West Beacon Farm is the family home of Tony and Angela Marmont; the house and land have been converted to demonstrate an integrated sustainable energy generation network, which provides independence from fossil fuels and nationwide distribution networks, as well as significantly enhancing the natural ecology of the 50 acre rural farmstead.
History and Ecology of West Beacon Farm
When Tony and Angela moved to West Beacon Farm in 1969, the land was very bleak, with few trees. The fields were hedged or dry stone walled with no protection from the weather. Their first priority was to plant a wind break of 13,000 trees during the 1st year, followed in later years by more on the outer boundaries. These have enhanced the farm and at the same time added to the uptake of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The ecology of the land was improved by ploughing and reseeding hectares of permanent natural pasture which provided an income as hay or silage. Some of the fast-growing Pine and Larch are now being replaced by Oak and other deciduous trees to provide food, shelter and breeding sites for many kinds of wildlife. Biodiversity has been enriched by this and by the creation of a 2 acre lake in 1980, thus giving the site grassland, woodland and water-life.
Kestrel, Crow, Great-spotted and Green Woodpecker, Greenfinch, Dunnock, Mallard, Little Grebe, Goose, Moorhen and many more varieties of bird nest here, with the occasional excitement of Crossbill, Long-tailed Tit and Buzzard visits. Animal, insect, frog and toad life has also increased with the addition of plant and fungus species diversity.
By the 1980’s environmental groups were becoming increasingly prominent, and for the first time public awareness was being raised, about the negative effects on the environment that modern human life was causing, the UK’s increasing reliance on imported energy was also being highlighted. As a pilot Tony noticed that over time the ice caps on the Alps were receding; he then started to notice other changes to the global environment and it was this which sparked his interest in climate change and his firm belief that action should be taken to slow it down and reduce the damage mankind is doing to the planet before it is too late.
To reduce his use of fossil fuels Tony decided to replace the oil fired boiler in the farmhouse with a ground source heat pump system. Shortly after this he installed a 4kW wind turbine and a 3kW photovoltaic array to provide the electricity required to make the heat pump a self-sufficient system powered entirely by renewable energy.
West Beacon Farm Today
From relatively modest beginnings West Beacon Farm has now become one of the world’s best examples of renewable energy in practice. West Beacon Farm demonstrates how integrated renewable energy systems combined with other sustainable practices can form an effective and reliable independent network.
The technologies used include:
- two 25kW 2-bladed wind turbines – now 20+ years old
- 19KWp of Solar PV across 4 separate arrays
- water conservation – no mains water connection, rainwater only source
- hydro power
- sustainable transportation – electric and hybrid cars
The electric cars onsite provide an excellent insight into how the technology has improved over time (15 years in this example). The original Solectria (2 door) had a top speed of 70 mph and a range of 100 miles. It has since been superseded by the Tesla S 85, with double the top speed (140 mph), more than double the range at 250 miles and a bonus 0-60mph time of just 4.2 seconds.
More details on the renewable technologies themselves can be found here.
When the West Beacon Farm house was built in the 1950’s energy was cheap and seemingly plentiful and little consideration was given to energy efficiency and insulation. Over the last twenty years, Tony has integrated numerous innovative energy creating and saving technologies including:
- rainwater harvesting
- ground source cooling system (11°C water from 11m below the surface is fed through a heat exchanger buried in the wal of the house to keep the house cool throughout the warmer months).
- osmosis drinking water filtration
- combined heat and power unit
One of the few things left to do was to super insulate the house. The answer can in the form of an ‘e-skin’, a method of adding thick insulation to the outside of the house creating an entirely new exterior, whilst leaving the inside untouched. The project is documented within the downloadable case study here, and had to overcome multiple challenges. The end result was a resounding success.