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How the National Trust is reducing its energy use (and how you can too!)

- categories: blog

How the National Trust is reducing its energy use (and how you can too!)

Most of us are familiar with the National Trust. You’ve probably visited at least one of its properties here in Northern Ireland such as the Giants Causeway, UNESCO World Heritage Site or maybe a stately home in Fermanagh. However, you may not have thought about how much heating and power these properties require - not only for comfort but conservation. 

The Trust as a whole spends around £8 million on power and heating for its buildings, but it has an ambitious target of generating 50% of its energy demand from renewable energy by 2020 and reducing overall energy use by 15%. This is the organisation’s response to climate change, which will help it to reduce dependency on oil, generate funds for conservation work and make people think about how they use their energy - and inspire others to do the same.

As an organisation, the National Trust has led the way in achieving energy targets by installing over 100 renewable energy systems across England, Wales and NI, with an installed capacity of 11MW in heating and over 4MW in electricity generation. 

In Northern Ireland, the Trust has been planning and installing renewable energy since 2008. It is actually the second-highest performing region in terms of renewable generation, after Wales. To date, almost 45% of its energy comes from renewable generation at its properties. 

Reducing Oil Dependency

One of the Trust’s key achievements has been to convert its largest oil user – The Causeway Hotel – to renewable heat. This followed its success converting Mount Stewart, Castleward and nine other properties to biomass heating. Not only does this reduce CO2 emissions associated with fossil fuels, but it also eliminates the environmental risks associated with storing oil.

One of the challenges in maintaining heritage buildings is the difficulty in upgrading heating systems. Many of the Trust’s buildings are listed and therefore have restrictions on refurbishments, both internally and externally. The Causeway hotel provided one such challenge; the managers of this building, which dates from 1830, previously had no way to control individual rooms and areas, other than physically turning down radiator valves. Keen to use a local supplier, Antrim based Heatboss was engaged to install the wireless heat management system, which uses wireless valves to control each radiator - resulting in better room-by-room heating and temperature levels. This resulted in reductions in energy used for heating and hot water – so far these have averaged 30% over the average usage of the previous 3 years.

A Giant Leap

Probably the most famous of the Trust’s properties in Northern Ireland, the £18.5m visitor centre at the Giants Causeway, was opened just under 10 years ago and has won several awards, including one for its sustainability criteria. The building design itself achieved a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ award, which is a sustainable building design standard taking account of design, materials, energy, ecology and construction. 

In terms of energy, one of the features of the building is its 72 kW ground-source heat pump, which avoided the need for boilers, flues and air conditioning units - none of which would be permitted at this world heritage site. The horizontal heat collector is located under the car park and is 4.5 km long! And that’s not where the innovation ends - heat extracted from catering refrigeration contributes to the building's heating in winter and the centre even extracts heat from the waste ‘grey’ water from washbasins, using it to pre-heat domestic hot water.  Heat pumps have also been installed at Castle Ward’s Basecamp building and the Manor House, Rathlin Island.

The future is bright

Another challenge associated with listed buildings is that often solar PV panels are not suitable as installing panels can cause structural change, which can affect a building's character. However, the Trust has, where possible, installed solar PV panels to generate electricity - for example at Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, where a solar PV system provides energy for the tearoom facilities.  Solar thermal systems have also been installed at four sites where there is a hot water demand, such as the Manor House accommodation on Rathlin Island.

What's next?

As part of the Trust’s commitment to reducing the impacts of climate change, it has recently trialled the first electric van in its fleet on the Causeway Coast. This vehicle is used by the facilities team, to undertake operational and health and safety checks around the Trust’s protected coastline.  It is part of a long-term strategy; to use more electric vehicles across the region where possible, to change perceptions of e-cars and encourage their use by visitors.   

In terms of heating, having removed all large oil boilers, the organisation is now concentrating on how energy is managed, for example through upgrading energy controls and improving data collection. The Trust in NI also has plans to remove oil heating systems from all of it's 'in hand’ properties (those directly managed by the Trust) by 2021.

Reducing energy use is key to combatting climate change and the National Trust hopes that by leading through example, it can educate us – the visitors who enjoy these special places – on how we can also contribute, with our own positive responses to climate change. Although renewable energy is still feasible without government incentives, there are other steps we can take – our blog articles can help you to make your daily routine more efficient as well as motivate colleagues and employees to reduce energy in the workplace. 

There are also lots of energy-saving tips on the National Trust’s website, from switching to efficient LED lights to turning down your heating by 1 degree and insulating your loft.  Further information on the National Trust’s commitment to sustainable energy is detailed here.

Dawn Murphy

Dawn Murphy
Senior Project Manager


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