FSC | Field Studies Council

Field Studies Council: Bringing Environmental Understanding to All


Blencathra Renewable Energy- Low Carbon Vision Project

In 2010, Blencathra FSC was awarded a grant from the Rural Carbon Challenge Fund and match funding from FSC & Lake District National Park Authority to install a 35kW hydro scheme, a 300kW biomass heating scheme and improvements to the building infrastructure. The project commenced in early 2012 and has now been completed.

The training stage of the Renewables Project improved understanding of low carbon technologies and processes across the North West through the delivery of educational and training programmes. Blencathra exceeded all the targets set contributing significantly to the local economy:

2-3 Microgeneration businesses supported/created
CO2 displaced 201.4 tpa (214.8tpa)
Training days delivered 584
Participants completing training day 13600
Training for micro businesses/organisations & outdoor centres 27

Since completing the project we have worked with Nurture Lakeland as a case study for their Low Carbon Cottages Project and subsequent Toolkit.

The Blencathra Centre was announced at the Green Tourism Annual conference in November 2014 as a joint winner of the Best Activity Centre/Provider. Andrea Nicholas, Director of Green Tourism, said "The Goldstar Awards are a recognition of the best of the best in Britain when it comes to creating and maintaining a thriving sustainable tourism industry. A total of 60 green tourism businesses from across the UK were shortlisted for the Goldstar Awards this year out of more than 2,400 entries. These finalists represent the best of the best, the top 3 per cent of Green Tourism businesses in the UK."

In April 2015 Blencathra has been shortlisted for the prestigeous Sustainable Tourism Award in the Cumbria Tourism Awards.

Biomass District Heating Scheme  

Location: Blencathra Centre, Threlkeld, Cumbria
Installer: Barden Energy, www.bardenenergy.com, 015242 73939,  Howsons Ltd, 015242 41422  provided secondary system in buildings.
Type: Herz Biomatic 300kW woodchip boiler, 8000l accumulator tank, District Heating,
CO2 savings:155.5t/year.

The total project will contribute to reducing the CO2 emissions from 275 to 60 t/year, an 80% reduction.

Switching our heating from a predominantly fossil-fuel system was crucial to reducing carbon. A range of ideas were investigated, including solar thermal and air and ground source heating. Geology and weather considerations led us to a biomass solution. A simple, large system was a better option that an array of others in this case.

Biomass boilers have increased in efficiency dramatically, and there is an emerging sector in the area. The heating requirement for the site amounts to nearly 559,000kWh annually. This created a huge carbon footprint, which biomass can reduce.

The integrity of carbon savings data is based on the detail of how the biomass life cycle works. UK biomass has significant carbon benefit because bi-product is used (wood not big or even enough for sawlogs). This means the biomass is a waste-product which would have contributed to CO2 by rotting down anyway. If this is a continuing trend, then we will have the potential for a growing timber industry (that could replace more polluting building materials) and an energy source.

How it works...

The design process began with a profiling of the centre’s needs. This resulted in the selection of boiler type, and size of accumulator tank. The main considerations are peak, base and normal load.  At times of peak demand, the large accumulator tank effectively enables the 300kW boiler to be a 420kW system. A woodchip store supplies a furnace that keeps an 8000l accumulator tank at around 85oC....The hot water, under pressure and driven by pumps, supplies heat exchangers and/or heat interface units in the different buildings. Cold water returns.

Put simply, water simply circulates round the centre, reheated by the boiler.

The energy losses from pipes throughout the district system is about 5%, relatively low.

Hydro Electricity Scheme 

Location: Roughten Ghyll, Glenderaterra Valley, GR299277 (weir). 40min walk (one way)
Installer: Border Hydro, Cockermouth; www.borderhydro.co.uk, 01900 85616
Type: Weir, (using old site), penstock, 35kW Francis turbine and 2.6km cable
CO2 savings: 59.3t/year.

The total project will contribute to reducing the CO2 emissions from 275 to 60 t/year, an 80% reduction.

It is important to recognise that the project faced several key challenges. The site is in the Lake District National Park, Lake District High Fells SAC, Skiddaw Group (geological) SSSI, and consists of private land (Lonsdale Estates), is on common land, and a public bridleway. The land is particularly open, well used, and is a widely loved part of the Lake District with several interest groups’ voices to be heard (e.g. Friends of the Lake District, farmers, Parish Council). We also had to work with Natural England, Cumbria County Council, Environment Agency, and the Lake District National Park Authority.

These challenges, on top of the technical and economic challenges of the development, were overcome, and as such, the project provides a cutting edge exemplar of hydropower installation.

The design of the Intake weir ensures the gill retains a 'hands off flow' of 50/s and a rate of abstraction not exceeding 140l/s. This is governed by the Environment Agency licence. A fine gauge grill installed on the outflow prevents fish entering the system from below. Several other key ecological impacts were highlighted and mitigated.

A coanda screen (pictured) prevents debris greater than 1mm entering the penstock (pipe) at the weir. This prevents damage, and is a sophisticated, self cleaning design. (<1mm debris will pass through no problem). The penstock incorporates a tank sited under the coanda screen, producing a relatively constant flow. The level of that tank dictates the work-rate of the turbine.

In the turbine house, a tail race produces suction, which performs two tasks. Firstly, the whole system is wet, unlike an inefficient Pelton system. This creates a siphoning system which is crucial for the correct function of the turbine. In essence, the water pushes and pulls the water through the turbine. Secondly, the barrier (sited under the grate) allows sludge to build up there (removable), rather than clogging the outflow pipe. "The works will conserve the appearance of the landscape and the natural beauty of the national park... and enhance the cultural heritage"- the Planning Inspectorate

A power cut would still affect us, because the energy is produced by an inverted motor, rather than a generator. This is cheaper and much safer, but the implication is that it cannot be used as a grid-free option. Mains electricity is required to run the hydro.

Less than 5% of the power is lost along the cable. Voltage is elevated to 3.3kV for the 2.6km, and then reduced back down to regular voltage on site.

The turbine house is faced with Borrowdale volcanic rock, and has bat and bird friendly designs. The penstock is buried, reducing the visual impact. LDNPA and FSC are working together to reinstate the site.

There is a crucial role for the hydro scheme to play in the educational activity at the centre. We will use the scheme as an integral part of the teaching and learning at the centre, and also run courses and events for local and national partners and clients.

Both these strands are emerging alongside the recent acquisition of the site from the National Park; this purchase as well as the Renewables project contribute strongly with the charity’s Vision for 2020, which states that we must ensure the charity’s activities are sustainable.

Official opening with Rory Stewart MP

"It was an honour to officially open the Blencathra Field Study Centre's new bio-mass boiler as part of the Renewable Energy Project. It's an incredible piece of technology that has transformed the way in which the centre heats itself, and in the long-run will provide a reliable and sustainable income stream to support the centre in its fantastic work locally. It is another great example of the FSC leading the way in solutions that reduce their carbon footprint and energy costs, whilst remaining sensitive to the beautiful landscape and environment in which they are set." Rt. Hon Rory Stewart MP

 Download a Case study of the renewable project here


This project was supported by the Rural Development Programme for England, for which Defra is the Managing Authority, part financed by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe investing in rural areas


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