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Plans are afoot to take Trelowarren off-grid – Part 1

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Wouldn’t that be amazing? No oil delivered in tankers (except for the Aga and, currently, Carleen pool), no need for mains electricity and no mains water.

In 2006 Trelowarren installed a 350kwh bio-mass Binder boiler to cries of it’ll never work and what’s the back up? District heating, they said – what’s that?

And we said, yes it will work and no there will be no back up. There’s no carbon saving in having two systems. You have to the make the bio-mass system work – the carbon cost of having two systems negates the purpose (idiots). And anyway, we all know that if there is a system with an on/off switch and a system which involves planning and doing and learning – most people will eventually default to the switch.

And there’s lots of planning about making sure there is sufficient wood chip. Trees need to be down at least a year before we can use them, and they all must be collected and chipped and that takes contractors and big machinery. And sometimes contractors and machinery are thin on the ground in west Cornwall. So, we’re not saying it’s been easy and we have tried several different systems. On occasion there has been wood stacked up waiting to be used, and in different years we’ve been scrabbling around for windblow  – which is the equivalent of looking down the back of the sofa for the meter money.

650m3 a year chipped; that’s 270m3 of roundwood; that’s 140 trees.

X 19 years

That’s 12,350m3 chipped; that’s 5130m3 of roundwood; that’s 2660 trees.

And sometimes the thought processes of the boiler had us scratching our heads. When there’s a power surge, the boiler (as unnerved and sensitive as a roe deer ) turns itself off; the water in the system cools and shrinks; the automatic top up system does what is says on the tin and tops up; we re-light the boiler; the water expands; the pressure grows; the boiler shuts off – what with being sensitive. It took us a couple of goes to figure that we have to be there to release the pressure before the shut down And weirdly, being there seems to always involve being in the boiler shed in the middle of the night surrounded by bats. You don’t get that with a switch!

So – Time spent on reconnaissance is never wasted, but time is also of the essence as the no longer quite so trusty Binder boiler of 2006 needs replacing. Time has moved on and efficiency has made incredible steps. Our new boiler will be three times more efficient in producing the heat for the heat main, good news for tree planning, and we will now be able to capture the gas and excess heat from the burning process and use the gasification … thing … to make electricity. Step 1 of only having mains electricity on standby. A switch in fact.


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