Wood chip fuel containers at Ringmer Academy

Ringmer Revisited – Remeha biomass boiler cuts carbon by 300 tonnes at Sussex school

Nestling in the rolling South Downs is Ringmer Academy, an award-winning, lead National Sustainable Academy which has successfully introduced its 11-19 year-old students to a range of sustainable sources of energy and LZC technologies to encourage them to prepare for a low carbon future. Since 2011, the heating for some 70 per cent of the school – including two separate buildings and the swimming pool – is provided by a Remeha 450kW biomass boiler.

Fuelled by locally-sourced wood chips, harvested in a thirty-mile radius of the school, the Remeha biomass boiler has enabled the school to reduce its carbon emissions by 300 tonnes a year and is producing real fuel cost savings.

When the school’s existing heating system needed replacing two years ago, Ringmer Academy’s Sustainability-Leader, Stephen Green researched the benefits of biomass as a more sustainable form of heating from a low carbon source. “Escalating fuel prices combined with reduced budgets definitely provided a strong financial incentive, but as an educational establishment this was only part of the equation: we wanted to demonstrate to our students that you don’t need carbon-based fuel to heat a school or any other building.”

With funding for the initial investment successfully secured from the Local Authority, consideration was given to the design and implementation of the system. At Ringmer Academy, a barn was built next to the boiler to house the two wood chip containers. A 200kW gas boiler runs alongside the biomass boiler as backup, to guarantee heat delivery at all times. Mr Green estimates that the entire installation, including the purpose-build storage barn, totalled in the region of £250K.

After a year-long application process, Ringmer Academy gained accreditation from the Government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) funding scheme. The RHI was introduced by the coalition to help investors in renewable energy equipment recoup the initial outlay in green technology. Following accreditation by Ofgem, organisations are paid for every kWh of renewable heat produced by the technology of their choice. The Academy is now in receipt of between £25-30K a year over a twenty-year period, a significant sum but it was not plain sailing as Mr Green reports.

“Ringmer was in the first tranche of the biomass uptake so we expected to have some snags along the way. However, the most difficult issue we have had to contend with was applying for RHI funding – I think I deserve a Duke of Edinburgh award for endurance!”

However arduous the process, energy costs at Ringmer Academy are now very low with the RHI funding meeting three-quarters of the wood chip fuel costs. This means the biomass boiler is less expensive to run than a gas boiler, even given the fixed, subsidised rate the Academy receives from the LA.

So how does the Academy feel about its biomass boiler two years down the line?

“Biomass is a great, sustainable means of generating low carbon heating,” said Mr Green, “but you do need to make plans and provisions ahead of installation. It’s important to make sure your fuel is easy to source and that your supply is good quality, reliable, sustainable and local – that way you avoid incurring huge haulage costs. Don’t forget to factor in the time you need to spend on operation and maintenance, around half a day a week in our experience. It’s also worth noting that biomass boilers work best when operated fairly continuously, although this is something which RHI funding favours.

“We went into this with our eyes open and we certainly haven’t looked back. From a financial point of view, even given the initial investment, it’s clear that with RHI in place, biomass is a good business plan while the environmental argument speaks for itself.”

With over 500 biomass heating systems installed in the UK to date, Remeha Commercial is well versed in all aspects of supplying biomass boilers, often in conjunction with our eco-friendly, low NOx commercial gas boiler ranges, to deliver maximum efficiency, low carbon heating into schools and colleges, new and old.

With sophisticated renewable equipment, smarter heating systems and the enticement of RHI payments over 20 years, one thing’s for sure – wood has never looked so good.

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