The recent major fall in the price of oil, and to a lesser extent gas, has made headlines suggesting that this might spell the end of the need for renewables. However, it was only one year ago that ‘experts’ predicted oil at $200 per barrel. Nobody forecast today’s sub- $50 barrel. It would seem that Saudi has sufficient funds and a stable political landscape that will aim to continue to produce oil at the $50 level in order to put pressure on other producers.
John Findlay, Managing Director of Carbon Zero Consulting, believes this will also greatly impact on the enthusiasm for investment in domestic shale gas. Mr Findlay says, “This all amply demonstrates the volatility of the fossil fuel market. Although many businesses will welcome a temporary reduction in fuel costs, Carbon Zero Consulting would not recommend building a long term strategy around an endless supply of cheap fossil fuel!
John Findlay continues, “Although heat pumps need electricity to operate, the price of electricity does not suffer from the same degree of volatility as the fossil fuel market. The power generators can use a range of sources, including renewables to hedge their costs. Heat pump technologies maximise the delivery of heat (and cool) for a given amount of input electrical power.”
Although flying in the face of government policy to pursue a massive increase in the electrification of the nation’s heating; installation of biomass technologies has far outstripped heat pump numbers. The number of projects considering Ground Source Heat Pump (GSHP) technology is now starting to rise due in part to degression of biomass tariffs, the advent of the domestic RHI and upward correction of the non-domestic RHI (although there remain some anomalies in the provision of RHI for heat pumps compared to biomass).
John Findlay of Carbon Zero Consulting is of the opinion that, “A well-designed low temperature GSHP scheme provides the most efficient means to obtain renewable heating – and cooling. Add to this the benefits of no requirement for fuel delivery or storage, no flue or on-site emissions and the ability to combine with solar technologies; the benefits and returns from GSHP installations look very inviting.”
As we have seen, the price of oil can change radically in a matter of weeks. A Ground Source Heat Pump (GSHP) is designed to operate for 20 years or more. The major ‘fuel’ source for a GSHP is, of course, the ground. A well-constructed borehole or trenched ground array would still operate in 100 years.
John goes on to question, “What other technology could claim this? In fact, the UK’s first ‘modern’ closed loop borehole GSHP installation has recently turned 20 years of age with heat pump and borehole still going strong. Some systems in Sweden are much older than this. Power stations producing low-carbon electricity to drive heat pumps in every home and business is how we should see the future in the UK – not hopeful gambling on the price of oil!”