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Bicton Earth - a case study of building a renewable energy training centre

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 7 September 2011 at 9:09 am

A wide range of renewable technologies will be used in the new installer training centre and community interpretation centre at Bicton College in Devon.

Old agricultural barns are being converted into a state-of-the-art centre. The heating will be set up to take first from the solar thermal panels, then from the air source heat pump, and thirdly from a biomass boiler. They all feed into an underfloor heating system.

In summer excess hot water from the system will be piped across the farmyard to the college dairy, to minimise their need to heat water. In addition, Bicton Earth will trial using the underfloor heating system for cooling.

While the building does not strictly need three sources of heating, it will be valuable to demonstrate to trainees and visitors who the technology works in practice.

Electricity will be provided by a large array of solar PV panels on the roof.

In addition to the standard technologies above, the college is experimenting to see how it can be as sustainable as possible. The interpretation centre may also house some of the college's computer servers and they are looking at ways to capture heat from the servers, and use it for space heating.

The college is also about to plant Paulaownia trees for use as biomass. These are known as atomic rhubarb because they grow so fast, and Bicton Earth will be one of the first places to test how they grow for coppicing in the UK.

As always for large projects like these, getting the funding together proved challenging. The college put in £170,000 of its own money and won grants of £100,000 from Making it Local and £400,000 from Productive Skills for Devon. It also received an invest to save loan of £600,000 from the Skills Funding Association.

EDF has given £30,000 for the solar PV array, and the college is still looking for £200,000, some of which it hopes will come in kind.

Bicton College has already delivered its first solar PV and MCS training courses, and will add solar thermal from September. The courses will move into the new building when it is completed early in 2012.

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