Theoretically renewable energy is the way forward, it's better for the planet, it's usually cheaper and there are various government incentives to help give us that push to invest. With the Rural Community Energy Fund (RCEF), for example, the government has supplied £15 million to facilitate rural community's investment in sustainable energy sources.
Rural areas are at an advantage because of the abundance of space and natural resources, making them great locations for setting up renewable energy systems. When considering investing in sustainable energy solutions, the images that probably come to mind are those of wind turbines and solar panels. Whilst they are both good options from an environmental stand point they tend to be controversial due to their appearance – although opinion is split on this. It's often a concern in rural areas where countryside views can be an important factor in tourist trade. There are other options for sustainable energy in rural areas which can be less invasive on the view of the landscape:
Initially the biomass boiler may seem like a flash back to the olden days – burning wood to heat your home. But in actuality it works a lot like a modern boiler, tapping into your original system and providing you with heating and hot water. The vast majority of biomass boilers tend to be fuelled by wooden chip or logs. The pieces of wood are poured into chamber where the wood is lit by electricity. A micro compressor monitors the levels of ignition by a thermostat; allowing combustion levels to be automatically altered by varying fan speed and based on fuel supply. The gas produced is filtered through a heat exchanger so it can be used by your central heating system.
The cost of more traditional fuels seems to be perpetually rising and doesn't look to be stopping anytime soon, a biomass boiler is a much cheaper option in the long term. The boiler should pay for itself within 5-9 years (varying depending on your energy spend and consumption). It will be cheaper if you can source the wood locally, especially if you take others wooden waste. Thus providing you with fuel and alleviating them of their unwanted wood.
If you're considering investing in a biomass boiler there are two main things to consider, that you have the space for one (you may also need a plant room for storage) and being able to acquire wood all year round. The Paul Robinson Partnership, a firm of Norfolk architects, received planning permission for a Biomass Boiler and plant room for a luxury lodge holiday site, the Sherwood Hideaway (located on the Thoresby Estate). This is ideal for a biomass boiler because there is space, surroundings of woodland and already a woodland management scheme meaning there is a surplus of wood that can be utilised to provide heating for a range of holiday properties on the estate. All of the wood to fuel the boiler will be taken from the Estate.
Ground Source Heat Pumps
These work by taking the warmth stored within the ground from the sun's rays and pumping it into a building providing hot water and heating. The warmed fluid in the underground pipes is filtered through a compressor and then heats your home. The installation of ground source heat pumps can be very disruptive to land; there is a lot of digging involved to place the pipes. However in the long term, you won't even know they are there making them ideal if you're trying to maintain picturesque rural views.
The main requirement for ground source heat pumps are a fair amount of ground space. Air soured heat pumps are a good alternative if you don't want to disturb the land, however they tend to be less efficient compared to ground source pumps.
Norfolk Rural Communty Council has helped rural communities with renewable energy projects and encouraged them to utilise the RCEF. One of these projects involved installing ground source heat pumps for Neatishead Victory Hall community building. This provides an example of how ground source heat pumps can be realistically used in a rural community.
Both biomass boilers and ground source heat pumps are included as part of the government's renewable heat incentive. This means the installation of these renewable energy generators comes with a guaranteed return on investment. Between that and the funding to aid initial planning from the RCEF, it seems they are worth considering.
This article was written for the Rural Services Network by Rachel Hemsley, of the Fountain Partnership, who specialises in writing online content for a variety of online platforms.