The Great Pickwell Transition Project

Once we had finished the majority of our refurbishment works at Pickwell Manor we felt brave enough to start investing in a low carbon strategy for the house and business.

Pickwell Manor has been powered by oil for heating and hot water, and electricity for lighting and all the appliances since the day we moved in. When we purchased the house we inherited three oil-fired boilers, an oil-fired Aga, and three oil tanks to power them. Here are two of our old boilers (sitting in a pool of water!) in our boiler room.

We have a large three - phase electricity power supply to the property.

We use quite a lot of energy overall, and the house is not particularly efficient, being mainly leaded light windows and having an old, but amazingly dry and effective, close boarded slate roof. Charming house but quite draughty!

In 2012 we started exploring renewables - a low carbon alternative to oil and self generation options for electricity. Being a listed building we knew this was not going to be entirely straight forward.

 We engaged three local firms to give us their ideas and solutions and by consensus reached the conclusion that ground a mounted 20kw Solar PV array would be the ideal solution to generate electricity, and a 100kw biomass  pellet-boiler, housed externally to the main house, would be best for heating and hot water.

 We then got architects involved to negotiate with the planners, and in March 2013 received planning permission to go ahead and commence the installation.

First we had to do the ground works..

This involved removing a couple of small trees, a few shrubs and a lot of brambles.

A mini - digger and driver cleared the brambles and scrub, and levelled the ground to make way for the solar array. We also dug three new vegetable growing beds, whilst the digger was in the garden!

As a ground mounted system, the kit was laid out in position, and constructed on site.

The PV panels were fixed into place on the frame.

The finishing touches were put in place.

The scale of the finished array was pretty overwhelming at first, but the sun was shining, so we were happy!

All the cables and new meters were connected up in the house.

We decided to give the array a slight screening with a low level hedge, to take away some of the visual impact from the rear upper windows of the house.

So we now have a 20 kw solar PV array, commissioned on 25th April 2013, which was installed by Green Deal Group, based in Ilfracombe. Huge thanks to Scott Burrows and his team for doing a great job. 

  Now we just sit back and let the Devon sunshine do it's best. Since the end of April we have already generated 11,000 kwh of electricity!

As soon as the solar installation was completed, we embarked on the bigger biomass boiler project. This was to be situated in a quiet and discreet corner of the walled garden. Firstly, the polytunnel was removed and packed off to a good local home.

The diggers levelled off the ground and dug the footings for the 17 tonne storage container to sit on. Within this container would be the boiler and an 11 tonne wood pellet store.

The footings for the biomass boiler and storage container were concreted in during the first week of May, and the boiler solution was ordered.

In the middle of June, the container finally arrived with the boiler pre-installed inside. 

We couldn't believe the convoy of lorries and cranes that approached slowly up the drive, and we were very nervous about how the container was actually going to safely make it up and over the 8m wall to its final position.

The delivery drivers had to chain-saw some branches off the trees across the drive way, to actually get up the drive, due to the height of the vehicles.

 Once the crane was in position to make the lift, its stabilisers extended and our car park was transformed in to a sight we will never forget!

The huge container was then lifted from the lorry, over the wall and into position - all in approximately 10 minutes flat.

A very smooth and efficient operation had passed without incident. Phew!

I (Steve) was dealing with everything and overseeing the whole thing. The funniest bit was when the driver of the crane had finished, we saw him pointing at Tracey, (who had just popped out for a moment to see the crane) and overheard him saying to his colleague 'go and ask the nice young lady to make us all some tea'.

An insulated 'heat main' connecting the boiler to the house, had to be buried in a trench, and connected up - this would take the hot water to the house from the boiler within the container.

This is the new 100kw Froling pellet boiler, sited within the container. Apparently all the best wood pellet boilers come from Austria and Germany - Froling are an Austrian make.

Finally at the end of the first week of July, we switched over from the old boilers to the new one. The pipes to the old boilers were literally sawn off.

The new pipes from the heat main were connected up to the existing internal pipework within our old boiler room.

We then commenced fencing works to box-in the new, and not so attractive, container.

Martin, our resident Pickwell Manor carpenter,

finished off the fencing works beautifully.

We now have wood pellet deliveries instead of oil deliveries.

The pellet lorry connects to a fill pipe and the pellets are 'blown' up a tube and in to the storage tank, via the silver pipe running up the wall (two thirds of the container is custom built as a pellet store, and one third houses the boiler and header tank).

We are really pleased with the way the project has gone, and that it is all installed and working well. A massive thanks to RES Devon, and particularly Jason Roome and his team for all their assistance.

We think we will probably generate 40% of our own electricity from the solar PV array, and as well as coming off oil, (which we are really pleased about!) we think we will halve our fuel cost switching from oil to pellets. 

On top of this, we will receive some government RHI - renewable heat incentive - and FIT - feed in tariff payments. We are really pleased to be moving on to more sustainable energy sources for our homes and business, and would recommend it highly.