Birds of Paradise + Dreams of Net-Zero!

Where has the time gone since our last “monthly” blog, bigging up the biking in and around Boat of Garten?!?  In my defence, we have been working hard on some huge improvements to the cottage over the last 4/5 months, and we wanted to be fully up-and-running (with nice facts and pics!) before we blogged our excitement about the new developments.  This has also coincided with us going through our reassessment for our Green Tourism award.  Time flies when you’re having fun!

Meet Mistle + Axel

But, firstly, and most importantly, it’s not the only thing that’s been flying around here……  The even more fantastic local news is that the “Osprey Village” now has some resident Ospreys again this year after 4 years when the most famous Osprey nest of all, seen from the RSPB Hide at Loch Garten since the 1970s, did not attract any birds on their spring return from Africa.  The same pairs of Osprey tend to use the same nest year after year, and when the most recent couple succumbed to old age and didn’t return, there was a feeling that the nest might not attract a new pair after 60 years of hard use.

How wrong!  Mistle and Axel, apparently, are the new young resident couple!  And, if you want to check out their rather noisy nest, the live cam will get you up close to their new chicks, as they wait impatiently for some fresh caught trout.  If you don’t know anything about the amazing conservation success story, which all started at this nest just over 60 years ago, it is worth reading this brief 60 year history, and reflecting on the fact that Ospreys were extinct in the UK – 60 years on, all the hundreds of birds that now call the UK home (for half the year at least) are descended from the 1 pair reintroduced at Loch Garten.  It was a massive attraction in the 1960s and 70s – as kids we made the pilgrimage to the hide every summer to see them! 

This is the Osprey Village!

Energy Transition – Our Challenge!

When we started planning the cottage renovation / upgrade in 2015/16, we focussed on how we could provide visitor accommodation with a minimum of environmental impact, whilst also avoiding any perception of “sacrifice” of comfort, convenience or enjoyment.  We also more ambitiously wondered whether it was possible to work towards having a “net” positive impact – but, first things first, providing heat and power within that was going to be the greatest challenge. 

In common with most dwellings in more rural areas of Scotland, heating was provided by an oil-fired boiler, supplied by oil from a tank in the garden, which had to be refilled periodically by a tanker from some distance away (with all the additional oil spill risk and associated emissions of that oil’s journey from some far off oilfield to our boiler in the middle of the Highlands).  An open fire provided some additional warmth and electricity was all grid supplied.

So, we were already on our own low / zero carbon journey, aligning with Paris Agreement, when more recent ideas of “net-zero” started to become mainstream.  In 2016, our initial baseline estimate of our heating and electricity consumption (Scope 1 + 2) associated carbon footprint was around 7.8 tonnes CO2-equivalent per year.  We were determined to get this as close to zero as technology and the energy-efficient behaviour of our guests would allow.  (If you want to get more into the numbers, please feel free to look at our resource consumption + waste generation data pages and our derived current Carbon Footprint vs baseline).

To keep to a short story fit for a Blog post, our energy transition had to be delivered in 2 phases because, for a dwelling in the cottage’s climatic and daily use circumstances, the best option / combination of technologies was not clear cut in 2017.  Believe me, we researched the full range of options, permutations and combinations, even some very new speculative potential solutions – much  midnight oil burned (figuratively speaking of course!)!  Our best course of action was to plan to complete our transition with a Phase 2 once the tech options became clearer – so zero-carbon on the back burner for the moment!

Nevertheless, a very efficient heating and hot water system was installed in 2017, even although still relying on some fuel oil use.  Overall fuel oil use was minimised by installing solar thermal hot water, well-above-spec insulation, high quality external doors / windows, maximised for solar gain, and the wood stove, which burns very local biomass (wood!).  In combination with the amazing energy-efficient efforts of our guests, this has delivered a 68% reduction in carbon emissions from our 2016-17 emissions baseline!  Honestly, I think significantly beyond any expectations! 

Energy Transition – Phase 2 to 75% +

Solar PV + Solar Thermal Working Together

After the few diversions and delays of the past 2-3 years, we are so pleased to report that we have now managed to complete Phase 2 of our transition and believe that the overall system is now optimised for carbon footprint reduction for heating and power.  Simply, we removed all fuel oil systems, and installed solar PV, with electricity storage, to work alongside existing solar thermal, additional heat demand being delivered by a compact high efficiency electric boiler

However, not only that, but the option also transpired to install an electric vehicle (EV) charging point, specifically designed to optimise solar power for EV charging in balance with cottage demand / electricity already stored!  So, we can now also start reducing our transport related carbon footprint too!

I know, all quite techy!!  We’re still getting our heads around some of it too!  But, the amazing remote monitoring options are showing us some very promising results.  So, here’s some piccies, which can definitely show what 1000s of my words would struggle to:

Overall Solar PV Performance – Part of Month of June 2022

Current screenshots are showing us delivering far more electricity to the UK National Grid than is actually being used in the cottage (thanks to our wonderfully energy-efficient guests too!  We know who you are!).  We hope that in spring and autumn, solar exported / imported will perhaps “balance”, with some electricity storage meeting evening heat demand.  Clearly, in winter we will have to draw some power from the grid, but only time / data will tell whether overall, across the annual seasonal cycle, we are “net” energy generators for the grid or consumers. 

And even on a dull day…………

Whether we hit that magic feelgood threshold or not, since we only had 7% to go, it is highly likely that we will meet the Scottish Government’s target of reducing emissions by at least 75% by 2030 7 years early, and might even hit their 2040 target!  Certainly well on course to delivering our contribution to all of us getting on a 1.5 ºC emissions reduction trajectory demonstrated necessary by the science.

Watch this space!

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