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.

Three crew stand on the bow of the Skegness Shannon class lifeboat, during a search and rescue exercise. A wind farm is in the background.

RNLI/Nigel Millard

The Skegness crew take in a wind farm during a search and rescue exercise

Wherever possible and cost effective, we fit and use renewable energy sources to our new build and refurbishment projects, and have a programme of retrofit installations to increase our on-site generation capacity.

The renewable energy sources we utilise across the RNLI – solar energy, wind power and ground and water source heating – currently provide approximately 3% of the total energy we use. 

In 2020, we had:

  • 29 sites with solar panels
  • 33 sites with heat pumps
  • 1 with a wind turbine.

These renewable technologies not only create energy for us, they also create an income. We’re paid for electricity that’s supplied back to the National Grid via the Feed-in Tariff, we’re also paid for offsetting the energy we would have used.  

During 2020, alongside reducing our carbon emissions, our Solar photovoltaic (PV) installations delivered savings of £45,000 and earned £81,750 in tariffs. Our 33 heat pumps delivered savings of £53,625.

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.

A view of the RNLI’s Sea Survival Centre main building from an elevated aspect, showing the curved roof covered in multiple solar photovoltaic (PV) panels. The building is surrounded by scaffolding and the RNLI Support Centre office building can be seen in the background.
RNLI College Sea Survival Centre solar PV panels during fitting in 2011

By the end of 2020 we’d cumulatively installed solar PV panels at 29 sites including lifeboat stations, regional bases, an area support centre, the Lifesaving Support Centre, RNLI College, All-weather Lifeboat Centre in Poole, Dorset, and our Inshore Lifeboat Centre at Cowes on the Isle of Wight.

The 180 solar panels on the roof of our Sea Survival Centre at RNLI College were fitted in 2011 and have now paid back the original capital cost. 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, which cover an area of 850m², are expected to pay for themselves in 9 years and save 52 tonnes of CO2 per year. 

We’ve 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

Criccieth 3.84 
Enniskillen Upper 3.0
Exmouth 5.39
Falmouth 9.8
Hayling Island 3.92
Hoylake 20.6 
Ilfracombe 4.0
Lymington 3.92
Penlee 3.43
Portsmouth 4.0
Rhyl 14.75 
Rock 10.0
Selsey 23.45 

RNLI Mechanic Kevin Henry standing near Aith’s all-weather lifeboat and the station’s 20kW wind turbine
RNLI Mechanic Kevin Henry standing near Aith’s (Shetland) all-weather lifeboat and the station’s 20kW wind turbine

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

Installed in 2009, the turbine makes use of the powerful winds up in the Shetland Islands to power the station. Our Aith wind turbine can generate up to 40,000 kWh in renewable energy per year. It’s due to be upgraded to use smaller more efficient blades to ensure it continues to be functional for the future.

A view of the front of the RNLI’s Grace Darling Museum in Bamburgh, Northumberland
The RNLI’s Grace Darling Museum in Bamburgh, Northumberland

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

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. 

By the end of 2020 we had 33 ground source or water source heat pumps at our lifeboat stations and at our Grace Darling Museum in Bamburgh, Northumberland.

A view of Exmouth Lifeboat Station at night. The view is from the slipway, looking up towards the large boathouse doors where the Shannon class lifeboat is housed. A light can be seen in the window to the left of these doors, where the crew room and office is situated.

Bill Davies

Exmouth Lifeboat Station, in Devon, is fitted with a ground source heat pump

Our ground source heat pumps

These heat pumps produce four times more heat for every unit of energy used. 

They work by drawing 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. The pump condenses the heat energy and enables us to heat the building – and so warm up a wet and cold crew after a shout.

Exmouth (Devon) and Montrose (Angus) lifeboat stations are examples of stations fitted with a ground source heat pump.

A view of Castletownbere Lifeboat Station in dark overcast weather. The view is from the pontoon, looking up the gangway towards the station. A rainbow can be seen overhead and the sky is moody, cloudy and dark.
Castletownbere Lifeboat Station in Co Cork is fitted with water source heat pumps

Our water source heat pumps

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

Brighton (Sussex) and Castletownbere (Co Cork) lifeboat stations are two of a growing number of stations fitted with a water source heat pump.

Keeping our computer server rooms at an optimal running temperature at 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 system that uses water to cool the air instead.