The change to green energy at our places – Why does it matter?

The National Trust looks after special places for ever and for everyone: ranging from historic houses and gardens to beautiful countryside and coastline. As an organisation we have a responsibility to sustain and protect these places for ever. This means that we must be constantly making long-term decisions about what is best for their future.

For us, one of those key decisions surrounds the practical use of energy and following our last blog which detailed the community energy schemes being set up in Snowdonia, we thought it best to discuss the other major energy developments happening at our places.

Did you know that it costs the National Trust almost £6 million a year on electricity, oil and gas in order to heat and power our properties? Energy use remains essential to our everyday working. In order to mitigate the cost of rising energy prices and reducing our impact on climate change, we have decided to get smart with how we produce energy for the special places that we care so much about.

Imagine visiting your favourite National Trust site and seeing it completely generating its own energy through a vast array of new technologies such as solar panels, wood fuel heating and energy-saving measures. Well this is our goal; making all our places fit for the future. Through the creation of the National Trust Green Energy Scheme, we are well on the way towards achieving this.

It is our aim that, by 2020, we will not only have halved our fossil fuels usage, but we will have also ended the use of fuel oil completely. By using renewable and high performance technologies we can transform our historic buildings in ways that are sympathetic to their beauty and significance.  Above everything else we want to give visitors both a taste of these measures and new forms of energy that properties are using, and inspire them to make a similar switch themselves.

So far, a wide range of green measures are being installed at properties across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, many of which we can now successfully share.

Reducing Oil Usage

One of the scheme’s initial actions has included the replacement of oil powered heaters with biomass boilers, which use wood materials, including chips, pellets and logs, made from the trees found on local Trust estates. Through this, it has now been estimated that this measure that will help save 699,869kg of CO2 over the technologies’ lifetime, and a great amount of heat. This will become particularly important to many of our rural properties, where currently millions of people are dependent upon oil as their main source of energy. As seen from the successful award winning wood chip boiler recently installed at Castle Drogo in Dartmoor, it is expected that this fitting alone will save both £20,000 on previous oil heating costs and reduce CO2 emissions by 325 tonnes.

This work has continued with similar recent biomass boiler introductions at Uppark in West Sussex, CardingMillValley in Shropshire, Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire and also the largest yet fitted at ChirkCastle in Wales. With plans to install more than 50 further wood fuel boilers over the next five years at properties including Allen Banks in Northumberland, Lyme Park in Cheshire and Dyrham Park in South Gloucestershire, the scheme looks set to continue to save a great deal of energy.

The largest biomass boiler yet fitted at Chirk Castle in Wales

The largest biomass boiler yet fitted at Chirk Castle in Wales

Using natural heat

Following this, the installation of heat pumps has become another highly effective way in which the Trust is looking to reduce carbon dioxide emissions whilst still creating a sufficient source of heating at its places.  By extracting heat from the ground, water, air and even the sea, heat pumps are able to warm properties satisfactorily, require minimal maintenance, and have had great success across 11 properties including those at MordenHallPark in London, PowisCastle near Welshpool, and Stackpole near Pembroke, also in Wales.

Energy-saving lighting

One of the more recent developments to have come from wanting to reduce our energy emissions has included the National Trust working with Heritage Lighting to produce a new LED light bulb to be used in chandeliers throughout our properties. Specifically designed to be both aesthetically pleasing, very low energy and much longer lasting, Candle Bulbs, as they are known, have already been placed in sites such as Ickworth House in Suffolk and PenrhynCastle in North Wales. At Penrhyn in particular – one of the largest mansions in the National Trust’s care –  they are using 90 per cent less energy compared to their previous  use of ordinary tungsten bulbs.

Changing the lights to the latest LED candle bulbs at Plas Newydd on Anglesey

Changing the lights to the latest LED candle bulbs at Plas Newydd on Anglesey

Generating electricity

On top of conserving our energy, a key aim of the Trust is to ‘grow our own’ energy from local sustainable sources at our places, wherever financially and environmentally practicable, particularly in terms of generating electricity.

This first included the successful installation of a great number of solar panels across many of our buildings, even on the roofs of several of our listed sites. Turning daylight into electricity, a fantastic fit with our energy profile: when the sun is out, more people tend to visit our properties so we have more energy to use. The use of solar panelling across 14 of our historic properties has included the largest installation at Heelis, the National Trust’s central office in Swindon, where it has provided 30 per cent of the building’s electricity needs.  Additionally, the Trust’s first solar energy project at DunsterCastle in Somerset, has gone on to save almost 3,000kg of CO2 a year since it was first established there in 2008.

Photovoltaic system in the plant nursery at Powis Castle near Welshpool

Photovoltaic system in the plant nursery at Powis Castle near Welshpool

With the further addition of seven hydropower sites across National Trust properties, ranging from those at Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire, Gibson Mill in West Yorkshire and London’s first ever hydro at Morden Hall, our use of harnessing water power has  become one of our greatest sustainable energy sources. First started with the restoration of the water wheel at AberdulaisFalls, Wales, in 1991, not only does this hydropower site now produce enough electricity to provide all the power needed by the visitor centre and associated buildings, it has also become the largest generating water wheel across Europe. These successes have put the Trust in great stead to create many more potential hydropower sites, including over 300 potential sites across Wales and the North West alone. This will include Stickle Gyhll, our only National Trust owned pub, and also one on the side of MountSnowdon, which, as mentioned previously, impressively, will generate enough power for all of our historic homes in Wales.

Whilst we recognise that there is still much more work to be done, switching to the use of renewable forms of energy and high performance energy efficiency measures in which we can achieve this throughout our places, is obvious. Our nation is gifted with abundant natural energy from the sun, earth, sea, wind, rivers and woodland. Ultimately we need to utilise this as best we can, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and taking control of our unpredictable and rising energy bills.

Want the chance to write this blog and be a part of the Media & External Affairs team? Applications for the March internships are now open, to download a form please click here

Blog by Jamie White, Media and Communications (Press Office) Intern


One thought on “The change to green energy at our places – Why does it matter?

  1. Hi There Ntcomms,
    Thanks for that, I work at a place where people drop off stuff for free, and I salvage what I can and sell the items for just enough to pay for the electricity bill. I was wondering what kind of items that would normally be no good would have a motor in it that would be good for a wind turbine. As a company that pushes for going green, I think having green energy, by making wind turbines, would be great for this small company.

    I’ve read that treadmills have good ones, and older computers. What other things would have them?
    Kindest Regards

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