David Ferguson Warms To Off Gas Grid Renewable Heating

David Ferguson joined Locogen last year as Senior Engineer. He is based in Inverness and is focused on delivering off gas grid renewable heating to our clients in the north of Scotland. Here, he talks about his passion for using renewables to help lower energy bills and move away from the polluting fossil fuel heating systems that have previously been necessary in the off gas grid areas of Scotland.

How did you get into renewables?

I’ve always been interested in environmental issues, along with engineering and construction. So, I studied mechanical engineering at Strathclyde with a focus on renewable energy, which was ideal. My dissertation was on tidal stream energy but I am interested in all technical solutions that help customers reduce energy consumption, carbon emissions and, ultimately, bills. I soon saw how renewable technologies applied in the correct circumstances can provide significant cost and carbon savings for customers, so my career path was pretty clear from then on. Since graduating I have worked mostly in the building services sector within the industrial & commercial, SME and domestic markets, primarily identifying and delivering energy efficiency and low carbon solutions. 

Tell us a little about your work in off gas grid renewable heating

I’ve been working now in renewables for more than 10 years, both as a consultant and engineer. Delivering off gas grid renewable heating solutions is at the heart of my work. Being from the West Highlands myself, I understand the issues involved in being off gas grid, both the impact on business and the particular issues in delivering off gas grid projects.

How do you see the development of the renewable heat market?

In my experience there are two main drivers in the renewable heat market: energy costs and government policy. The cost of energy is, of course, a significant factor for clients looking at replacing their heating system. It’s up to us to deliver solutions that have lower running costs than their existing systems and lower overall costs than the fossil fuel alternatives. That way, installing renewable heating makes sound business sense, as well as lowering emissions.

Government policy has a huge impact on our industry and, broadly speaking, can be separated into ‘carrot’ and ‘stick’ elements.The carrot refers to incentives and grants such as the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), while the stick refers to regulations such as the energy efficiency directive, building standards and air quality standards. Just this year we have seen the Feed-In Tariff disappear from the renewable power sector. While there is consultation about a potential, partial, replacement in the form of the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) there is currently no certainty what, if anything, will be in place to support small-scale renewable electricity generators after March this year.

In the renewable heat sector, the RHI runs until 2021, which might seem some time away, but we cannot afford to let uncertainty creep in and a long-term strategy to support the decarbonisation of heat needs to be put in place sooner rather than later.

We need long-term stability to help grow the market and the ‘stick’ of regulation can help provide that. Tighter building standards, such as the SAP calculations governing new builds in Scotland, do promote the use of renewable heat and power solutions, but there seems to me to be room for a more joined-up approach. I think a much simpler and consistent incentive policy, along with more stringent building standards, planning regulations and air quality requirements would allow the renewable heat market to grow in a more sensible way than the boom and bust of shifting incentive schemes that has been seen in the past.

What technologies are appropriate for off gas grid renewable heating systems?

There are a number of available technologies, including district heating, biomass and heat pumps. It’s horses for courses, but in general air source and ground source heat pumps are at the heart of the government’s strategy to decarbonise and electrify the heat sector, so I would expect these to have the highest level of deployment over the short term. 

What are the barriers to the deployment of off gas grid renewable heating and what can be done to overcome them?

Aside from uncertainties around support mechanisms as described above, there are some technical issues to consider. There are lots of older properties in the region and in retrofit situations installation costs can be high due to system side works being required to allow the heat pumps to run at their design temperature. Heat pump manufacturers, however, are addressing this with bivalent systems and a new generation of high temperature heat pumps.  Further development, such as improvement in coefficient of performance (COP), of these solutions and reduction in costs could help us reach the tipping point the market needs to allow the straight swapping of existing fossil fuel boilers to low carbon heat pumps.

What led you to join Locogen and what are your aspirations for the future?

I have known of Locogen for a long time and always heard really positive things about the people here, so when the opportunity came to join them I was delighted to take it.  The company has a highly skilled team with expertise across a number of sectors and I have found that I have already learnt new skills.  I hope this trend continuous and for the future I’d like to help the company continue to deliver both electric and renewable heat projects. I’m really looking forward to building Locogen’s off gas grid renewable heating business across the north of Scotland.

Please contact us if you’d like to discuss your options for off gas grid renewable heating.

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