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Microgeneration: Do-it-yourself energy

Microgeneration: Do-it-yourself energy

Scientists at Glasgow Caledonian University have received funding from ScottishPower to map the maze of abandoned tunnels which exist beneath the city. The team is identifying underground reservoirs of water which have the potential to heat homes and potentially to power under street heating.

One small housing estate in the city – Glenalmond Street in the East End – already uses geothermal energy and residents have heating bills of around £160 per year, as compared to £660 for an average Scottish family.

GCU’s Dr Nicholas Hytiris, a geotechnical specialist in the University’s Institute for Sustainable Engineering and Technology Research, said that once the correct data have been gathered on the location of the underground water reservoirs, special ground source heat pumps could be used to extract heat from the water. The extracted energy would then be used for the heating of homes or offices.

“After Hamburg and Stockholm, Glasgow could be the third city in the world to have under street heating. In three years’ time we will have a full and accurate record of what is going on beneath our feet and then we can go on from there.

“We believe this technology will in the long term be able to provide cheaper and more sustainable heating, which could be an answer to fuel poverty issues prevalent in many areas of Glasgow, particularly those with a mining past and a legacy of poor quality housing and high unemployment.”

The project will initially focus on the Clyde Gateway regeneration area but will grow to encompass several other parts of Glasgow with a mining history. World leading geoscience centre, the British Geological Survey, has offered full access to its data including a unique 3D geological model of the city for the three-year duration of the project. Representatives from ScottishPower and from the British Geological Survey will act as industrial co-supervisors for the project.

Derek Drummond, Sustainable Technology Manager at ScottishPower, said: “This is an excellent project that could prove to be very beneficial for the City and its residents, and we are pleased to be supporting the study.

“The initial work around the Clyde Gateway regeneration area should allow a good understanding of the technical challenges involved in capturing this energy, and how it could be applied to other areas. It is important that we can fully understand how this energy will integrate with the electricity network, and we look forward to seeing the study develop.”

Dr Hytiris will be joined by GCU colleague Dr Rohinton Emmanuel, a reader in sustainable design and construction who has expertise in urban climate change and Bjorn Aaen, a former technical advisor to Glasgow City Council. Dr Caroline Gallagher, senior lecturer at GCU and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) specialist, will assist in an advisory capacity.

Aaen, whose original vision initiated interest in this field a number of years ago from his knowledge of Glasgow’s geology and mining history, said: “We aim to show that harnessing this energy is a viable which we believe it is. We’re confident that utilising this technology properly will lead to a large energy saving for thousands of Glaswegians.”

According to leading low carbon researcher Professor Furong Li: “A key element of any solution to decarbonise our electricity generation will be micro-generation, where individual households use technologies such as solar panels, wind turbines, combined heat and power methods and home energy storage to generate some of their own power from renewable sources, which they will consume and store when the price is at its cheapest.”

Li was recently awarded an esteemed Wolfson Research Merit Award from Royal Society for her work in the field of low carbon research. The award recognised Li’s research contribution aimed at accelerating the UK’s move towards low-carbon living. Her work aims to reduce the cost of integrating renewable energy systems, and the use of cost-reflective economic incentives to shape future energy use.

She is also working to facilitate the development of highly flexible, interactive and cost-effective smart grids. The award will allow Li to focus on mapping out the current energy network infrastructure across the UK, highlighting areas which most lend themselves to micro generation and home energy management. She will work with the government and network operators to develop incentives in these regions aimed at increased public uptake of micro generation technologies.

There is increasing focus on deployment of small scale renewable energy close to the point of consumption. This will create opportunities for suppliers of micro-generation technologies as well as requiring new strategies and business models from power generation companies and utilities.

Growth of distributed generation, legislation surrounding this market as well as integration of distributed generation into the grid are emerging trends.

The rapid depletion of the finite stock of fossil fuels places the spotlight on micro-renewables in residential and commercial applications. This technology will aid sustainable power production and lower dependency on conventional grid power by improving the competence of energy harvesting systems, without being detrimental to the environment, according to analysts Frost & Sullivan.

The residential and industrial sectors are intensifying their search for alternative energy sources to fill the gap left by depleting fossil fuels. They are exploring various methodologies and technologies that can use waste from farms, gardens, industries, and municipalities to generate petroleum substitutes, heat and electricity.

In the European Union, a directive mandates standards for the incineration of municipal solid waste to minimise its environmental impact.

This has motivated EU members to develop technologically advanced incineration plants to achieve high levels of emission control. One of the technologies the EU is incentivising is heat pumps.

While the initial investment is high, they help cut electricity usage for space heating or cooling.

Asia too is introducing various regulations and standards in waste management. For instance, Indonesia has implemented the Environment Management Act to regulate procedures for hazardous waste disposal, storage, and treatment.

This directive mandates that collected biomass is either incinerated for energy, or sent for anaerobic digestion so combustible gas can be obtained for domestic purposes.

“Building owners must carefully assess the building’s structure before installing renewable energy systems,” noted Frost & Sullivan Senior Research Analyst Avinash Iyer. “Micro-renewables such as solar or wind turbines can be retrofitted in existing buildings and can also be built into new structures.”

Consumers are increasingly adopting building integrated photovoltaics (BIPVs) following the development of second and third generation photovoltaic (PV) cells. BIPVs reduce building envelop materials by replacing conventional building materials, generate electricity through micro generation, and help lower the building’s energy consumption since they are glass modules that provide insulation.

Nevertheless, manufacturers of third-generation solar PVs have to demonstrate high power conversion efficiency for the higher uptake of their technology. “Even though its performance in laboratory conditions is satisfactory, there is no guarantee it can be replicated during large-scale production,” noted Iyer. “To ensure high power conversion efficiency, technology developers have to address fundamental issues relating to bandgap, interfaces, and charge transport.”

Solar panels on homes in the UK are now a common sight and provide evidence that more people understand how feed-in tariffs work and how they can reduce their bills with micro energy generation. Now a Cambridge-based company, Microgenius, is helping to extend these benefits further to investors by offering a national platform for community shares.

Emily Mackay, the founder of Microgenius, said: “It aims to link people with an interest in sustainable energy with communities that are developing micro-generation projects and simplify the process of buying and selling shares.” Small-scale energy generation is becoming more and more common. Microgenius recently support Woolhope Woodheat, a co-operative regenerating neglected woodland to produce fuel for hard-toheat local buildings.

“The brilliant thing is that everyone benefits. The woodlands are properly managed by experienced people, local people get a source of affordable wood fuel and investors get a good return on their money. For Woolhope Woodheat the target return of 6 per cent plus potential Enterprise Investment Scheme tax relief, creates an effective return of over 8 per cent gross.

“My own interest in community energy generation came when I found that I couldn’t install my own solar panels. So I started to talk to the people involved in other micro-generation projects and got excited about having a single platform for investors to find community share offers.”

For the past four years, the co-operative sector has outperformed the UK economy, demonstrating resilience in difficult economic times and proving that values and principles go hand in hand with commercial performance. More than 5,900 cooperative businesses in the UK contribute £35.6bn to the UK economy and operate across all business sectors Microgenius has received an enthusiastic response from key players in the industry including ethical energy provider Co-operative Energy, and renewable electricity supplier, Good Energy. Other projects include a hydroelectric scheme in Sheffield and an urban tree station in Manchester, with others in the pipeline.

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