Heat from the Ground

Could the ground heat our local schools?

HKD Energy has been given a grant by the government to see whether ground source heat pumps could be used to heat Downlands and Windmills Schools. We’ve been working with a team of experts on technological and financial feasibility.  Their report is now completed.  Sadly, the conclusions is that although there are some technically feasible options, none are financially viable at present.  Capital costs are too high and gas prices are too low to justify switching away from the existing gas-fired heating systems.

read the Executive Summary and the Full Report.

All is not lost however.  We will keep a close eye on gas prices over the next few years in the hope that the project can be realised in some form in the future.  If heat pump costs come down, combined with suitable energy efficiency measures and an upgraded heating distribution system, a heat pump system could be much more attractive.
We are now working with both schools on identifying funding for energy efficiency measures that have been identified in this study.  Completing these would make a future renewable heat project more viable.

What is renewable energy?

Renewable energy comes from resources that nature will replace, like wind, water and sunshine. It’s sometimes called ‘green energy’ because unlike coal and gas (fossil fuels) it doesn’t pollute or contribute to climate change and it won’t run out.

Why is renewable heat important?

About half of all the energy we consume in the UK heats buildings and most of this comes from fossil fuels. Use of fossil fuels like gas and oil is causing climate change, which leads to more extreme weather events, melting polar ice and sea level rises. We have started the switch to solar and wind to generate electricity: now we need to switch to renewable technologies for heat. These might be solar hot water heaters, biomass (woodchip) boilers, ground source or air source heat pumps. The more we use renewable energy, the better off the environment will be.

You can find out about different technologies for renewable heat here: http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/renewable-energy/heat

What’s a ground source heat pump?

Ground source heat is a very efficient and green form of energy. The temperature of the earth just a few metres below our feet is warmer year round than the surface or air. Ground source heat pumps take advantage of the temperature difference, working like a fridge in reverse. Water is pumped around pipes under the earth. The warmth in the earth heats the water, which goes to the heat pump to increase the temperature for radiators and underfloor heating.

Ground source heat pumps have been used to heat homes, schools, businesses and even Pyecombe Golf Club. For example, Bishop Ramsey School in Middlesex has a ground source heat system as does Brynhoffnant school in Ceredigion

Three key benefits

  • It’s a very efficient form of energy: for every unit of electricity used to operate the ground source heat pump, 3-4 units of heat are generated.
  • It saves substantial amounts of carbon every year by switching from fossil fuels to renewable electricity.
  • It’s a very reliable technology (just like your home fridge) with few moving parts to wear out.

How would we finance the project?

We would pay for these pumps by selling shares. Then we’d generate income to pay interest and repay capital by using a government subsidy (the Renewable Heat Incentive) and by charging the schools for the heat generated – but at a cheaper rate than they pay now.

Government’s renewable heat Incentive

To encourage people to switch their heating systems from fossil fuels to renewable resources, the government has established an incentive programme, similar to the Feed-in Tariff for solar electricity. You can find out about the government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) for domestic customers here.

The grant comes from the Rural Community Energy Fund (RCEF). RCEF is a £15 million programme, delivered by WRAP and jointly funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (DBEIS). It supports rural communities in England to develop renewable energy projects which provide economic and social benefits to the community. For more information on RCEF, visit www.wrap.org.uk/renewables.