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Renewable technologies work together at Devon vineyard

Posted by NicoleYouGen on 11 March 2013 at 10:50 am

Different renewables technologies can complement each other when used in tandem, as Pebblebed Vineyard’s Clyst St. George Vineyard in Devon shows. A solar thermal system became the farm's newest renewable energy installation in November 2011, adding to solar PV and a biomass boiler.

Geoff Bowen, owner of Pebblebed, sees each system as one part rather than a complete solutuon to energy needs. "We’ve got all the different technologies," he said. "We have quite a high heat demand and our principal heat has to come from the biomass boiler. The idea is to switch the boiler off in the summer and rely on the solar thermal, but that may not be practical if it’s a bad summer. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have solar thermal, because it’s a very cheap. The solar thermal cost me £2,000 and the boiler costs me £15,000, so it’s cost effective".  

The biomass boiler is registered for Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) payments, which helps with the cost. Solar thermal systems are also eligible for RHI payments, but only if the installation is done by an MCS certified installer.  Pebblebed's  solar thermal system was  installed by a local plumber instead. "At the time I saw my local plumber could do it, he wasn’t MSC accredited, and my thinking was do it the cost effective way, without chasing after the grant," said Geoff. "I think he could do it at half the cost of the MCS accredited installer".  He added that, as a farmer, he wants to be able to stand on his own two feet as much as he can, and that the technology is a wise investment without the incentive. 

Solar thermal is less costly to install than PV. It is most suitable for homes and businesses that use a lot of hot water. The total cost for Clyst St. George system (with installation) was £2,500. The REC panels take up 4 square metres. They generate about 720kWh per square metre per year, or c. 2,880kWh per year in total. This saves 1.7 tonnes of CO2 per year, and, if eligible, would equal £245 in RHI income (at the non-domestic rate of 8.5p/kWh of heat). 

While it might not seem like it sometimes, the UK does have enough sunlight to make a solar thermal system viable. Solar thermal can contribute to water heating year round in the UK, although Geoff did say that, for the system at the vineyard, the winter production was not significant against the business' demand. 

Geoff began Pebblebed Vineyards in 1999, and later got support from Dragon’s Den for his community vineyard idea. Before the starting the vineyard, he was an environmental consultant and he is currently on the board of the Devon Environmental Business Initiative. The Pebblebed website reflects his sustainability mindset: “Our aim, quite simply, is to look at everything we do in the vineyard, in the winemaking processes, and in the distribution and packaging of our products in order to be environmentally sustainable, as well as to minimize adverse impact on the environment. We don’t have a lengthy environmental policy or operating manual but we seek to ask the following questions at the start and throughout all of the myriad of tasks we have to undertake: What can we do to reduce the environmental impact of this activity? Is it practical to achieve and financially possible?” 

Want to know more about solar thermal? Considering your own solar thermal system? 

• Read more about solar thermal  from YouGen

• Read Solar hot water panels: 7 Things to Know before you install

Find a solar thermal installer in your area

Want to know more about renewables options for UK farms?

Click here to find out more about how to save energy on your farm, or click the following link to download a free, comprehensive guide Energy in Farming

If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.

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