Going Green at Kincardine Estate
Our contact with many clients through our Kincardine Castlet enterprise, many of whom have connections with the energy sector, have firmly convinced us of the need to reduce our use of fossil fuels. We are addressing this issue on two fronts: first reducing our energy consumption and, secondly, seeking to utilise alternatives to our use of fossil fuels. Major changes like this cannot happen overnight but Kincardine Estate is now working towards reducing our carbon footprint in a number of ways.
1. Reducing Consumption:
Kincardine Castle is heated by biomass. It isn't an easy building to heat as it was constructed to encourage fresh air to flow through the structure in order to keep the timbers fresh. This is in direct contrast to today’s buildings which are built to be air-tight and then ventilation is controlled. Constrained in what we can do to the building by its listing as an Historic Building it is difficult to reduce our heating consumption. When we’re on our own here we heat isolated parts of the castle and wear lots of sweaters. Obviously when we have guests we crank up the heating and the castle becomes warm and snug.
We continue to work towards making our rented properties more energy efficient too. This is an on-going and gradual process. Many of our houses have double glazing and loft insulation. The construction of the houses makes it impossible to fit cavity wall insulation but where we have carried out major renovation works we have been able to install insulation in walls and floors.
With a total of 14 listed buildings in our portfolio, and many more within the Kincardine O'Neil Outstanding Conservation Area, we face particular challenges in meeting the often conflicting aims of preserving the appearance of vernacular historic buildings while trying to make them energy efficient.
At the Castle we are in the process of installing energy saving bulbs as the incandescent ones burn out. Given that there are many hundreds of bulbs this process may take years. Naturally the most frequently used lights have already been changed.
Some years ago we changed our Land Rover Discovery for a diesel Volvo which gives us nearly twice the mileage. We also have a small energy efficient Skoda which we use when possible. On the estate it is difficult to get away from using larger vehicles as these are needed to get to some locations and to carry tools and equipment. In an experiment we acquired an electric van for one of our joiners but the vehicle's limited range proved unsatisfactory. Instead we've taken to using the electric van ourselves for short journeys and for delivering the produce from Kincardine Kitchen to local outlets. We've grown rather fond of it.
2. Green Energy Production
The Scottish Government has set very challenging targets for renewable energy generation. On 23rd September 2010 First Minister Alex Salmond raised the target for electricity generated by renewable energy from 50% to 80% by the year 2020. Within a week he also announced that he expected the figure to reach 100% by 2025. Other targets to minimise the use of carbon based fuels to heat buildings will, in all probability, be increased in due course. Kincardine Estate is convinced that it must assist in meeting these targets and is already investigating a number of options for green energy production.
We explored the possibility of installing a mid-sized wind turbine on Minew Hill. In September 2010 we installed a meteorological mast to assess the wind profile of the site and this ran for 24 months. All the internet-based predictions led us to expect a mean wind-speed of around 6.7m per sec. However the two-years of data proved that to be too optimistic. We have since removed the anenometer mast and have had to shelf our plans to generate sufficient energy for all the homes on the estate from the wind.
Given the importance of the River Dee as a world-class salmon fishing destination we don’t regard the option of extracting energy from the Dee as being realistic. However a number of the estate’s farms had, historically, small water mills. This is despite the fact that Kincardine Estate is not blessed with sizeable burns flowing across its land.
We are currently assessing the flows of the small burns that powered these mills to determine whether it would be viable to install a hydro-turbine. We can already state that it is highly unlikely that more than about 3kW could be generated from water and even then there would be a lull in power output during the summer. Flow assessment is being carried out using thin-plate weirs.
After some years of measurement it is clear that our hydro-electricity options are very limited. Short of damming the river Dee, which would not be welcomed, we shall have to search for other sources of energy.
A few years ago we investigated the possibility of erecting a solar PV field. At the time this was not viable. We promised to review this and are currently re-visiting solar. We have a couple of options - a ground-based array and one using a farm building. The government subsidies for solar have come down but then so has the cost of solar panels. We hope to produce some electricity from solar PV ere long - especially as our biomass installation uses more power. At the moment our only installation is a tiny panel which powers the light in our fishing hut. Meantime we use solar power in a different way - to grow trees which can then be used for biomass - see below.
Biomass – for heat and CHP
Our biomass heating project was commissioned on 5th March 2012 at a total cost of £205,000. Naturally the project has to be of high quality as befits its location beside a major listed building and within an Outstanding Conservation Area.
The system comprises a 133kW wood-chip boiler and a 20kW log boiler producing, in total, a maximum of 153kW. In the 12 months to 5th March 2013 we burned just 317* litres of oil to heat the castle which compares well with the 23,000 litres it took the previous year. Obviously the wood chips cost us and the system does use about £2,000 of electricity per annum (see solar power above). Nevertheless the fuel savings are signficiant and, what's more important than anything, in the winter of 2012/13 we were warmer and more comfortable than we've ever been.
*The oil consumed was mainly because of teething troubles with the system and an element of operator error. From 20th May 2013 to date (27th June 2014) we have burned no oil to heat Kincardine. The system is designed so that if the biomass system fails for any reason the oil burners kick in. We try not to let that happen!
Once we learn from our experience of using biomass to heat Kincardine Castle we shall then take forward plans to use biomass to provide heat and power for other estate properties. In truth it seems likely this will only be a viable plan if we build a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plant in conjunction with new development. If we can at the same time provide more economical and greener heating for our tenants (and indeed other households) then this will be a win-win situation.
Geothermal heating plants require electricity to drive them and with the inefficiencies of energy transmission – only some 40% of the power generated reaches the end-user – the supposed energy efficiency of geothermal heat begins to fade when one looks at the whole energy equation. Our view on this will probably change if we are making our own electricity from either the wind or CHP projects detailed above.