An opportunity to regenerate the Dales economy?
According to Malhamdale Renewable Energy Group’s survey of Nov 2007 over 9 million units (kilo-watt hours kWh) per annum of energy was consumed by domestic premises in the dale of which all but 1.5 million KWh was used for heating. Main fuels used were LPG, oil, coal and wood and some electric heating. Malhamdale being off the gas grid, oil was the major heating fuel, accounting for 45% of total energy consumption. It also accounted for 44% of CO2 emissions and 34% of annual energy costs. Something needs to be done collectively to reduce these emissions.
Properties in Gargrave, being on the gas grid, will use mostly mains (natural) gas which is a cheaper and cleaner fuel. However CO2 emissions from burning natural gas are still considerable, about 72% of emissions from heating oil, and with our North Sea reserves depleted most of our gas is imported, giving rise to uncertainty over pricing. There is therefore good reason to consider alternative ways of heating our homes.
Some newer properties have converted to heat pumps and if you have a super-insulated home that requires minimal heating and generate much of your own electricity this is a solution you will probably have implemented already. Heat pumps extract low grade heat from the surrounding air, water or ground sources using an exchange fluid, usually water. The pump raises the fluid temperature by compressing it to heat water in the house central heating system. The energy required by a heat pump is much less than the energy delivered to the home and Coefficients of Performance (COP) of 2 – 4 times are claimed which means the system uses a quarterto a half of the energy it would take to heat the home by electricity alone. The main drawback is that electricity costs about 3 times as much as most heating fuels so unless electric heating is your only option and you can run the system on a low off-peak tariff, or you have a wind turbine, it can be an expensive way to heat older buildings.
The alternative low carbon heating fuel to oil or natural gas is biomass, normally in the form of wood pellets, shown here. Their main drawback however is the volume required for storage. 1,800 litres of heating fuel, the contents of a medium-sized domestic oil tank, contains 18,000kWhrs of heat energy, roughly two-thirds of a year’s supply of heat for an average family home. The same amount of energy would require the storage of 4 tonnes of wood pellets, requiring considerably larger bulk storage in a dry building or silo. This can be overcome by using a pellet boiler installation to feed a number of homes from a central point, ideally based on a high demand property such as a pub, school or community building, through a piped distribution system serving a number of properties. In our compact villages many older less well insulated properties have insufficient space for bulk fuel storage and a collective solution may be the answer. District heating, while being best suited to new-build estate housing can be done as a retro-fit with careful planning and co-operation between neighbours.
Biomass as a heating fuel has a number of advantages worth considering in setting up a rural community owned project. These include the following:
- Biomass, usually wood chippings or pellets, is a “carbon lean” fuel which causes a fraction of the emissions of fossil fuels. Provided the source is sustainably managed, atmospheric CO2 absorbed in the growing of replacement timber will offset CO2 produced by burning. A common source is waste from joinery operations which would otherwise end up in landfill eventually deteriorating to produce methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
- Biomass fuels generate lower levels of such pollutants as sulphur dioxide which produces acid rain and the residues from burning (ash) can be returned to the soil.
- Modern wood pellet boilers for central heating are just as efficient and fully programmable as their fossil fuel counterparts.
- The use of biomass encourages the management of woodland which increases biodiversity.
- The creation of managed woodlands contributes to rainfall retention, reducing rate of run-off and preventing erosion and flooding downstream
- Biomass for domestic consumption can be sourced locally from within the UK contributing to security of supply.
- UK sourced biomass can offer business opportunities and support the rural economy.
- There is no area of the UK that cannot produce biomass and the setting up of supply and distribution networks can reduce the financial and environmental costs of distribution. There are already a number of distributors serving our area.
- The National Park Management Plan objectives D6 and D7 relate to the support given to farmers and landowners to create at least 400 hectares (1,000 acres) of new native woodland and ensure that at least 60% of all woodland is in active management by 2018. It is also the Park’s policy to develop a locally based wood-fuel initiative.
There is potential for small biomass district heating schemes based in Gargrave and Malhamdale’s villages and for larger individual properties the potential for biomass heating is well worth considering as an alternative to fossil fuels. This option should be considered in the design of all new housing developments, especially affordable housing where planning guidelines call for high density development.