Dave Lewis, head of sales at energy company npower, looks at the role self-generation energy technology plays in the journey towards sustainability.
The latest npower Business Energy Index revealed 39 per cent of major energy users and 61 per cent of small and medium-sized enterprises have no self generation energy in place. However, with opportunities to reduce supply costs and carbon emissions, there is much to be gained from the installation of technologies such as solar PV, ground and air source heat pumps, and biomass boilers.
Before installing self-generation energy technology, organisations should understand when and where energy is being used. This will help highlight any areas of energy inefficiency, and determine which technologies will be best suited to their business and buildings.
Metering enables organisations to measure their energy use and, when combined with web-based monitoring software such as npower’s encompass, it will provide detailed data of consumption on a half hourly basis. This data will help in the specification of self-generation energy technology by giving clarity on actual consumption. Organisations can see their detailed consumption profiles and can then assess the appropriate size and type of technology will best meet the energy demands of the property. An additional benefit is the traditional use of the software to optimise energy use by removing wastage and comparing performance across a number of properties.
Once the energy consumption profile is understood, it is time to consider the different technologies. Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels are one of the most popular technologies, with companies using the energy generated on-site instead of relying on the grid. By reducing the amount of energy purchased from a supplier, companies can reduce their energy costs and even earn revenue through the government’s Feed-in-Tariff payments (FITs).
In addition to solar PV, in locations where there is considerable need for heating we are installing modern biomass boilers as a low carbon alternative to gas, oil or coal. This technology is most suitable for buildings such as offices, schools or care homes. As with solar PV, biomass boilers also receive a feed-in-tariff incentive to promote their increased use under the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), shortening the pay-back period of the investment. This type of solution proves to be very cost effective and is also socially responsible where connections to the main gas network are not available.
Another self-generation energy technology to consider is ground source heat pumps, which extract solar and/or geothermal energy from the ground. They then work similarly to a fridge by compressing and magnifying that energy to create enough heat to generate room warmth and heat water.
Through monitoring energy consumption and accurate understanding of self-generation technology output specifications, it is possible to complete the important payback calculations. Changing the specification of the technology to better match the consumption profile could enhance the revenue received from the government’s Feed-in-Tariff.
Organisations need to consider that technology installed today will, in all likeliness, be generating for the next 25 years (the duration of the FIT). Getting the specification right and maximising generation potential is particularly important over this 25 year period. The right specification could mean the difference of anywhere between a 12 to 15 year payback.
For many businesses, as well as cost savings, carbon emissions reduction is a significant objective of installing self-generation energy technology. Birmingham Airport is a good example. The installation of 200 solar panels on the terminal roof is set to save the Airport 22 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually and will generate 40,000 kWh of electricity a year. Working in partnership with npower, the airport has installed a 50kpw solar photovoltaic (PV) system. This is the first renewable energy and zero carbon installation on the airport site and is part of a wider project to improve energy management and reduce its carbon footprint. The installation was completed in December and took just over 6 weeks.
Airports are a good fit for solar PV, with large roof space on buildings in use throughout the day. There is usually an optimal south facing roof on which to site the array. However, there are also some specific challenges for installing solar at airports, not least in ensuring a suitable product is specified to ensure there is no danger of sunlight reflection off the panels impeding the vision of pilots.
With businesses concerned about the cost of energy, as well as future energy supply and demand on the grid, it is likely that more will look to self-generation energy technology to reduce carbon emissions and supply costs.