The seemingly never-ending drive to control energy costs and reduce CO2 emissions is driving innovation but can also drive complication. "A site could have almost any combination of a gas boiler, Combined Heat & Power (CHP), LED lighting, biomass boiler, heat pump and then even some solar panels on the packhouse roof," Tim Pratt says. Having grown up on a farm in Yorkshire and with nearly 28 years providing energy advice to farmers and growers, he is one of the UK’s foremost greenhouse energy specialists. He explains how selecting the right techniques and getting the most out of it can be tricky.
Electricity markets, in particular, are changing as well, says Tim. "Volatility and flexibility are words used almost every day, the days of running a CHP from 07:00 to 22:00 with hardly a second thought are long gone."
Whilst subsidies like the UK’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) helped to increase the use of low carbon heat they can have some slightly perverse outcomes. "You might even remember the Northern Ireland ‘cash for ash’ issue that even brought their government down fortunately no greenhouses made it into the headlines!"
Whichever energy technology growers have or are considering, few are ‘fit and forget’ in the way that electricity from the grid and a gas boiler are. To get the best out of your investment, Tim points out the following.
This needs a full understanding of the lifetime operating costs that feed into the daily running hour decision and the subtleties of selling electricity to the grid
LED lighting (often on a site with CHP)
Whilst the crop ‘rules’ tunes can be played with running hours linked to the price of grid electricity and CHP
Is the true cost per MWh of heat really known? The management and maintenance cost is often underestimated
A bit like LED but with less ‘crop rules’ limitations. "Deciding which energy-related investment is best for your business and then making sure that it delivers the benefits expected can be challenging," he concludes, and this is where Tim Pratt and his new company Now Then Energy Ltd can help. He's started the business in order to help growers with these challenges: if it's a feasibility study, a CHP management service or an energy consultancy - he brings along his lifetime experience to help growers with it.
This week, he launched his new website, which remarkably often says to get in touch when things get complicated. "The internet and websites have transformed how we work. But there is nothing like a chat over a (virtual or real) coffee and a no-nonsense discussion about energy needs," he concludes.