The National Trust is to invest £30m in solar panels, woodchip boilers and innovative technology that can extract heat from a lake, in a bid to supply half of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2020.
The significant investment in renewable power by Europe’s largest conservation organisation is an eightfold increase on the £3.5m the trust has already invested in five pilot green projects.
Although the trust has opposed individual windfarms on visual grounds in the past it says it believes strongly in renewable energy and laid out a plan in 2010 to cut its fossil fuel use in half to tackle global warming.
“In setting out our 10 year plan we recognised we will have to play our part in helping to mitigate climate change. A key part of that is to reduce our reliance on oil and look for greener energy solutions,” said Patrick Begg, the trust’s rural enterprises director.
“We have a responsibility to look after the special places in our care, requiring us to make long-term decisions that will protect them for future generations.”
The charity estimates the renewable energy schemes planned at 40 sites will save 2,586 tonnes of CO2 a year, and will cut its energy usage by 20% through energy efficiency measures. A big challenge for the trust is the historic and energy inefficient nature of many of its properties, many of which are off the gas grid.
One of the pilots is a biomass boiler which will heat the entire property at Ickworth, a Georgian palace situated inside 8,000 acres of National Trust parkland in Suffolk.
The boiler replaces the old oil one and sits where the gardner’s shed used to be, in a small building designed to reflect the property’s italian architecture, with customised slots where some of the nine bat species on site are able to roost. It runs automatically 24 hours a day and creates only waste ash in the process, filling a single wheelie bin every two months.
Visitors can step inside to see – and smell – five tonnes of pungent pine wood chippings, the stored remains of about 20 trees from the estate. Its 600 acres of woodland will provide all of the fuel needed for the 200kW boiler. Last year they spent two weeks felling 440 tonnes of wood –18 months supply of wood chip – through a process of thinning 20% of the trees in the more tightly packed areas of woodland.