The challenge of green

Apologies. It is quite a few days since my last post. We have been away and have come back to driving snow and rain, with 100mph gusts forecast for tonight. We shall see what comes.

When we overhauled and extended the Lodge in 2009 we decided that we wanted to be reasonably, but not obsessively green. We have installed a small (6kw) wind turbine and a log-fired boiler.

The wind turbine has gone really well so far. We signed up to the new feed-in tariffs as soon as they became available and these certainly improve the economics of investing in this technology. Whether it is a good use of public money is perhaps harder to say; in our case we would have done it anyway because we believe that electricity prices will only increase, probably above inflation, and we like the idea of a comfortable degree of self-sufficency.

The situation with the log boiler has been more complicated. There is nothing wrong with the boiler itself, which is a Froling boiler, from Austria,  and was supplied by Highland Wood Energy from Fort William. It is easy to light, clean to operate and seems very reliable. But we have found two challenges.

The first challenge involves the control system you need around the boiler. Because we need a back up – for example, if we are not there to fire the log-fired boiler – the log-fired boiler runs in tandem with an oil boiler which kicks in when the log-fired boiler is unavailable. This control system is pretty complex and driven by a whole series of parameters. There are lots of choices implicit in the parameters about whether you want to maximise comfort or efficiency and it is taking a long time to fine tune the system to meet our needs. For the first time we have used more oil than we had envisaged or wanted and we had a summit at Croick today to review where we are. We have adjusted some of the parameters and let’s hope that improves efficiency.

The second challenge is that the boiler has a voracious appetite for logs. Fortunately we have plenty of timber and the means to log it so we can meet that appetite quite easily. But we had not appreciated quite how often our log store would have to be filled, nor designed it to minimise multiple handling. As it is the timber has to be logged, loaded onto a trailer and taken to the log store where it then has to be put in the store by hand. If we were doing it again, we would take more account of the semi-industrial handling required.

Many people, by the way, go for chips or pellets instead. We chose not to go that route because of the additional processes required to create chips or pellets, and the heat sometimes required to get them dry enough to be used. I think it was the right decision for us but it means we have to load and fire the boiler manually whilst a chip or pellet system can be hopper fed.

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