Ambitious target of 130 green energy projects hit in National Trust properties across UK

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Renewable energy solar panels | © NT images James Dobson

Over 130 renewable energy projects have been completed in the National Trust’s mansion houses, farms, holiday cottages and cafés, as part of an ambitious nine-year programme by the charity to grow its own green energy supply and reduce its reliance on fossil fuels.

The Trust launched a renewable energy investment scheme in 2013 to help the organisation “get off oil” and generate 50 per cent of its own energy, against a 2008 baseline, by 2021. This week, the charity says it has met that target.

Thirty-five million pounds has been invested during the past nine years, making it the organisation’s biggest ever investment in renewable energy.

Installations can be found in some of the most historically and environmentally significant sites in the Trust’s care, ranging from mountain hydros in the fast-flowing streams of the Lake District and Snowdonia to biomass boilers and heat pumps in mansion houses that help preserve rare books, tapestries and paintings.

Together, the schemes can generate 24 million kilowatt hours of energy each year – the equivalent of powering over 8,400 homes.

Patrick Begg, the Trust’s Director of Outdoors and Natural Resources, said: “Over a decade ago we set ourselves the ambition of growing our own energy and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, and began a serious programme of investment shortly after. We’ve since completed 138 projects – and most you wouldn’t even know are there.

“Many of our historic properties that were once reliant on oil are now fuelled by natural resources and much of our visitors’ experience is rooted in renewables – from the exquisite tapestries on view that need carefully-controlled humidity, to the holiday cottages kept warm by heat pumps and the lights turned on in our hydro-powered pub.

“As debate intensifies around how the UK sources, generates and saves energy, these projects offer a snapshot of what’s possible – even in the most challenging and remote of settings. The technology and the solutions are already at our fingertips.”

A large part of the scheme has involved decommissioning oil boilers, historically used in remote country houses due to poor access to the national gas grid, and replacing them with sustainable heating systems. This has removed over a million litres of oil from Trust properties, saved 4,000 tonnes of carbon each year – the equivalent to taking 1,600 cars off the road a year – and lowered the risk of pollution and spills. Today, oil accounts for just seven per cent of the charity’s energy use.

But the charity has acknowledged it has more to do, and is today announcing a second phase of investment to reduce fossil fuel use at its 100 highest-emitting buildings and generate more renewable electricity to off-set the remaining emissions from its other buildings. The eight-year scheme is part of the Trust’s efforts to reach net zero by 2030.

Patrick continued: “This summer’s extreme weather was another reminder of the increasingly palpable effects of climate change – and we can’t afford to take our foot off the pedal. We have our sights set on being net zero by 2030, and investing in more clean, home-grown energy is an important step in that direction.”

Among the most recently completed projects is a hydro-turbine at the picturesque hamlet of Watendlath in the Lake District. Hydropower was first installed in the community 100 years ago, but the 1920s system has long fallen out of use. Earlier this year, the Trust switched on a new ‘run of the river’ hydro that captures water running over a screen in the beck to provide enough energy to power 84 average family homes each year.

Will Handford, the Trust’s Renewable Energy Programme Director, said: “These projects are as much about looking to the past as they are about modern engineering, and this hydro perfectly illustrates how relevant these age-old methods still are.

“Watendlath is one of the most spectacular locations in the Lake District so it’s crucial that the system blends seamlessly into the landscape. It shows how we can sympathetically install green energy projects into treasured settings – which has been our mission from the start.

“Projects like this are an investment in the future, and many are already generating an income, with excess power sold back to the grid and the money ploughed back into conservation of our buildings and landscapes.

“With renewable energy firmly in the spotlight right now, we hope our work demonstrates what can be done.”

Other projects among the 138 completed include:

  • The Trust’s biggest solar PV installation at Wimpole in Cambridgeshire, where 1,300 panels harness the sun’s rays to power half the working estate
  • ‘Green’ pints at the Trust’s first hydro-powered pub, Sticklebarn, in Ambleside, which turns the wet Cumbrian weather into clean energy
  • A biomass boiler now heats all 100 rooms at Penrhyn Castle in Bangor – the last National Trust mansion house in Wales to be fuelled by oil
  • A water-sourced heat pump at The Vyne in Hampshire uses pipes within the lake to maintain the right humidity levels for a collection of rare tapestries in the house
  • A restored 95-year-old hydro at Castle Drogo in Devon powers the café and visitor’s centre 400m above.
  • A ground-sourced heat pump at Baddesley Clinton, in Warwick, has replaced LPG entirely. The complex installation had to navigate a 500-year-old moat
  • The hotel at the world-famous Giants Causeway in County Antrim, once the highest oil user for the Trust in Northern Ireland, is now powered by biomass

Helena Bennett, head of climate policy at Green Alliance, said: “The UK’s dependence on fossil fuels is a major contributor to the cost of living crisis. The quicker the UK can switch to cheap homegrown renewable energy, the quicker we can start to bring down people’s energy bills and bolster energy security. The Trust’s work on nature conservation and sustainable farming continue to be essential in the fight against climate change, but it’s also hugely encouraging to see the charity’s determination to speed up the switch to clean energy across their historical sites as well.”

The National Trust has been making steady progress pioneering the use of renewable technologies since the 1980s and now has over 300 renewable projects in operation.

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