Off-Grid Technologies Explained: An Installer’s Guide

Off-grid properties and buildings are among those that can benefit the most from renewable energy sources and the Renewable Heat Incentive. Installers have an important role to play in educating potential customers about the possibilities.

Installers can take advantage of the opportunities offered by off-grid houses to expand and enhance their businesses, especially those working in rural and urban off-grid areas. The key is to become confident in their knowledge, training and use of the huge range of technologies available within the off-grid and renewable sectors.

An off-grid customer is likely to own an older property (8.5 million of the UK’s 26 million homes are over 60 years old) with solid walls, poor insulation, lower energy efficiency standards and rising heating bills. If their home is one of the 3.9 million (15.7 per cent) that do not have gas heating, it is likely that they will be paying significantly more for heating and hot water.

Households with oil, electric, solid fuel or LPG heating are more likely to be fuel-poor and with much lower energy-efficiency standards than those with gas.

The homeowner may already be considering the options available for increasing the energy efficiency of their home. They may have heard of the government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) or have been offered a wall or loft insulation by a cold-calling firm, but will probably be in some confusion about their options. This is where clear, unbiased information from a trusted source like their plumber or heating engineer is invaluable.

Off-grid log cabin with solar panels

Government incentives for going green

Your earning potential could be given a real boost by the domestic RHI scheme. This allows people with biomass boilers, ground and air source heat pumps and solar thermal systems to earn money as a reward for generating their own heat energy in a low-impact way.

It is crucial, however, for installers to be able to demonstrate the benefits. Key to this is focusing on the investment aspect of installation and the return that homeowners can expect. As well as the implications for payments from the RHI, there are also the benefits from greater heating efficiencies and lower fuel costs.

For more green options, read our article about alternatives to gas boilers.

Getting the relevant training in green tech

The key to taking advantage of the opportunities offered by these different but complementary technologies is to focus on those that you feel would be a natural development for your business and ensure that you are fully up to date on the regulations, training and certifications you need to comply with.

When talking to customers about installing renewable technologies, it is crucial to ensure they have up-to-date and accurate information. Help them research the options that you have recommended so that they can be confident these will best suit their needs; building up the trust they have in you will ensure a better relationship, recommendations and help develop your business. An easy place to start is at the Energy Saving Trust.

Also, with fossil fuel burning boilers being phased out of new-builds by 2025, there couldn’t be a better time to upskill in these new, green technologies, as it will stand you in good stead to win contracts in years to come.

Off-grid technologies explained

There is a huge range of options available to homeowners that installers will need to be able to advise potential customers about:

Oil-fired boilers

Oil-fired boilers are common on older off-grid properties. They use oil, stored in a tank, instead of mains gas to generate heat. The Oil Firing Technical Association (OFTEC) has calculated that replacing an old oil boiler with a new condensing version could save over £200 a year. It will also dramatically reduce carbon emissions; oil-condensing boilers have efficiencies of up to 97 per cent while older boilers are typically 60 to 70 per cent efficient.

LPG boilers

Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) fuelled heating systems can be integrated with renewable technologies, which can lower energy costs. Compact in size and able to maintain temperature at high flow rates, LPG boilers give homeowners comfort and convenience with plenty of fast-flowing hot water. Denser as a liquid than as a gas, a relatively large quantity of it can be stored in a small space. LPG poses neither ground nor water pollution hazards and burns with virtually no soot and very few sulphur emissions.

Electric boilers

Electric boilers are light and compact in size which makes them popular, particularly in new building projects such as flats where space can be at a premium. Installation is made easier by the fact that they do not need any flues, condensate runs or supply pipes; they simply fit and wire in.

In an off-grid property without mains electricity however, electric boilers can pose a challenge.

Biomass Boilers

Biomass boilers control the amount of fuel and air supplied to the combustion chamber. They work by burning fuel made from waste wood which is dried, milled and compressed into pellets or logs. When the wood was growing, it absorbed the same amount of carbon dioxide that’s produced when it’s burned in pellet or log form.

This means that biomass is carbon-neutral and much better for the environment than fossils fuels, which means that households can apply for government grants like the RHI to offset the cost of switching to a biomass boiler. Also, biomass boilers can typically be attached to any heating system, so are a simple swap for oil or LPG based systems.

If you’re interested in learning more, read about biomass boilers pros and cons.

Heat pumps

There are typically two types of heat pumps that are easiest for installers and customers to get to grips with: ground source heat pumps and air source heat pumps. Ground source pumps use pipes which are buried in a garden to extract heat from the ground, whereas air source pumps absorb heat from the outside air. This heat can then be used to heat radiators, underfloor or warm air heating systems and hot water. There are a number of benefits to installation, although customers will need to ensure that their house is well insulated and they have a large enough garden for the laying of underground pipes.

Solar thermal

Solar thermal heating uses the sun’s heat to warm water. Solar energy is completely free so, once the initial installation is paid for, hot water costs will be reduced. For maximum solar gain, the panels are ideally fitted on a south-facing roof, away from obstacles, such as trees, that are likely to cast shadows over them. Alternatively, they can be fixed to a frame on a flat roof or hanging from a wall. Most conventional boiler and hot-water cylinder systems are compatible with solar water heating, so this can be a simple swap for an off-grid home with a south facing roof.

Working in off-grid or remote areas?

Wolseley stock all major oil boiler brands, so we can provide next-day service across the widest range in the market. Whether you are installing, servicing or attending an emergency repair, our trained specialists are here to help.

Our in-branch spares range covers 80% of emergency same-day spares, with a further 19% of requirements backed up by our overnight next day service. We can also support you with a broad selection of renewable alternatives that work particularly well with low temperature underfloor heating.

Register a trade account with us today for unrivalled next-day and same-day product offers on oil boilers, oil boiler parts, oil tanks and complementary off grid products.