is an increasing demand for the incorporation of renewable solutions into their customer proposals.

This market is growing fast, with projections of up to 300-400% growth in two years with heat pump technology in the commercial sector, and up to 500% growth for the domestic market in the same period.

Currently, solar technology is the leader in terms of renewable energy installations. But there are three other primary energy sources which are classed as renewable to varying degrees: heat pumps; biomass (both wood pellet and wood chip); and bio oils.

For the future, wind and coastal (wave) power are emerging technologies, but at this time are not suitable for small- to medium-sized applications.

Heat pump technology continues to develop and in recent years significant improvements in co-efficient of performance have been achieved giving energy outputs vastly higher than inputs.

With biomass and biofuel, cost and availability is a major challenge.

However the infrastructure for supply of these fuels is emerging rapidly. Bio-oil manufacture has increased substantially over the past two years, especially with the increasing requirement for renewable road fuels. The knock-on effect is that this is now beginning to drive production for the heating industry, with many manufacturers pushing for trial sites and burner installations.

This is particularly so in the local authority sector, where there is a strong requirement for this technology, as it presents an opportunity for relatively low capital cost achievement of renewable-energy goals.

This infrastructure is also spreading rapidly in biomass or pellet manufacture. The predominance to date has been to use imported fuel, but this is quickly changing, with at least two major UK investments under way for wood pellet manufacturing plants.

Inevitably, equipment capital outlay is an issue, but this is starting to drive energy provision rather than outright plant purchase in the commercial sector. For example, certain local authorities are introducing trial sites to test and approve the technology before fully embracing it.

It is important customers have a clear view of the requirements of the technology, covering fuel supply, installation and operation, but also the capabilities of the systems and what they can deliver.

While in some cases the technology is not that dissimilar to
fossil fuel-powered solutions, the capital cost and equipment, as well as the reality of what can be achieved from a renewable perspective, must be fully understood before projects can move forward. Simple conversion of equivalently powered oil and gas installations are not generally the most cost-effective or appropriate solutions.

More and more consultants and end users alike are demanding renewable technology but having little or no knowledge of the systems and/or product means there is a significant need for technical input from heating equipment manufacturers.

In the early stages, companies possessing this knowledge can deliver substantial value to the growth in this market, along with customer expectation and understanding.

Nu-way T: 01905 794331
1 October 2007

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