When even Buckingham Palace is getting a ground-source heating system, you know sustainability is serious. And microgeneration is the latest issue to make the government’s green agenda

Microgeneration: the big picture

If the government is looking for a demonstration project to showcase the latest in sustainable energy generation, it could do worse than Buckingham Palace. The Queen has specified a ground-source heating system for her London office and has explored the possibility of cooling the rooms using water from a borehole.

The ground-source heating system could reduce the Queen’s energy bill by about 70%. The system will pipe geothermally heated water from a 400 ft deep borehole to heat the palace; in the summer it will be reversed to transport heat energy out.

This is not the first time the Queen has looked at low-carbon energy generation. This summer the palace announced that a hydroelectric plant on the Thames would supply Windsor Castle with one-third of its electricity; a similar scheme in Scotland could make Balmoral self-sufficient in electricity.

The government will be pleased that the monarch is so enthusiastic, but it knows it must broaden the appeal of low-carbon systems if it wants to meet its targets of cutting carbon dioxide emissions 20% between 1990 and 2020. This means making the technology affordable to the general public. With this in mind, the DTI has announced a new grant scheme, the Low Carbon Buildings Programme. This aims to encourage developers to install microgeneration technologies on their sites, thus increasing demand for the technology and driving down costs.

The programme will offer millions to projects that incorporate solar power, wind turbines and combined heat and power units (see box, right). It will replace the DTI’s present grant scheme for renewable energy technologies – the Clear Skies and Major PV Demonstration Programme – and will run for six years from 1 April 2006.

The government plans to focus the grants on a number of large-scale projects. It wants the construction industry to use microgeneration technologies in tandem with energy-efficiency technologies. To encourage this, it will appoint “carbon managers” to work with successful applicants. There will also be a funding stream for individual and community projects. All schemes will have to meet the requirements of the Code for Sustainable Buildings, due out in April.

Details of the grant scheme appear in the consultation document Microgeneration Strategy and the Low Carbon Buildings Programme. This identifies the barriers to innovation and suggests how demand can be stimulated through publicity, fiscal incentives, regulations, planning requirements and metering arrangements. The consultation period closes on 23 September.

The consultation suggests that microgeneration technologies be showcased in growth areas and rolled out with the Code for Sustainable Buildings. It adds that microgeneration schemes could be included in the Sustainable Development Framework, which is being reviewed.

Metering technology is an important factor in the uptake of microgeneration. The consultation refers to a study by Ilex, an energy consultancy, that concluded that the most beneficial system would be one that incorporated an import meter, export meter and gross generation meter. By measuring the export of electricity, occupants could potentially be rewarded for exporting power to the national grid.

The Energy Saving Trust says that as energy prices rise, microgeneration will become more affordable. In its report Delivering the Government’s 2020 Vision for Local Energy Generation, it suggests two fiscal measures to encourage the construction of low-carbon properties: a stamp duty rebate of £1000 for the first sale of new properties built to a high standard, and the modification of planning gain to reward developers of low-carbon schemes with £1000 a property.

The trust also suggests an accreditation system for products and installers, and says standards for microgeneration should be inserted in the Code for Sustainable Buildings and the next revision to Part L of the Building Regulations, due in 2010.

The trust’s recommendations could have a big impact on government policy. The DTI has commissioned the trust to examine the potential role of microgeneration in its energy strategy. Whether the government implements its demands will depend on how much the DTI will commit to the grand programme – only then will we know if the government is truly prepared to hand over power to the people.

Grants: where the money will go

The Low Carbon Buildings Programme could support the following technologies.

Electricity generation

  • Solar photovoltaics
  • Wind turbines
  • Hydro turbines

    Heat generation

  • Solar thermal hot water systems comprise solar collectors, a heat transfer system and hot water store.
  • Ground-source heat pumps use water-filled pipes to obtain heat from underground.
  • Air-source heat pumps work in the same way but the source of heat is external air.
  • Bio-energy is the burning of biowaste.


  • Combined heat and power makes use of the heat created by electricity generation.
  • Hydrogen energy and fuel cells combine hydrogen and oxygen to create electricity, heat and water.