Technology: 3.15kW solar PV panels plus 3.8kWh LifePO battery, and biomass system (30 kW log boiler)
Location: Struy, Highland
CARES funding: £35,592.72 Innovative and capital grants
Dates installed/operational: Biomass system – 2020; solar PV and battery – September 2021
The Shieling Project is an off-grid learning centre and social enterprise based in Glen Strathfarrar, near Beauly in the Highlands. The project runs sustainability training courses, crafting holidays, and runs community events. It also offers residential accommodation for up to 36 people and is available to hire.
The project wanted to install small-scale renewables, such as solar photovoltaic (PV) panels and battery storage, to showcase renewable energy production and low energy-use solutions to the young people that visit its centre. The project gained support from its landlord and neighbour, Eagle Brae, and it made sure there were no potential environmental risks installing renewables through consultation with NatureScot. The project considered the prospect of installing a wind turbine, but this technology was not deemed suitable because of a lack of wind on the glen floor.
Project aims and objectives
The Shieling Project decided to install a biomass system, solar PV panels and battery storage. It wanted to install these systems, as well as new lighting, “in a way that groups can safely view all the equipment and monitor the production, efficiency and usage.”
Dr Sam Harrison, manager of The Shieling Project, explains why it decided on a biomass system:
“Because the camp was built from scratch we weren’t in the situation where we had to replace an existing heating system. However, we were using electric heaters for staff or doing without [heating] where we could. We wanted simple heat and light that would offer educational opportunities for kids to see renewables in action. We could also go for a labour-intensive system making use of logs because we had the time and labour resource with all our residential staff and volunteers.”
The project’s ethos is to use as little as possible. The spokesperson adds: “For many years we only had one 25 litre gas urn, so we knew that we could work with small systems. We installed eight-litre camp showers and compost toilets so the camp can support 800 visitors with very little water. A biomass system of the size we installed only really serves one domestic house, but we use the same amount for the entire camp.”
Outcomes and achievements
The Shieling Project applied for funding from the Scottish Government’s Community and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES) to install a biomass system, solar PV panels and battery storage. It received approximately 75% innovation grant funding for the biomass system and capital funding to fully fund the solar PV panels and storage.
Local Energy Scotland also supported the project to engage technical support for the creation of the tendering documents required for installing the biomass system.
Dr Harrison said: “As a result [of the funding] we were able expand our market through offering a better customer experience. We are happier to market to adults with a better level of comfort than we had before. Covid has had an impact on more people wanting to be outdoors. Our new lighting means we can have courses later in September and can work longer hours. We can also advertise to businesses to rent the facility.
“In terms of the impact our project has had on our community, we offer local school visits and we employ people in the community. A local community group may use the same system for their renewable energy project and we’re happy to share community learning with other projects and local estates.”
At the time of writing (January 2022), the project says it needs more time to analyse how much carbon and money it has saved on its energy bills since installing its new solar panels. However, “the biomass system has been installed for a year and despite the camp not running at full capacity during the pandemic we have already halved our heating bill.”
There are other benefits too. Dr Harrison says: “We went for six years without lighting – whilst this added to the experience of the camp it meant we couldn’t expand our market. The solar PV array has been tailored for use with some LED lighting and a little AV equipment. Now we don’t need to worry about the drop in capacity throughout the winter as we work to seasons and anticipated this dip. Otherwise, we would need to have quadrupled the amount of solar PV to deliver enough energy for the camp.”
The organisation has identified several lessons learned throughout the project. Dr Harrison explains: “I have personally learned a lot about micro-renewables and making sure the system was suitable to what works for our facility.
“We struggled to get a consensus on costs and the types of systems that would work best when doing our research. It was really invaluable to get the technical support from consultants when issuing our tender. Few installers were willing to bid on a small-scale tender. However, with support from Local Energy Scotland we were able to contract a company that really tailored the system to what we required.
“We wanted a small unit, at a lower cost for our limited needs. The heat exchangers meant there was no need for a hot water tank which would have needed additional space to be built to house them and this way we had instantaneous hot water where required. We were lucky to have a local contractor who could carry out the groundworks.
“The whole project has taken six years, from first looking into the idea to completing the installation. As our next steps we hope to work with climate scientists and undertake a climate audit to ascertain our CO2 costs per day versus a day in a traditional school.”
For more information, visit The Shieling Project’s website.