In 2019, the British government set out a target to reach “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. As energy supply is the second worst sector for emissions in the UK (after transport), installing a renewable energy source in your home is a great way to help progress towards this goal.
In this guide, we’ll go over the most viable ways of doing so, explaining the costs and benefits of each to help you decide whether or not it’s worth it for you.
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The main forms of renewable electricity available are solar, wind, biomass, and hydroelectric power. All are in theory available to install at home, although some are more viable than others (you might have trouble building a hydroelectric dam in your garden). Solar panels are probably the most popular solution, but small wind turbines are increasingly common, and biomass boilers, while not actually generating power, offer a workable alternative to gas or electric boilers.
Generating your own energy at home means that you will rely on power from the national grid less. This means that your energy bill will be smaller, and sometimes you can even make money by selling energy to the grid. So although there is an upfront cost for installing the technology (which can get pretty pricey), you will save money in the long run.
Relying on the national grid less also means that your home can become more self-sufficient, and that in the case of a power cut on the national grid, you will still be able to run all your appliances and keep your lights on!
Generating your own renewable electricity means all of the above benefits plus the fact that you’re doing so in a way that reduces your carbon footprint.
There are two main types of solar power that you can install at home: solar PV panels and solar water heaters.
Solar PV uses solar cells to transform the energy from the sun to electricity that you can use to power the appliances in your home.
The upfront cost for solar panels is not insignificant – they start at around £1,500 and can cost around £5,000 for a 4kW (kilowatt) system, which is roughly enough to power a three bedroom house. A well-placed 4kW solar panel system, which faces the sun most of the time and is not covered by shade, should save you around £240 a year on your energy bills. This means that in around two decades you will see start seeing the returns on your investment, as well as saving roughly forty tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.
Solar PV panels also do not require much maintenance, apart from the odd clean to make sure as much of the sun’s rays are being absorbed by the panels as possible.
Solar water heating is less common than the electricity generating type of panel in the UK. These do not convert the sun’s power to electricity, but instead uses it to heat your water, replacing your conventional boiler and so reducing your bills, but perhaps not by as much as a full panel system.
There are two main types of wind turbine that you will find for your home: pole mounted and building mounted.
Pole mounted wind turbines come at a significant cost, starting at around £10,000 and reaching more than £30,000 for a 6kW model. Because of the cost, in order for it to pay back financially the turbine will have to be placed somewhere particularly windy, such as on the coast.
Smaller building turbines are more affordable (up to £3,000). Well placed, they can generate up to half of the electricity required for your home.
As well as the generating systems discussed above, there are a few other options for heating your home using renewable or green methods, which will reduce your bills quite significantly.
One thing you can install is a biomass boiler, which burns wood pellets instead of natural gas in order to heat water. Although they are not always considered ‘clean energy’ because they release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when they combust, the carbon dioxide absorbed during the life of the tree makes them roughly carbon neutral.
Another popular option is a ground source heat pump. This involves pipes installed deep into the ground, containing water which is heated up using the heat absorbed by the ground during the day. These systems are supported by the government’s Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), which gives you payments based on the amount of energy your system is predicted to save.
If you don’t have the capacity to install any auxiliary generating or heating systems, you still have the option of signing up to get your standard gas and electricity tariff from a green energy supplier.
If you are generating your own electricity, there may be times of particularly high winds or long periods of sunlight, where you are generating an excess of what you are using. This is where a battery storage system comes in.
The extra energy that is produced charges up a battery in your home, which can then be used to power your home at times when your renewable energy system is not generating any electricity.
This means that any extra energy is not wasted, and that you will have to rely less on power from the national grid, helping to reduce your bills, as well as keeping your home up and running in case of a power outage.
There are also cheaper alternatives to renewable power storage in your home, such as thermal stores. These trap the heat from solar water heating panels, or other forms of renewable heat energy, increasing the overall efficiency of your home.
The government’s Feed in Tariff (FIT) scheme began in 2010 and closed to new applicants in 2019. FIT payments were made quarterly, based on the amount of electricity that someone’s renewable energy source generated, using the meter readings in their home.
Although the scheme is no longer open, payments are still being made to those who had signed up before.
The Feed in Tariff was replaced by the Smart Export Guarantee in 2020. This differs from the FIT, in that it pays you only for the excess energy which is put into the national grid, rather than all of the energy produced. Although it will not pay you as much as the older scheme, if you have an efficient generating system at home, it can certainly help to cover the costs for installation in the long run.