Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council has a number of leisure centres in the Borough for residents to enjoy. Each leisure centre is open for use seven days a week, with energy-intensive facilities that incorporate swimming pools and fitness machines. As a result, our leisure centres are often subject to significant power demands. Typically, they open early in the morning and close late at night, needing a constant supply of power, with spikes in their energy usage in the early evenings as people finish work. In these circumstances, the Council has significant energy bills.
As the Council spends in excess of £1.76M annually on energy, the need for an energy strategy which considers such an impact on the social, economic, and environmental wellbeing of the Borough is essential. In our economy, the majority of energy that we use is ultimately sourced from oil and the worldwide long term predictions are that oil prices are likely to increase. This will have a serious and immediate impact on the price of electricity, heating oil, and gas with typical price rises predicted in forthcoming years and therefore on the operation costs of the Council. The impact on the environment cannot be understated.
In the interests of providing sound financial planning for the short and medium term, the Council must manage both how it procures its energy and how it uses energy in its facilities. Reducing the Council's impact on the environment by being more efficient with energy and water consumption reflects the commitment in the Corporate Plan to be a place where we protect and enhance where possible our natural habitats and built heritage.
Solar power can help offset these power demands, by providing a steady, limitless source of energy that provides the measurable environmental and financial benefits. A solar panel solution is good for the environment, as it provides these benefits while drastically reducing each facility’s carbon footprint.
To help improve energy efficiency at Sixmile Leisure Centre, it was chosen as the location of one of 3 exciting demonstration projects led by Start Solar. This company, which is new to the Northern Ireland market specialises in a range of renewable energy solutions recently installed 30 solar panels to the large south facing roof of the Ballyclare-based leisure centre. The system has been set up with online monitoring and a generation meter, allowing a comparison between live and historical electricity output.
The array was installed earlier this year and to date has saved 9692kWh and over two tonnes of CO2.
These encouraging results allow for greater expansion of renewable technologies in line with our Energy Strategy.
Antrim and Newtownabbey’s Energy Management Strategy sets the framework for how we will manage the energy and water resources of the Council effectively over the next 12 years. It will support the strategic objective of reducing running costs, lowering carbon emissions and reducing energy usage. Promoting energy efficiency and lowering overall usage will have a far-reaching impact both in terms of social and economic development and on the environment.
To further pursue energy efficiency and the potential of renewable energy, Sixmile Leisure Centre has been chosen as one of three projects to take part in an exciting new initiative led by Start Solar, a company new to the Northern Ireland market. Solar specialises in a range of renewable energy solutions and has recently installed 30 solar panels to the large south facing roof of the Ballyclare-based leisure centre. The system has been set up with online monitoring and a generation meter, allowing a comparison between live and historical electricity output.
Working in collaboration with Start Solar, the Council chose micro inverters for the solar array. Micro inverters are becoming a popular choice in solar systems. They are fitted to each individual solar panel and convert DC to AC on the roof, removing the necessity of a separate inverter. The benefit of this system is that if one or more panels are affected by shade, it doesn’t have an impact on the panels that are still in sunlight. It’s also possible to monitor the performance levels of every single solar panel.
Micro inverters are often considered as a way to install more solar panels on a roof. Panels that may be in partial shade for some of the day will not affect the performance of the other panels that remain in sunlight more of the time.
Micro inverters are still a relatively new technology and are generally more expensive than other inverter types, however, this additional cost may be offset by increased energy production.
At present, it is anticipated that micro inverter technology has a lifespan of approximately 10-15 years, so warranty limits tend to be set for a 10 year period. This can limit the extent of the lifetime of the array and is an important factor to consider if any installation is to be determined on the payback period of the initial investment.
We would endorse a best practice methodology of monitoring energy consumption across all council sites and place each site in order of efficiency with a view to ranking and targeting the more inefficient sites for priority projects.
We continue to establish a comprehensive dataset of energy use across all our buildings and can identify issues and opportunities in the early stages. The integration of data from renewable energy adds an additional facet of information to the decision making process in developing our energy management action plan.