Wood for biomass heating systems is readily available in Devon

The county of Devon has significant renewable energy potential, including suitable sites for micro hydro and wind turbines, ample solar radiation, and plenty of woodland to supply biomass fuel. The county also has many deprived rural areas, where most of the employment is provided by small businesses.

Devon County Council launched Renewable Energy for Devon (RE4D) in 2006, in order to create and safeguard jobs and at the same time cut CO2 emissions. The project simultaneously stimulates demand for renewable energy and builds up installer capacity.

RE4D have provided the training courses that we required to carry out the work we’re doing now. Working with the RE4D mentor has been really helpful...he knows in depth exactly what our business does.

Gabriel Wonderausch, Managing Director, SunGift Solar

Background

Devon is a county with much potential renewable energy. The national parks of Dartmoor and Exmoor receive above average rainfall and are several hundred metres above sea level, providing a viable hydro-power resource. Together with the coastal areas, they also have high average wind speeds. The lower lying inland areas have significant areas of woodland, providing a source of biomass fuel, whilst levels of solar radiation are higher than the national average, particularly near the coast.

Some urban centres in the county are affluent, but there is also significant rural deprivation. Many small to medium enterprises (SMEs) are scattered throughout the rural areas. Devon County Council aims to reduce the overall carbon footprint of the county, and is keen to use the environment as an economic driver. In addition to funding awareness-raising campaigns and Devon Warm Zones (which offers home insulation), the council has also focused on the SME sector.

RE4D in Devon is stimulating demand for renewable energy and creating jobs such as production of fuel for biomass boilers

In order to increase energy generated from renewable sources, both demand and the capacity of installers to meet this demand must increase. Devon County Council tackled both these requirements by setting up Renewable Energy for Devon (RE4D).

The organisation

Devon County Council was established in 1970. It managed a budget of £1.1bn (2008-09) and employed 23,000 people. RE4D delivery was managed by Devon County Council in partnership with Devon Association for Renewable Energy, Exeter University – Centre of Energy and Environment, Global Action Plan, Trans-send and Westcountry Energy Action. By using the strengths of this wide range of partners and avoiding competition between them, RE4D was able to give coherent information and support to businesses and other organisations in Devon.

The RE4D programme

RE4D, established in 2006, provided independent support and advice for those wanting to install renewable energy technology, in particular businesses and community organisations. It also aimed to increase the quality and capacity of renewable energy businesses; and to encourage links between local supply and demand for renewable energy technology in order to encourage economic growth and job creation.

Explaining how the boiler works

To achieve these goals, the RE4D programme worked simultaneiously in a number of different ways. One part of the work was establishing the available resource and opportunities for using renewable energy in Devon by developing Technology Growth Plans for different renewable technologies. A second part wasdelivered training and both business and technical support to installer businesses. At the same time, RE4D helped SMEs, community organisations, households, schools and public sector organisations carry out energy audits, improve energy efficiency, and install renewable energy technology, by providing advice and grants.

How was the programme funded?

The £1.23m funding for the project was provided mainly by the European Regional Development Fund Objective 2 (45%), the South West Regional Development Agency through Devon Renaissance (28%), and Devon County Council (19%). Other project partners and Mid-Devon District Council also provided funding.

The council had to do something to generate alternative energy, and we’ve got the forests here.

Kevin Ross, chipper operator for Anglian Woodfuels

Installers are entitled to free places on the training courses offered by RE4D, but had to 50% match-fund a business development grant.

For renewable energy customers, advice and feasibility studies were provided free. RE4D also provided a total of £250k in 47 capital grants to about half the clients installing renewable energy equipment, including biomass heating systems, solar PV, solar water heating, wind turbines, hydro schemes and heat pumps. SMEs received up to 25% of the cost, and community groups up to 50%. Most clients also received grants from other sources. Some clients received loans from the Carbon Trust, and many also invested their own money – the total funding leveraged was £805k. One of the benefits of the RE4D grants was that their deadlines encourage clients to move quickly. This increased the rate at which generation capacity was installed and helped the installer businesses to grow.

Benefits

By May 2009, RE4D had advised 345 SMEs and over 70 communities, schools and public sector organisations. 109 renewable energy installations had been carried out , including 38 solar thermal, 15 ground source heat pumps, 27 biomass boilers, 15 solar PV arrays, 12 wind turbines and two hydro schemes, with a further 16 installations in progress. At least 18 installations in domestic buildings also resulted from advice provided by RE4D, even though the domestic sector was not their main target.

Solar PV is just one of the renewable energy installations generated by RE4D in the SouthWest

The installations carried out represented a combined generation capacity of over 2.1 MW, based on responses given in client questionnaires and visits from RE4D staff.

Environmental benefits

The installations completed by May 2009 resulted in reductions of about 1,700 tonnes/year in CO2 emissions. The work setting up a wood-fuel co-operative and some of the biomass boiler installations resulted in woodland being brought back into management, which can have positive effects on biodiversity.

Social benefits

RE4D’s clients benefited from having on-site renewable generation of heat or electricity, reducing their energy bills and often making a visible statement about the value they put on the environment. In the case of community organisations, the savings enable them to provide better services to their users, and schools have also made use of installations in the curriculum. Households benefitted from the free advice, helping them to make decisions about what types of renewable energy technology would be practical and cost-effective to install.

Some of the biomass boiler installations resulted in woodland being brought back into management, which can have positive effects on biodiversity

Economic and employment benefits

Clients reduced their energy bills, and expect to see a cumulative saving of at least £168k per annum over the lifetime of the equipment installed. At a time of rising energy prices and slower economic growth, reducing spending on energy helps safeguard jobs, since energy costs can represent a significant overhead for many rural businesses.

RE4D’s work with clients generated extra business for renewable energy installers in Devon. The free training made it easier for installers to take on new staff to meet the extra demand. Over 90 people had places on training courses funded by RE4D, and this gave extra business to the local colleges and other organisations that run the courses. It is estimated that RE4D’s work generated 55 jobs in the renewable energy sector in Devon and safeguarded a further 16.

Potential for growth and replication

The model used by RE4D, building up both the demand and supply side for the renewable energy sector, could be replicated in other parts of the UK. Most areas, particularly those suffering from deprivation, have funding set aside for economic development, and this is an opportunity to achieve that goal while at the same time improving sustainability and tackling climate change.

Wood shavings for biomass boiler

Update: what happened next?

RE4D worked with a further 32 communities in 2009/10, providing building audits, advice and support on technology and funding. By October 2010, this had led to a further 16 renewable installations, which will save an estimated 300 tonnes/year of CO2. Support to households and businesses, and mentoring for installers, has also continued. Devon County Council has provided funding to enable partners to continue some RE4D activities until March 2011, by which time the decision on an EU funding bit for longer-term activities will be known.

New work has also started. A scheme to replace renewable energy grants with loans is under consideration. The ‘Ward Forester’ project, funded jointly by Devon County Council and the Forestry Commission, is bringing woodland into management, and producing woodfuel for heat.