Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Generate renewable energy

Additional resources

       

   

Generating and using renewable energy can help you to reduce your business' contribution to climate change and avoid using carbon intensive resources such as fossil fuels. Renewable energy also offers a wide range of other benefits to businesses, including:

  • Improving your environmental credentials and strengthening your brand - customers, investors and other stakeholders increasingly want to deal with businesses which show that they are environmentally responsible.
  • A more secure energy supply - fossil fuels won't last forever and supply is increasingly dependent on imports from overseas. Renewable energy sources are naturally occurring and won't run out.
  • Exemption from paying duty under the climate change levy - this duty is a tax on the energy used by businesses.
  • A reduction in allowances required under the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme - in certain circumstances, businesses generating renewable energy may be able to offset this against the number of allowances they are required to purchase under the scheme. For information about CRC, see our guide on how to meet EU Emissions Trading System requirements.
  • Building relationships with businesses that have similar values - for example, you may be able to work with other local organisations on a renewable energy project.
  • Stable energy costs - gas and oil price rises are reflected in customers' energy bills. Renewable energy sources are not subject to the same price rises as fossil fuels.
  • Future proofing - renewable energy use will become more widespread, with legislation already placing targets for its use in certain new developments. Switching sooner rather than later will give your business early experience of renewable energy.

Even if your organisation's core business is not in the renewable energy sector, switching to renewable energy could still provide you with an additional revenue stream. See the page in this guide on generating income from renewable energy.

If you would like to learn more about renewable energy or other key issues you can use the NetRegs e-learning tools. These tools are free to use and cover the essential points of each topic. They might be useful as a refresher course, or to make sure that staff  have a good understanding of their environmental responsibilities.

  • Preventing pollution – a general guide
  • Duty of care
  • Sinks, drains and sewers
  • WEEE
  • Generating renewable energy

All are available at: NetRegs e-learning tools

Looking to install energy efficiency or renewable energy technology?

The Carbon Trust provides information that includes lists of accredited suppliers, guidance on energy saving technologies and how you can finance installation.

The Carbon Trust: Green Business Directory

In Scotland, the Energy Saving Trust has developed the Green Network for Businesses. This tool allows you to search by postcode for green businesses in your area. All these businesses have installed energy saving or energy generating technologies .

Once you identify the business that has installed the green technology you are interested in, contact them to organise a visit.

EST: Green Network for Business

There are three potential sources of income from small-scale renewable energy generation:

  • export tariffs
  • feed-in tariffs paid by the government for every kilowatt of electricity generated
  • green energy certificates.

Export tariffs

If you generate more electricity than you use you can sell the extra electricity back to your electricity company. The payments you receive for selling electricty are called export tariffs.

Energy Saving Trust: Feed-in and Export tariffs

Feed-in tariffs for low carbon electricity

Feed-in tariffs provide financial support for low carbon electricity generation in projects up to five megawatts. The government guarantees payment to microgenerators for every kilowatt hour of electricity you generate by renewables, including electricity you generate and use yourself.

The money you get from a feed-in tariff is in addition to any export tariff payments you may receive from electricity companies. The feed-in tariff scheme is also sometimes called clean energy cash back. The size of the payment you receive per kilowatt hour and length of the scheme depends on the type of renewable energy you generate.

You could get money from the scheme if you have:

  • wind turbines
  • solar photovoltaic cells
  • a hydroelectric plant
  • an anaerobic digestion plant
  • a micro-combined heat pump.

Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC): Feed-in Tariffs

The government regulator Ofgem regulates the feed-in tariff scheme.

Ofgem: Review of the feed-in tariff scheme

Green energy certificates

If you operate a small-scale energy generator you may be able to make money by selling green energy certificates to energy suppliers.

You can save money by using the certificates to get exemptions from some environmental taxes, such as the climate change levy.

The certificates include:

  • renewable obligation certificates
  • levy exemption certificates
  • renewable energy guarantee of origin.

GOV.UK: Renewable Obligation certificates

Interest-free loans

A range of grants and loans are available to help businesses switch to renewable energy.

If you are a small or medium-sized business you can apply for an interest-free loan from the Carbon Trust to invest in renewable energy technology. They can also help you with installation.

Carbon Trust: Interest free loans

Interest-free loans are also available from the Energy Saving Trust in Scotland.

Energy Saving Trust Scotland: Small business loans

Enhanced Capital Allowance scheme

If you invest in certain renewable energy equipment you may qualify for tax breaks called enhanced capital allowances.

Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC): Enhanced Capital Allowances

CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme

If your business is covered by the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme (formerly the Carbon Reduction Commitment) you can claim credits for any electricity you generate. This means you can buy fewer allowances and save money.

CRC Energy efficiency scheme

In Scotland, the Energy Saving Trust has developed the Green Network for Businesses. This tool allows you to search by postcode for green businesses in your area. All these businesses have installed energy saving or energy generating technologies .

Once you identify the business that has installed the green technology you are interested in, contact them to organise a visit.

EST: Green Network for Business

Before switching to renewable energy, make sure that you have done all you can to reduce your need for energy in the first place. This will ensure that the energy you do use has the lowest environmental impact.

Carbon Trust: Advice for a low carbon economy

Once you have reduced your need for energy you can consider which renewable energy options are appropriate to meet your requirements.

If you choose to generate your own renewable energy, you will first need to select the best technology to meet your needs. You should consider factors such as:

  • Your business' current energy use, including energy type, overall consumption and fluctuations in demand.
  • The energy mix that you will require. Some renewable energy technologies can only produce either electricity or heat, while others can generate both.
  • The practical limitations of different types of renewable energy. For more information, see the pages in this guide on using wind energy, using biomass energy and anaerobic digestion, using solar energy, using geothermal energy and ground source heat pumps, and using hydroelectric power.

Once you have identified the appropriate technology, you will need to carry out a feasibility study. This will assess the practical aspects of installation, such as technical, economic and environmental performance. Feasibility studies are usually undertaken by a specialist renewable energy consultant.

You may also find it useful to speak to:

  • other businesses who use renewable energy
  • your local authority planning department
  • installers and suppliers of renewable energy technologies.

You can find a list of accredited installers and products on the Microgeneration Certification Scheme website.

The Microgeneration Certification Scheme

You could become involved in a large off-site project such as a wind farm or discuss joint renewable energy projects with other local organisations.

Buying renewable energy

You could get your energy supply on a green tariff from a supply company that takes extra steps to reduce emissions from the gas or electricity it sells and gets a higher percentage of energy from renewable sources. Green tariffs may cost slightly more than a traditional tariff and the additional carbon benefit of green tariffs is not wholly clear.

Ofgem, the energy regulatory body, has introduced a scheme to certify green tariffs. To get the 'green energy certified' label, the supplier has to demonstrate that:

  • their tariffs result in reduced emissions
  • they have invested in carbon offsetting or community energy projects.

Green Energy Supply Certification Scheme

The need for planning permission In Northern Ireland

You will not require planning permission from your local area planning office for all renewable energy projects. In some cases permitted development rights may apply that remove the need for permission, provided certain criteria apply.

If permitted development rights are not available then your development may still go ahead provided you obtain planning permission from your local area planning office. You should discuss your ideas with your local area planning office before undertaking any project.

The need for planning permission in Scotland

You will not require planning permission from your local authority for all renewable energy projects. In some cases permitted development rights may apply that remove the need for permission, provided certain criteria apply.

Permitted development rights for non-domestic premises are currently available for:

  • building and ground mounted solar panels
  • ground source heat pumps
  • water source heat pumps
  • flues for biomass heating systems
  • flues for combined heat and power systems.

Additional permitted development rights may also be available for agricultural and forestry businesses.

If permitted development rights are not available then your development may still go ahead provided you obtain planning permission from your local authority. You should discuss your ideas with your local planning department before undertaking any project.

You can find details of permitted development rights for renewable energy projects in the relevant planning legislation.

Town and Country planning  - non-domestic microgeneration in Scotland

Further information

The Carbon Trust

In Scotland, the Energy Saving Trust has developed the Green Network for Businesses. This tool allows you to search by postcode for green businesses in your area. All these businesses have installed energy saving or energy generating technologies .

Once you identify the business that has installed the green technology you are interested in, contact them to organise a visit.

EST: Green Network for Business

In the UK wind energy is the most common renewable energy technology and it's also one of the most financially viable options.

Wind energy is generated using turbines which capture the natural power of the wind to drive a generator. The large wind farms seen around the countryside generally supply electricity to the national grid. However, the availability of a variety of turbine types and sizes means that you can generate your own electricity supply for use onsite.

The two main turbine types available are:

  • Free-standing turbines, which are available in a range of sizes and can be used singularly or in groups. Small free-standing turbines are already in use at businesses throughout the UK.
  • Building-mounted turbines, which are usually installed on roofs. These are not currently widely used, although new designs are beginning to appear.

Advantages of wind energy

  • Wind turbines will work well across most of the UK. Turbines will operate from low wind speeds of about 4 metres per second (m/s) but the most successful projects are in areas with an average wind speed of 7m/s or above.

Energy Saving Trust: Windspeed calculator

It is one of the most financially viable renewable energy options and this is improving as the technology develops. The payback period for large, free-standing turbines is typically four to eight years.

  • Wind energy could generate a significant proportion of your electricity needs.

Disadvantages of wind energy

  • Wind turbine developments often meet significant local opposition at the planning stage due to their visual impact.
  • If there is no wind, the turbines don't generate any electricity. This is known as an intermittent technology. You would need a national grid connection for back-up.

Installing a wind power development in Northern Ireland

You must apply for planning permission from your local divisional planning office if you want to build a wind power development.

To get planning permission you must complete an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) if:

  • you plan to construct three or more turbines
  • the hub height of any of your turbines, or any other associated structure, exceeds 15 metres.

NIEA: Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs)

Generating wind energy in conservation areas (Northern Ireland)

If the site you want to develop is in a conservation or protected area, you must inform the NIEA.

Protected areas can include:

  • Areas of Special Scientific Interest
  • national parks
  • areas of outstanding natural beauty
  • special areas of conservation
  • special protection areas

NIEA: Online interactive maps of protected areas

If your site has archaeological or architectural interest you must inform the NIEA.

Installing a wind power development in Scotland

You must apply for planning permission from your local planning authority if you want to build a wind power development.

To get planning permission you must complete an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) if:

  • you plan to construct three or more turbines
  • the hub height of any of your turbines, or any other associated structure, exceeds 15 metres

Scottish Government: National policy guidelines on renewable energy (PDF, 300K)

Generating wind energy in conservation areas (Scotland)

If the site you want to develop is in a conservation or protected area, you must inform Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

Protected areas can include:

  • Sites of Special Scientific Interest
  • national parks
  • national scenic areas
  • special areas of conservation
  • special protection areas.

SNH: Sitelink: Interactive map of protected sites

If your site has archaeological or architectural interest you must inform

Historic Scotland: Data services

Good practice

Wind turbines can generate noise. To limit and control noise you should:

  • use a low noise turbine design
  • monitor your turbine to make sure you are not causing a nuisance
  • locate your turbines away from the boundaries of your site.

Noise, odour and other nuisances

Further information

SEPA: onshore wind

Northern Ireland Planning: Planning information

Scottish Government: Planning information

Biomass energy accounts for around 85 per cent of the UK's renewable energy supply. Biomass refers to organic materials, such as wood, straw and energy crops, which can be used to generate electricity, heat and motive power. The energy is released by burning and fermentation.

You can only use certain biomass burners in smoke control areas.

Defra: List of exempt appliances

If you are an appliance manufacturer, importer or distributor, you can apply for an exemption on the Defra website.

Defra: Applications for exemption

The payback period for biomass systems is generally five to 12 years, though this can be significantly shorter if free waste wood is available.

Biomas systems can be particularly effective when part of a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) system.

SEPA has produced guidance on the regulatory controls that apply to biomass burning to produce energy. This deals with issues relating to the PPC regulations, Waste incineration directive and Waste Management Licensing.

SEPA: Permitting guidance for Biomass Combustion

Anaerobic digestion is another method of converting biomass into energy. In this process, organic material is broken down by bacteria, in the absence of oxygen, to create methane-rich biogas. This can then be burned to generate heat and electricity. The solid waste from the process is called digestate and can be used in a similar way to compost.

The payback periods for anaerobic digestion plants vary widely, but could be between five and ten years.

Advantages of biomass energy and anaerobic digestion

  • You can use waste by-products to generate energy and reduce your waste disposal costs.
  • It can be used in combination with a combined heat and power plant to generate both electricity and heat.
  • Burning biomass fuels releases lower net carbon dioxide emissions than burning coal and gas.

Disadvantages of biomass energy and anaerobic digestion

  • You need to control emissions from burning biomass materials to prevent local air pollution. Any system you install must comply with legislation such as the Clean Air (Northern Ireland) Order.
  • Storing biomass fuels can require a large amount of space.
  • It can be difficult to find a secure supply of fuel. If you intend to use by-products from your business you must ensure that suitable quantities will be available.
  • If you're having fuel delivered, you'll need to consider the environmental impact of fuel transportation.

Complying with waste controls

If you anaerobically digest waste to generate gas for heat or electricity you must have a pollution prevention and control permit or waste management licence.

Anaerobic digestion

You must comply with waste regulations including the duty of care. If you are collecting and transporting other people's waste you will need a waste carriers licence.

Duty of care – your waste responsibilities

Quality protocol in Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) and the Waste & Resources Action Programme have created a quality protocol for anaerobic digestate. If you follow the protocol, you can produce a high quality digestate which can be sold without waste handling controls.

For example, if it is not classed as a waste, you do not need to transport it using a waste carrier or with a waste transfer note.

NIEA: Regulatory position statement on the production of anaerobic digestate

NIEA: Quality protocol for the production and use of quality compost

Scotland

You can use digestate without waste management controls if it complies with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) position statement.

SEPA: Classification of outputs from Anaerobic Digestion processes

Animal by-products

If you use parts of animals, products of animal origin or food and catering waste you must comply with animal by-product controls.

Animal by-products

Prevent odour from your anaerobic digester

You must prevent your anaerobic digester causing an odour nuisance to your neighbours. You must design your digester, storage areas and delivery areas to minimise the escape of odour and liquids.

Reduce your digester's operating temperature and use a two-step digestion process by pasteurising your material first, to reduce odour problems.

Noise, odour and other nuisances

Further information

The Carbon Trust: Biomass Heating

Anaerobic Digestion Portal: AD, digestate and biogas

Defra: List of exempt biomass appliances

Solar energy can provide both electricity and heat. It's unlikely to supply all the energy a business needs but can provide a significant percentage.

Photovoltaic (PV) panels convert sunlight into electricity. They are available in a variety of formats including cladding, roof tiles and custom glazing. The panels are generally positioned on an unshaded, pitched roof. This allows them to receive as much sunlight as possible.

Solar hot water systems absorb energy from the sun and transfer it, using heat exchangers, to heat water. Solar water heating can heat water to temperatures of up to 65°C. There are a variety of solar water heating collectors available, which are commonly mounted on roofs in the same way as PV panels.

Advantages of solar energy

  • Solar water heating can be a very economical system for businesses that need large quantities of hot water, such as canteens.
  • Many people find solar panels a relatively attractive addition to a building. They also make it clear you run a sustainable business.
  • Planning permission is not always required, although you should always check with your local area planning office.
  • Solar panels require little maintenance.

Disadvantages of solar energy

Solar energy is an intermittent technology as it is dependent on sunlight. Panels can generate some energy when conditions are cloudy but not at night.

Solar energy can be expensive to implement, usually with payback periods of more than 8 years. The cost of solar PV has dropped recently so payback periods are shorter than before. Fitting solar systems on existing buildings can be costly. It is better to install solar energy at the build stage.

Further information

Carbon Trust: Renewable energy technology guides (requires registration)

Solar Trade Association: list of manufacturers and installers

Microgeneration Certification Scheme: Accredited installers and renewable energy products

Geothermal energy and ground source heat pumps (GSHPs) provide a means to access and use the heat energy that is contained naturally in the ground.

GSHPs use underground pipes to transfer heat from the ground to the inside of a building to provide heating, hot water or cooling. Water and anti-freeze is pumped around these pipes to absorb underground heat, which is then delivered to the heat pump.

GSHPs use a renewable heat source, but their heat exchangers must be driven by gas or electricity. They are therefore only classified as a renewable energy technology when the power used to drive them is supplied by a renewable energy source, such as a wind turbine.

Geothermal energy can be derived from geologically suitable areas where heat from the earth's core rises to the surface as hot springs or steam. The energy can be accessed by drilling boreholes into the ground and can provide heating or hot water. In some cases it is used to drive geothermal power plants.

Advantages of GSHPs

  • You can also drive GSHPs in reverse to provide cooling.
  • GSHP technology is well established.
  • GSHPs can be used to supplement a traditional boiler system.
  • Planning permission is not always required, although you should always check with your local area planning office.

Disadvantages of GSHPs

  • Installing a GSHP requires significant civil engineering works, so it is easier to install a GSHP at the build stage.
  • The initial installation of GSHPs is relatively expensive with payback periods usually more than 15 years.
  • GSHPs are not in themselves classed as a renewable energy technology. In order to be truly renewable, the power used to run them must be supplied by a renewable energy source.
  • Geothermal energy is extremely site specific.

Environmental authorisations for closed loop pumps

Closed loop GSHPs pump water and anti-freeze around a self-contained underground piping system. The mixture contained in the piping system absorbs the heat contained within the ground and transfers it to a building via a heat exchanger.

You need authorisation from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) or the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) to install a closed loop pump if:

  • drilling underground causes groundwater from different underground strata to mix together
  • your pump causes changes in groundwater temperature
  • your pump is at risk of causing groundwater pollution.

Environmental authorisations for open loop pumps

Open loop GSHPs remove groundwater from an underground source.

You should contact the NIEA or SEPA before you start to research whether you can install an open loop GSHP on your site.

In Northern Ireland, if you want to operate an open loop GSHP you may need authorisation from the NIEA:

  • a consent to investigate a groundwater source
  • a water abstraction licence
  • a discharge consent.

In Scotland, if you want to operate an open loop GSHP you may need a registration or licence under the Controlled Activities Regulation.

Contact your environmental regulator

Further information

SEPA: Groundwater Abstractions - Geothermal Energy

Energy saving Trust: Ground source heat pumps

The Ground Source Heat Pump Association

The Heat Pump Association: Facts about heat pumps

The Microgeneration Certification Scheme: Accredited installers

Hydroelectric power uses water flowing through a turbine to drive a generator which produces electricity. The faster the water is flowing and the bigger the drop, the more electricity will be generated. You can either:

use a water wheel or a turbine for run-of-the-river schemes which use the natural flow of the water to generate hydroelectricity

store water in a reservoir to be passed though an underwater turbine at pressure.

Hydropower is site specific and you should choose a scheme that suits your site and needs. The payback period for a small system is likely to be over ten years.

Advantages of hydroelectric power

  • Hydroelectric power systems are very efficient and convert 70-90 per cent of water energy to electricity.
  • Generating hydroelectric power produces no waste.
  • Once installed, hydroelectric power systems should run for many years.
  • Hydroelectric power is a well-developed technology.

Disadvantages of hydroelectric power

  • You may need an additional power supply available to compensate for seasonal variations in water flow.
  • Significant development work is required to install small-scale hydroelectric energy equipment.
  • You must get planning permission and may need other authorisations such as a water abstraction and/or impoundment licence.
  • Hydroelectric power is highly site specific.
  • Hydroelectric power systems require regular maintenance.

Apply for environmental authorisations

Even a small hydropower plant can cause water pollution, disrupt fish migration and cause ecological damage if badly designed and built.

If you want to develop a micro-hydro power plant, you will need the correct authorisation from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) or the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA). To apply, you must submit supporting information including:

  • a detailed description of the scheme design
  • the scheme location
  • the generating capacity of your scheme
  • the minimum and maximum volume of water you will abstract to generate power
  • river flow where abstraction stops
  • your scheme's impact on wildlife, river beds and river navigation
  • how you will reduce the impact on fish migration, eg providing fish passages and screens.

Hydropower schemes in Northern Ireland,

To develop a hydropower scheme you will need an abstraction or impoundment licence from the NIEA if your scheme uses more than 20 cubic metres of water per day.

NIEA: Contact us

If you place structures in any waterway that are likely to affect its drainage you must have consent from the Rivers Agency.

DARDNI: Rivers Agency

If you abstract water for your hydropower development you need to consult with the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) to make sure your scheme does not damage fisheries.

DCAL: Contact us

If your scheme is in the Foyle or Carlingford catchment areas you must notify the Loughs Agency.

Loughs Agency: Contact us

Hydropower schemes in Scotland

To develop a hydropower scheme you need a simple or complex licence from SEPA under the Controlled Activities Regulations. The type of licence you need and the fees you pay depend on the generating capacity of your hydropower development. This is based on your scheme as a whole and not on individual components.

If your hydropower generating capacity is less than 2 megawatts (MW) you do not have to pay any fee other than the application fee. If it is less than 5MW you pay reduced fees.

SEPA: Guidance for applicants on supporting information requirements for hydropower applications (PDF, 1.2MB)

SEPA: Information on hydropower regulation

You can also obtain more information from SEPA by emailing them at hydro.enquiries@sepa.org.uk.

Apply for planning permission

In Northern Ireland, if you want to build a hydropower plant you must apply for planning permission from your local divisional planning office at the same time you apply to the NIEA.

In Scotland, if your hydropower generating capacity is:

  • less than 1MW you will need planning permission from your local authority
  • 1MW or more you will need planning permission from the Scottish Government.

You must apply for planning permission at the same time you apply to SEPA.

Generating renewable energy in conservation areas

In Northern Ireland, if you want to develop a site for hydropower that is in a conservation area or protected area, you must inform the NIEA.

Protected areas can include:

  • areas of special scientific interest
  • national parks
  • areas of outstanding natural beauty
  • special areas of conservation
  • special protection areas.

NIEA: Interactive maps of protected sites

If your site has archaeological or architectural interest you must inform the NIEA.

In Scotland, if you want to develop a site for hydropower that is in a conservation area or protected area, you must inform Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

Protected areas can include:

  • sites of special scientific interest
  • national parks
  • national scenic areas
  • special areas of conservation
  • special protection areas.

SNH: Sitelink interactive map of protected sites

If your site has archaeological or architectural interest you must inform Historic Scotland. 

Historic Scotland: Looking after our heritage

Carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

If your hydropower generating capacity is above 500 kilowatts or if your development is in a protected area, you will need to carry out a formal EIA for your scheme. You must submit this to:

  • the NIEA and your local planning authority in Northern Ireland
  • SEPA and your local planning authority in Scotland.

NIEA: Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA)

Scottish Government: EIA Planning circular

Further information

The Carbon Trust: Renewable energy generation

The Microgeneration Certification Scheme: Accredited installers

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Permits

NIEA - Apply online

SEPA - Application forms