Renewable energy: National Trust

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14 December 2015

Patrick Begg explains the thinking behind the National Trust’s £30m investment in renewable energy

The National Trust’s 10-year strategy Playing our part – what does the nation need from the National Trust in the 21 century? outlines 4 key priority areas. These are:

  • looking after its places;
  • a healthy, beautiful natural environment;
  • experiences of its places that move, teach and inspire; and
  • helping to look after the places where people live.

As part of the plan, we recognise we will have to play our part in helping to mitigate climate change. As Europe’s biggest conservation charity, a key part of that is to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, cut energy use by 20% and source 50% from renewables on our land by 2020. Our biggest ever investment in renewables, an expected £30m, marks a milestone towards reaching these targets. This investment follows the successful completion of five renewable energy projects at National Trust properties – part of a £3.5m pilot launched with Good Energy in 2013.


Figure 1: Two biomass boilers have been installed at Upton House

We have also drawn on the lessons learned from building our first and still largest 660kW hydro at Hafod y Llan farm in Snowdonia. This project has exceeded expectations since it was launched in April 2014, producing enough equivalent energy to light every mansion and house the National Trust cares for in Wales.

We are very mindful of the future resilience of our business: the ability to keep the lights on and heat our places in an increasingly unstable worldwide energy context.

Our motivations are clearly driven by conservation, but there are further dimensions which underpin our renewables programme. We are very mindful of the future resilience of our business: the ability to keep the lights on and heat our places in an increasingly unstable worldwide energy context. Insulating ourselves from these potential energy shocks looks increasingly appealing. Equally, a shift to home-grown energy at the scale we envisage should save up to £4m on our energy costs each year and green electricity sold to the grid will provide a novel source of income.

In the context of a challenging economic climate for rural land managers and farmers, being able to demonstrate how natural assets can be turned, sensitively, into part of a diversified business feels like a legitimate part of our work.

In practice, our future renewables programme spans a range of available technologies that fit best with the advantages and constraints of our places. More than 40 further projects include:

  • 200kW lake source heating project at Blickling Estate in Norfolk, which will remove two oil tanks and 25,572 litres per annum of oil consumption with an estimated saving of 68 tonnes of CO2 per year
  • two biomass boilers at Upton House in Warwickshire to heat the mansion and other areas, saving an estimated 55 tonnes of CO2 per year
  • a 250kW hydro scheme at Hayeswater in Cumbria where there is a legacy of hydropower from historic corn mills and water wheels.

This project will provide an income stream to support conservation work on National Trust land.

Our renewables work is weighted towards biomass – which makes sense because we have a lot of woodland for supply – but also will include at least 12 hydros and increasingly is looking at how ground, water and air heat pumps can play a bigger part. Behind this is the need to deliver low level, constant heat which creates stable humidity levels in our mansions and so helps safeguard very sensitive collections and contents.

Hydro schemes

We have a lot of steep land where it rains a lot and it would be negligent if we did not use such a fantastic natural resource. But when we realise hydro projects, we aim for them to blend into the landscape. Nor do we want rivers running low, so we have reduced the energy take to ensure we maintain the wild feel of the river.


By using wood fuel sourced directly from our estates we have been able to deliver a ‘double dividend’: as well as properties becoming self-sufficient in fuel supply, the more actively managed woodlands are also creating clear benefits for habitats and biodiversity. Our woods are more healthy, more open and better able to support and nurture a wider and increasing variety of animals, insects and plants.

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Figure 2: Biomass boiler at Ickworth

Heat pumps

Heat pumps – both ground source and water source – represent our ‘growth’ technology. Becoming more efficient and more cost-effective to install, they also suit our local needs increasingly well. We have recently completed one of the largest marine heat source pumps in the UK. Put simply, it operates like a fridge or an air conditioning unit in reverse, harnessing the latent and constant heat in subsoil, water or air and, via a heat exchanger, turning that into very efficient energy that can heat water.

At Plas Newydd, we used to burn an astounding 60,000 litres of oil a year to heat the building. Our new heat pump, plus some sensitively screened and located PV to add additional green power, has displaced all that carbon-intensive fuel oil.


Figure 3: A heat pump has replaced oil at Plas Newydd

Collaboration has played a key part in the success of our renewables work, whether with our energy partner, Good Energy, or with suppliers, contractors and neighbours. We are committed to sharing the lessons we are learning and our Fit for the Future network, set up on the back of winning a national Ashden Award for sustainability, is one of the main ways we do this.

The membership-based coalition, visits, peer-to-peer dialogue and joint sessions help to provide unbiased and innovative ideas and advice on what is available and what might work best.

Patrick Begg is Rural Enterprise Director at the National Trust

Further information

  • Related competencies include Sustainability, Land use and diversification
  • Figure 1 © Rupert Truman
  • Figure 2 © Nick Meers
  • Figure 3 © Ray Dale
  • This feature is take from the RICS Land journal (October/November 2015)