There has never been a better time to consider generating your own electricity. We’re all used to seeing solar farms and towering wind turbines on our travels, but it is entirely possible to generate your own energy from renewables at home just on a smaller scale.
There are a few reasons why you might want to generate your own energy. The recent warning from the IPCC that only rapid and drastic reductions in greenhouse gases in this decade can prevent widespread devastation and extreme weather, might have persuaded you that it’s time to cut your carbon footprint. By generating your own energy, you can significantly lower your household’s carbon footprint. You may want to invest in low carbon energy, to reduce your future energy bills. Energy prices have risen exponentially in the last 20 years so reducing your reliance on the National Grid will enable you to insulate your household from the unexpected and pronounced rise of wholesale energy prices. Or it might simply be that you want to be a bit more self-sufficient.
There are more options today for generating your own energy than ever before but is it a realistic prospect for UK homeowners? Let’s look at a few of the options available to you.
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Solar panels are now a common sight on rooftops in the UK. They are the most common renewable source of energy. Known as photovoltaics (PV), solar panels capture the sun’s energy using photovoltaic cells to generate electricity. They generally work better on a south facing roof at a pitch angle of about 30 or 40 degrees. You can fit panels on a flat roof, or on a frame on the ground but a sloping roof is usually the easiest. Though south facing is optimum, anywhere between east and west is possible. Solar panels are improving with every passing year, with specialist PV cells able to generate power even on a cloudy day. Thankfully for those of us living in the UK, solar panels don’t need direct sunlight to work. However, if your home is overshadowed by trees or other buildings it will have a negative impact on the performance of your system. Space is a key consideration. Roughly speaking, a roof area of 10-20 square metres would be enough to deliver between 20% and 45% of the typical household’s electricity needs.
PV cells convert sunlight into electricity which you can use for your household appliances and lighting. Ideally, you would be at home during the day to make the most of the electricity generated when the sun is shining. You can of course set your appliances to come on during the day even if you are out. If you’re generating more electricity than you need during the day the surplus will be fed back to the National Grid for someone else to use. If you want to avoid having to use electricity from the Grid during the night you might want to invest in a special renewable battery system in order to store any unused energy generated during the day.
Alternatively, you can take advantage of the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) a government scheme devised so that energy suppliers pay their customers for the renewable energy that they export to the grid.
Solar energy doesn’t release any carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases. Depending on where you live a domestic solar PV system could typically save you between 1.3 – 1.6 tonnes of carbon per year.
A typical solar panel system installation with 30m2 of panels will cost between £5,000 and £8,000 and is getting cheaper. In recent years, the price of installing panels has decreased by 70%. It can take anywhere between 15 and 26 years to recoup your costs for a typical home depending on how much energy you can use during the daytime, where you live, how much electricity you use and what you’re paid under the smart export guarantee.
Currently the cost of domestic solar electricity is around 8p per kWh which is a lot less than the 16p average domestic import cost from the grid. This cost has increased by an average 4.75% each year over the past decade. Just taking this fact into consideration will make installing solar PV extremely worthwhile as you will be protecting yourself against future increases in the cost of importing power from the grid.
The sun is an infinite renewable energy source which can also be used to heat your hot water using solar thermal systems. They work by transferring the sun’s heat within special pipes on your roof via copper wires inside. In the summer, they should provide all the hot water you require for your home. In the winter, it’s a lot less, however over the course of a whole year, roughly 60% of your hot water needs will be provided by your solar thermal install.
A typical domestic solar hot water system, with 4m2 of panels that should supply enough hot water for a family of four, could set you back between £3,000 – £5,000.
Air Source Heat Pumps
Air source heat pumps (ASHPs) absorb heat from the outside air to heat your home and hot water. Amazingly, they can still extract heat when air temperatures are as low as -15°C! They run on electricity which can be obtained from renewable energy sources such as national offshore wind farms. Because they are extracting renewable heat from the environment, the heat output is greater than the electricity input which makes them an energy efficient way to heat your home. Running costs are very low because air source heat pumps are super-efficient and are known for their reliability and consistency.
Air source heat pumps look very much like air-conditioning units. Their size depends on how much heat they’ll need to generate for your home, the more heat, the bigger the heat pump. They are usually positioned outdoors at the side or back of a property and they need plenty of space around them for air to circulate. Inside, you will usually have a unit containing pumps and hot water. ASHPs are normally smaller than a standard boiler.
Generating your own electricity by installing solar panels on your roof can give you more freedom and control as air source heat pumps work well with solar panels. They also work in conjunction with underfloor heating as both can operate under a low consistent temperature system.
ASHPs are also adaptable as they can double up as an air conditioning unit in the summer and even heat a swimming pool whilst not being used to heat the home.
Ground Source Heat Pumps
A ground source heat pump system harnesses natural heat from deep underground by pumping water through it in pipes. The heat pump increases the temperature and the heat produced is used to heat homes or hot water. Ground source heat pump systems are made up of a ground loop (a network of water pipes buried underground) and a heat pump at ground level. A mixture of water and anti-freeze is pumped around the ground loop and absorbs the naturally occurring heat stored in the ground. The water mixture is compressed and goes through a heat exchanger, which extracts the heat and transfers it to the heat pump. The heat is then transferred to your home heating system. A ground source heat pump can increase the temperature from the ground to around 50°C.
You do need plenty of space for the GHSP to be installed, generally a garden that is accessible to digging machinery. The size of the ground loop will depend on big your home is and how much heat you need.
Like ASHPs they need electricity to run, and they use less electrical energy than the heat they generate. The pump carries out the same role as the boiler in a central heating system. However, rather than burning fuel to generate heat, it uses ambient heat from the ground. GHSPs are ideal for new or self-builds as the installation requires a lot of soil upheaval in the garden space or drilling deep down into the earth. As you can imagine installation isn’t cheap, but the end result is a heating system which has an extremely low running cost. There is also an attractive financial incentive which we’ll take a look at and will give you a good return on your investment over 7 years.
Financial Incentive for Renewable Heat
If you generate heat for your home via a renewable source, you may be eligible to apply for the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme. The domestic RHI was launched in 2014 to provide financial support to owners of renewable heating systems for seven years. The government scheme aimed to encourage the uptake of renewable heat technologies and covers England, Wales and Scotland. It means that the homeowner can enjoy financial returns for up to seven years after instalment meaning the end cost is minimal. The cash payments are paid quarterly and the amount you receive depends on a few factors including the technology you install, the latest tariffs available for each technology and in some cases metering. There are some limits on the amount of space heating a home can receive payments for. The heat demand limits are set at 20,000kWh for ASHPs and 30,000kWh for GSHPs. There is no limit for solar water heating systems.
In order to apply for the RHI scheme you will need:
- Microgeneration Certification Scheme installation certificate number for the heating system
- Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) number
- Bank details
Choosing renewable energy sources to power your home is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint, make your home more sustainable, and potentially lower your energy costs. Renewable energy minimises carbon pollution and has a much lower impact on our environment. Stablished carbon neutral technologies have never been more affordable. With renewable energy prices dropping lower than ever and incentivesto go green still very much to play for, 2021 is the ideal time to power your home with renewable energy sources.