British Holiday and Home Parks Association, David Bellamy Conservations Awards

British Holiday and Home Parks Association, David Bellamy Conservations Awards

Renewable Energy

Renewable Energy and Carbon Off-Setting

Once you’ve made your park as efficient as possible, the next step is to see whether you can actually use ‘greener’ energy. There are two key things you can do:

  • sign up to a ‘green’ energy tariff that gets energy from sustainable sources (these differ greatly, so research what you are actually getting)
  • install some sort of renewable energy supply to heat water or generate electricity. A number of parks have had success with solar panels, ground-source heat pumps and other non-intrusive renewable energy technology. Swimming pools and shower blocks are two areas where this kind of investment can really pay off.

Some parks are now looking at how they can reduce their carbon footprints (the amount of carbon dioxide they produce) in response to consumer concerns about global warming. All the energy efficiency advice above will help you do this, as the main source of carbon dioxide is the burning of fossil fuels to produce energy. To help even further, a number of companies have set themselves up to help businesses calculate and reduce their carbon footprints – offsetting is the jargon word here. Investing in energy efficient technology in developing countries is one of the offsetting options, as is planting trees. However, there is some controversy about the effectiveness of these schemes so, if you are interested, please carefully research what the company is actually offering you. One sure fire way to offset the carbon footprint of a holiday at your park is to give each visitor a free energy efficient light bulb and ask them to use it.

Technical Guidance

Technical Guidance | ^ Back to top

Renewable energy systems can make an important contribution to a park’s environmental performance. While it can represent a significant financial investment, many systems can pay back their set-up costs through the savings they provide in terms of lower fuel bills. There are also a number of grants and other money-saving schemes available to help reduce the initial cost of investing in renewables (see the section on grants and loans in the main park briefing notes, page 30). When thinking about renewables, keep the following points in mind:

  • As energy prices are set to rise in the medium and long term, renewable energy should become more cost effective.
  • The more inefficient your current heating system, the more cost effective a renewable energy system will be.
  • If you are thinking of replacing an outmoded heating system, the first step will probably be to invest in a high-efficiency conventional system (e.g. one based on a condensing gas boiler). Then think about adding a renewable system in tandem with this at a later date.

To find a supplier/installer of a renewable energy system you can use the list of contacts below as a starting point. Personal recommendation is another good way to find an installer. It is a good idea to check if a supplier or installer is a member of a relevant trade body, as this is a good sign of competence.

Solar power | ^ Back to top

There are two main types of solar power technology: solar water heating and ‘photovoltaic’ (PV) solar panels which produce electricity.

Solar water heating | ^ Back to top

A solar water heating system usually consists of solar panels (or collectors) that are mounted on a roof or on the ground. Water passes through these panels and is warmed by the sun. In ‘indirect’ systems this water then passes through a coil in a hot water tank and passes its heat to the water in the tank. In ‘direct’ systems the water from the solar panels goes directly into a hot water tank.

There are two main types of solar water heating panels available. These are flat plate panels and evacuated tube panels. Flat plate panels are cheaper but less efficient than the more high-tech evacuated tube alternative.

Solar hot water systems of either type can be used to heat water for showers and wash-hand basins and for space heating systems. They can also be used to heat water for swimming pools. Although solar heating systems can supply much of the hot water needed by a toilet block or house during the warm summer months, such systems are usually installed to work alongside conventional heating systems (such as oil, gas or bio-fuel systems) and other renewable energy systems such as ground source heat pumps. Solar panels can be added to most existing hot water systems. This is often done by adding a 'pre-heat' water cylinder or adding an additional coil to an existing cylinder.

Many parks have had success with solar water heating panels mounted on the roofs of their toilet blocks or reception/office buildings. Solar panels are, ideally, installed facing south and at an angle of between 35 and 40 degrees.

The cost of a solar water heating system depends on the scale of the installation, but start at around £2,000 - £3,000 for a flat plate system (see section below for grants available). If you or your staff have good DIY plumbing skills then savings can be made by installing a DIY system. The Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales (CAT) publishes a booklet explaining what to do titled Solar Water Heating: A DIY Guide. CAT’s website is at www.cat.org.uk.

Solar PV | ^ Back to top

Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels produce electricity, which can be used to run appliances and lighting and also used to charge batteries. Some touring caravan owners are starting to use small PV panels to power equipment in their caravans and such panels are definitely best suited to installations where there is no grid connection. However, although the technology is developing all the time, PV panels still cost a lot of money in comparison to the amount of energy they produce and payback periods are long.

Combined Heat and Power (CHP) | ^ Back to top

Small-scale Combined Heat and Power Units (CHP) are a technology that is becoming increasingly popular for parks that have larger leisure premises such as swimming pools. A CHP unit produces both electricity and heat from a single fuel, such as LPG. The heat is used for space and/or water heating. The article published in issue 132, pages 31-35 of the BH&HPA Journal reports that when a CHP unit is compared to electricity generated from a centralised power station, a 30% reduction in primary energy needs can be achieved. This means that CHP can produce significant cost savings and reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.

Ground Source Heating | ^ Back to top

Ground source heating is becoming increasingly popular amongst parks looking for a way to reduce their environmental footprint. Ground source systems tap the heat that is stored a few metres under the ground (where it is approx. 10-12°C- all year round) using pipes filled with liquid that are laid in shallow horizontal trenches. Some systems use a borehole arrangement rather than the horizontal trench approach, however, as most parks have reasonably large amounts of land under which to bury pipes, the complex task of drilling a deep hole can normally be avoided.

Ground source systems are usually used to heat a building. They use a heat pump to boost the amount of energy that is transferred from the underground pipe system to the building heating system. Heat pumps must be powered by electricity; however, in a well-designed system every unit of energy used by the heat pump will produce about three units of energy that can be used.

According to CAT a heat pump operates most efficiently when the temperature gap between the heat source and the heat demand is minimised. This means that the building being heated must be well insulated. It also means that a low temperature heating system is the best choice. One option is underfloor heating, which uses water heated to around 35°C. One way to reduce the cost (and environmental impact) of using a ground source heat pump is to use a renewable system that generates electricity to drive it, such as a micro-hydro scheme or an array of solar photovoltaic cells.

According to CAT, a rule of thumb is that the whole system is likely to cost about £1,000 per installed kilowatt. Parks have had success installing such systems when refurbishing or building new facility blocks, when underfloor heating systems can be installed from scratch.

Other similar technology includes air and water source heat pump systems which extract energy from air and water respectively. Water source heat pump systems are particularly efficient, but require a body of still water that does not freeze. Another related system is the ground source air exchange system. This uses a system of air-filled underground pipes and a heat exchanger to provide either heating or air conditioning as required.

Micro-Hydro | ^ Back to top

Modern micro-hydro systems channel fast-flowing water over an enclosed turbine. According to CAT, “Hydro electricity can be one of the cheapest methods of providing off-grid renewable electricity, but it is also very site specific. The best sites are on steep hills, with fast flowing water.”

This obviously limits the applicability of this type of technology for parks, however, it is an option for any park that has a stream with a good ‘drop’ (a 10-15 metre drop is needed to run a Pelton wheel-based system). Any park embarking on such a scheme should, obviously, investigate the impact that it could have on the environment and on any animals and plants in the affected watercourse. Permission must be sought from the Environment Agency for any project and for an abstraction license.

According to CAT, to estimate the energy in a water source, multiply the flow (in litres per second) by the head (in metres) by 10 (acceleration due to gravity). Divide your answer by 2 to account for losses and inefficiencies, and you'll have a rough idea of the potential power generation in watts.

Because micro-hydro installations are so site-specific prices vary widely, although you may be able to DIY a small scheme for about £10,000. A larger and more expensive scheme will, however, give economies of scale.

Biomass | ^ Back to top

Biomass energy is produced by burning organic matter such as wood chips, pellets or logs. Some biomass energy schemes even use resources such as chicken manure. Biomass energy has got a bad press recently due to concerns that it is using up valuable farmland and leading to the destruction of important natural habitats.

If considering biomass, then obviously consideration should be given to its wider environmental impact and only go down this route if you have a reliable supply of sustainably produced fuel such as woodland that is coppiced. The closer the source of biomass fuel is to your park the better as this will cut down on transport costs and pollution.

With access to a fuel source and a place to store it, biomass can make good sense as a source of heat for water and space heating. For example, the Carbon Trust profiles a biomass project at a 20m swimming pool in mid-Argyll. A wood-chip-fired boiler was installed at the pool in parallel with the existing oil boiler. This has led to a 55% reduction in heating costs. The project cost around £24,750 and gave a six-year return on investments. The wood fuel that the pool uses is purchased from a local sawmill.

According to the Carbon Trust, the use of biomass as a fuel is considered ‘carbon neutral’ because the carbon dioxide emissions resulting from the combustion process are broadly matched by its absorption in the growing phase. Therefore the displacement of oil (or any other fossil fuel) results in a net reduction of emissions.

Wind | ^ Back to top

Small-scale wind turbines are being used by some parks to generate electricity, however, their costs and relatively low efficiency do not make them a very cost efficient renewable energy technology. The technology is very site specific as the number of places that are windy enough to justify a wind turbine are limited. From a park perspective there are also very real problems associated with noise and visual intrusion.

Grants and Loans | ^ Back to top

There are a number of grants, loans and tax breaks available for energy efficiency improvements or for the purchase of renewable energy technology. For example, the Carbon Trust provides loans for small or medium-sized enterprises. See www.carbontrust.co.uk for details. For details of tax breaks and a list of eligible equipment go to www.eca.gov.uk. For grants for renewables, check out the DTI’s low carbon buildings programme (www.lowcarbonbuildings.org.uk).

Feed-In Tariffs (FiTs) are the latest Government incentive to encourage renewable energy generation. They became available in Great Britain in April 2010. Now households, communities or businesses that install a renewable electricity generating system will be paid a fixed sum for every kWh of electricity it produces and another fixed sum for every kWh that is ‘exported’ to the grid. According to the Energy Saving Trust (EST), these payments are in addition to the bill savings made by using the electricity generated on site. The EST is an independent body that provides information for people across the UK looking to save energy, conserve water and reduce waste.

The renewable energy generating technologies that are covered by the scheme are solar electricity (PV), wind turbines, hydroelectricity, anaerobic digestion and Micro combined heat and power. Different tariffs apply to the different, technologies. The approach that gets the biggest tariff is solar PV electricity systems (of less than or equal to 4kW) retrofitted to an existing building. Micro combined heat and power systems get the least. The largest size of system that is eligible for payments in 5Mw.

What’s the Deal?

The economic case for the tariffs is set out on the EST’s website (www.energysavingtrust.org.uk), where you can also find out how to take part: “Once you have a microgeneration technology installed, you should experience a monthly reduction in your electricity bill and then receive income from your Feed-in tariff provider. However, if you have taken out a loan to pay for the installation you will have to make monthly repayments to your loan company. Feed-in tariffs are designed so that the average monthly income from your installation will be significantly greater than your monthly loan repayment (with a 25 year loan)”.

The website provides a Cashback Calculator to help any one interested in the scheme see how much they might earn.

The renewable heat initiative

The Renewable Heat Incentive is the sister scheme to the FiTs. It is intended to work in much the same way as the Feed-in tariffs, but instead of paying for electricity generated by small-scale renewable systems, it is designed to pay for the heat generated by systems such as solar thermal panels, heat pumps and biomass boilers. Information can be found on the EST's website (www.energysavingtrust.org.uk)

More information:

  • Click here for an in depth article on renewable energy and the government's Feed-in Tariff.
  • Click here for an in depth article on renewable energy and the government's Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme.
  • Click here for an in depth article on one park's investment in solar, biomass, ground-source and other reneable energy tecnologies.