Without doubt this is one of the questions I get asked most often, whether it is from a potential customer, friends or conversations I have day to day in business. That or ‘Which is the most cost effective renewable technology?’ It’s a bit like asking what is the best vehicle in the world. If you want to go very fast you’d have to say a Bugatti Veyron, if you want to transport 20 tons of bricks it would be an articulated lorry, and if you wanted to have the least environmental impact you’d say an electric car, powered by solar PV! You get the picture. It’s all about what you want to achieve.
With any client the first thing I do is try to find out what is the biggest issue or cost to their business. Is it generating heat, hot water or electricity? Then of course it is about their property or site. Which technology does it lend itself to, and importantly, what does it NOT lend itself to. I think this is the critical advantage we can offer over a majority of renewable energy companies, we aren’t limited to any one renewable technology, or tied to any one manufacturer. This allows us to be independent in thought and recommendations.
So, which technology is the best, they all are, depending on site and circumstance! And some technologies work particularly well together, such as heat pumps and solar PV, or Wind Turbines.
Having just looked at the pipeline of projects I am working on presently it is apparent though which technologies are most versatile and offer the best return on investment. About 80% of that pipeline is either solar PV or Biomass boilers, and about an equal measure of both. Why?
Both solar PV and biomass are very versatile. If you want to generate electricity a majority of sites would be able to accommodate a solar array, either building or ground mounted. It is an easy to deploy/install technology, as long as the system is designed and specified correctly (right panel/inverter selection, shading addressed etc) you will get a very good return and performance from your array.
If it is heat you require biomass can be used for most circumstances, from heating chicken sheds and greenhouses, to bed and breakfasts and offices, or to produce hot water for food
production. Biomass is far more clean than most people think, and is very scale-able, from a domestic home, to a district heating scheme. Access and storage are the key, but there is usually a suitable site.
Return on investment
Solar PV still benefits from the Feed in Tariff. Most people are aware that the level of tariff has reduced in the last couple of years, but so have product costs, and the returns now are as good as they have ever been. Typically 12-17% ROI on a south facing roof. Of course as energy prices continue to increase so too does your return on investment.
However, without a doubt with the commercial Renewable Heat Incentive in place biomass has the quickest payback and greatest ROI. Typically 25-40%. It sounds too good to be true, but the numbers are easy to quantify, and this is the technology we’re most often asked about for this very reason. You get paid to generate heat!
Of course there is no point installing biomass if what you really need is electricity, or installing solar pv if you need heat. And maybe on your site a heat pump, wind turbine or solar hot water are the best option, with the best returns? That is why you need to speak to people who can help you make an informed choice, because if you speak to someone who only sells Solar panels, guess what they’ll tell you you need!!!
So what is the best renewable technology? It all depends on what you want to achieve….