It’s likely that you’ve used a boiler to generate hot water in your home for many years and you may never have considered the alternatives. Gas boilers are still the most common form of central heating in the UK, closely followed by electric and oil boilers. However, more people are thinking about other ways of generating both electricity and heat to reduce their carbon footprint, save money and create a more efficient home.
If you’re thinking about how you can get renewable energy at home, read on to find some of the most popular options.
Solar panels are a popular way of generating energy in the UK. Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems capture the sun’s energy and turn it into electricity that can be used to run any electrical appliances and devices in your home. Although they can’t produce electricity at night, they can still generate energy on a cloudy or overcast day.
Don’t worry, we’re not suggesting you install a 300-foot tall wind turbine in your back garden. You can buy mini, building-mounted turbines that sit on the roof or the side of your home. The propellers are attached to a generator and, during windy weather conditions, they spin around to generate energy. This energy can be used to power the home or is stored in a battery for later use and is an emission-free way of creating electricity onsite.
With a power input of 1.5 kW, these turbines can generate an output of around 300 kilowatt hours (kWh) per month, enough to provide all the electricity needed in the average UK home. The output will vary depending on wind speed and the location of the turbine.
Generally you shouldn’t need planning permission for a building-mounted turbine in England, however you do in Scotland, so ensure that you meet the conditions required in your country before going ahead with installation.
Your turbine would need to be maintained and serviced regularly. If you do this, it should have a lifespan of around 20 years, making it an excellent investment.
If your home is located near a stream or river, hydroelectricity systems can use the water’s movement and turn it into kinetic energy in a turbine. This turbine drives a generator that can produce electricity for use in your home. The faster the water flows, the more electricity you can create.
Hydro systems are thought to be the cheapest way of generating renewable energy and are more reliable than solar or wind generation. This is because the wind can die down and solar panels cannot generate electricity at night, while streams and rivers are constantly flowing, producing electricity 24/7.
The amount of energy these systems can produce depends on the gradient of the stream or river and the speed at which the water is moving.
Generating electricity using renewable energy is all well and good, but what if you want to heat your home with it too? You need to think about some of the technologies available to help you do this.
While not completely renewable, biomass is a low-carbon way of heating your home. Biomass heating systems burn wood pellets and logs to either heat a single room or to heat water in a back boiler that can be pumped around your home’s radiators to provide warmth. A biomass boiler could save you money each year in comparison to an electric or gas heating system.
With this kind of system, you could benefit from the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), which rewards those who use low carbon or renewable energy sources to power their homes. You could earn back some cash payments over a period of seven years if you’re eligible for the scheme.
There are two main types of heat pump: air source and ground source. These systems use the natural heat that can be found in the ground or the air. A coolant solution absorbs this heat and carries it to a compressor. When the solution is compressed, the temperature increases and the liquid is turned into a gas. The hot gas warms up the water in your central heating system to heat your home. Then, as the gas cools down, it condenses back into liquid form, ready to start the process again.
In a ground source heat pump, pipes containing a heat transfer liquid are buried under the ground on your property. In an air source heat pump, a fan draws the air from outside.
These systems require electricity to power the pump, however, if you have one of the renewable energy systems installed that we’ve mentioned above (solar panels, a hydro system or a wind turbine), your heat pump could run completely on renewable energy.
Solar water heating is another way you can harness the sun to provide energy to your home. Unlike solar panels, which generate electricity using light, a solar thermal system uses the sun’s natural heat to warm water that can be used in your home. The panels can be installed on your roof and will collect the heat from the sun, even in winter, to warm up the water that is then stored in a hot water cylinder for later use. These systems are best used in conjunction with a boiler or immersion heater during the winter months.