Using clean renewables, dirty renewables or partly renewable technologies for renewable heat

The United Kingdom’s Department of Energy and Climate Change seem to need consultants to provide fundamental advice. That is fair enough, providing that they use consultants with genuine expertise. Unfortunately the past few years has seen the growth of many firms consulting in renewable energy that do not seem to have the expertise that they need.

In the case of renewable heat the consultants appointed produced a report which covered all forms of renewable heat including partly renewable heat (like heat pumps which need electricity to operate) and dirty renewable heat like biomass, which burn wood products creating carbon emissions. Somewhere someone has lost the plot because the consultants failed to distinguish between renewable and low carbon; the whole point of renewable energy should be that it is low carbon and produced no pollutants; neither biomass nor heat pumps meet this fundamental criterion.

The consultants modelled how much renewable heat may be achieved and at what cost. They concluded that solar thermal will not play a leading role in renewable heat believing that biomass and heat pumps would be cheaper. Therefore they concluded that biomass and heat pumps will play a larger role in providing renewable energy than solar panels. They do not properly take into account the pollution and emissions that heat pumps provide.

It is an astonishing conclusion because both biomass and heat pumps depend upon a fuel source, which you have to buy. I do not know how these consultants managed to predict the future cost of electricity and wood pellets; clever people than them have tried and failed to do this.

They deemed solar thermal, which requires no fuel that you have to purchase, as having considerably higher costs, but there is no evidence for this conclusion from their report. The Solar Trade association claim that the consultants have used for their modelling a study on solar thermal that has been previously discredited. I suppose that the old adage of “garbage in garbage out” applies as equally to consultants reports as it does to computer programs.

I have read the report and find the references to solar thermal as being very superficial and in some cases inaccurate.

They dismiss the ability of solar panels to support central heating (someone should tell the Germans that they are doing things all wrong) and state that solar can only be fitted on roves which are predominately south facing or south west facing. Someone should explain that east/west systems have been installed for upwards of 15 years in the United Kingdom and in the rest of Europe with great success and many solar controllers have east west systems built in as one of the default programs.

If the government relies on this report they will be adopting poor advice that can be proven to be inaccurate about solar thermal. That is in itself bad enough, for the environment and for our future carbon emissions. The quality of the advice is highlighted by the fact that virtually every member of the European Union has far more installed solar thermal on a capita basis than the United Kingdom. Do these consultants know something that the cumulative knowledge of the rest of the European Union has overlooked?

In addition there are large solar thermal programs in places that have no indigenous solar thermal industry, like South Korea and Chile; again are these nations doing something wrong?

The consultants have to explain why they are right and everyone else in the other countries in the world with far more experience of solar is wrong.

The biggest flaw in the report is its failure to acknowledge that solar thermal is virtually wholly clean and free from emissions, unlike biomass and heat pumps. In the case of biomass you have to buy in to a claim that there is an ever expanding volume of new tree growth that can be coppiced regularly and transported in high volume for low energy output per cubic metre. You also have to buy in to the claim that the biomass will all be replaced and that the smoke will be carefully and constantly controlled and that the servicing costs of doing so will be insignificant. It requires more than a giant leap of faith.

In the case of heat pumps you have to understand that they all use electricity (you cannot have a heat pump which does not run on electricity) and therefore when considering costs you must accurately predict lifetime costs of electricity as well as catering for the fact that the colder the weather the less efficient heat pumps become.

I cannot predict the future cost of electricity – except that I think it will rise at significantly higher levels than inflation – but I can predict that daylight will, for the foreseeable future remain free at the point of use.

They also fail to acknowledge the fundamental point – why use electricity or burn biomass to heat water when you can heat water for free with solar panels?

2 Responses

  1. Robert,
    It seems to me you should be trying to change the mind of the consultants, or even become one, if you became a consultant to the government and charged them thousands for your advice they might start listening as it is any one who offers free expert advice is given the cold shoulder. What i want to know is where these so called consultants get their fact and information from!

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