Renewable technologies

Generating our own energy through natural resources like the sun, wind, ground and water is one way we’re improving our energy efficiency and becoming more environmentally and economically sustainable.

Exmouth Lifeboat Station is one of a growing number of stations fitted with a ground source heat pump

Photo: Bill Davies

Exmouth Lifeboat Station.

The renewable energy sources we use across the RNLI – solar energy, wind power and ground and water source heating – currently provide approximately 5% of the total energy we use. 

We currently have:

  • 23 sites with solar panels
  • 20 sites with heat pumps
  • 1 with a wind turbine. 

These renewable technologies not only create energy for us but they also create an income. We are paid for electricity that is supplied back to the National Grid via the Feed in Tariff and we are also paid for offsetting the energy we would have used.  

During 2015, our renewable energy sources generated a total output of 653,000kWh, equating to £122,300 in earnings and savings, in addition to reducing our carbon emissions. 

Our live data display at RNLI College allows you to see our energy being generated in real-time, from Aith in the Shetland Islands to Falmouth in Cornwall.

So far we’ve installed solar PV (photovoltaic) panels at 23 sites including a regional base, an area support centre, RNLI College, All Weather Lifeboat Centre in Poole and our Inshore Lifeboat Centre at Cowes on the Isle of Wight.

Solar panels being fitted to our Sea Survival Centre at RNLI College 

The 180 solar panels on the roof of our Sea Survival Centre at RNLI College were fitted back in 2011. They generate an estimated saving of £17,000 per year and mean we’re reducing our carbon footprint by around 23 tonnes of CO² per year.

The solar panels on the roof of our All-weather Lifeboat Centre in Poole, which cover an 850m² area, are expected to pay for themselves in 9 years and save 52 tonnes of CO² per year. In fact 20% of the power required at our All-weather Lifeboat Centre will come from renewable energy sources and low and zero carbon technologies.

We have also installed solar panels at the following lifeboat stations:

Lifeboat station Installation size (kW)
Appledore 4.0
Bude 2.94
Burnham-on-Sea 4.0
Calshot 3.92
Clacton 9.4
Enniskillen 3.0
Exmouth 5.39
Falmouth 9.8
Hayling Island 3.92
Ilfracombe 4.0
Lymington 3.92
Penlee 3.43
Portsmouth 4.0
Rock 10.0

Aith RNLI Mechanic Kevin Henry with the station’s Severn class lifeboat, Charles Lidbury 17-14, and wind turbine in the background 

A 20kW wind turbine powers our most northerly lifeboat station at Aith in Scotland. 

Installed back in 2009, the turbine makes use of the powerful winds up in the Shetland Islands to power the station. Our Aith wind turbine generates around 40,000 kWh in renewable energy per year and any power not used by Aith Lifeboat Station is sold back to the National Grid.

In the past we’ve used conventional electric convection heaters because the extreme locations of some of our lifeboat stations have made access to gas central heating impossible.

But today we’re moving to a more sustainable way of heating our lifeboat stations using renewable ground and water source energy.

So far we have 20 ground source or water source heat pumps at our lifeboat stations and at our Grace Darling Museum in Bamburgh, Northumberland. 

Exterior shot of the RNLI Grace Darling Museum at Bamburgh, Northumberland

Our ground source heat pumps

These heat pumps produce four times more heat for every unit of energy used and each one saves us £3,000 a year in energy use, including Renewable Heat Incentive payments.

They work by extracting ambient temperature from the ground through a network of coiled pipe buried beneath the lifeboat station. This ambient heat is then passed through the heat pump, which is effectively a fridge running in reverse. This condenses the heat energy and enables us to heat the building and warm up a wet and cold crew.

Exmouth and Montrose Lifeboat Stations are examples of stations that are fitted with a ground source heat pump.

The Lizard Lifeboat Station is one of a growing number of stations that are heated by a water source heat pump

Our water source heat pumps

Developed in-house, these heat pumps use the same principle as the ground source heat pump, only they take the heat from the sea rather than from the ground and are proving very effective.

The Lizard and Castletownbere Lifeboat Stations are two of a growing number of stations that are fitted with an innovative water source heat pump.

Keeping our computer server rooms an optimum running temperature at our Support Centre in Poole has generally been done via the use of air conditioning. However this is energy intensive and expensive to run.

To combat this we’ve installed a new system that uses water to cool the air instead. Our Data Centre Eco Cooling project has been very successful at our Lifeboat Support Centre in Poole – saving 451,300 kWh of electricity, 199.650 tonnes of carbon and £45,000 a year.