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Could you generate your own energy?

Join the green energy revolution

green house symbol made from plants

by Felix Davey

When you think of renewable energy, what comes to mind? Towering wind turbines, visible from miles around? Or rows and rows of solar panels, stretching as far as the eye can see? 

Renewable energy is certainly booming. Ten years ago, 7% of electricity in the UK came from low carbon sources. In 2018, the figure was 33%. And in 2019, we generated more power from renewables than from fossil fuels for the first time since the Industrial Revolution. 

As you would imagine, much of this low carbon energy is produced by wind and solar farms. But it doesn’t have to done on such a huge scale. It’s totally possible to generate your own energy from renewables at home. Here’s what you need to know…

Solar

Solar panels are the most common renewable source of energy. You might have seen them on rooftops in your neighbourhood already.

Known as photovoltaics (PV), solar panels capture the sun’s energy using photovoltaic cells. They don’t need direct sunlight to work (thankfully for us in the UK). But ideally you will need to have a roof that faces south (more or less) and isn’t shaded.

The PV cells convert sunlight into electricity, which you can use for your household appliances and lighting. You can also heat your hot water with the sun’s energy using solar thermal systems.  

So what are the benefits? Solar energy is 100% green and doesn’t release any carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases. Typically, a domestic solar PV system could save you between 1.3 – 1.6 tonnes of carbon per year (depending on where you live in the UK).

Solar energy can also save you money. Daylight is completely free, so your energy bills will be reduced. You can also benefit from financial incentives. But what are the installation costs? 

A typical domestic solar PV system, with 30m2 of panels that should be suitable for most houses and bungalows, could cost between £5,000 – £8,000.

And 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.  

What size of system do you need? You should first think about how much energy you use in your home, and how much of it you want to generate with renewables. Find out more in our guide to solar PV.

Wind

solar panel and wind turbine behind it

How do wind turbines work? When the wind blows, the blades are forced round, driving the turbine that generates electricity. The faster the wind, the more energy produced.

That’s why domestic wind power probably isn’t suitable if you live in a built up area. But if your house is in an exposed or isolated spot, it could bring you great benefits.  

Just like solar power, wind power will cut your carbon footprint. A typical domestic wind turbine could save you around 3.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

It can also reduce your energy bills, after you’ve paid for the initial installation. The costs will depend of the size on the size of the turbine and its location. For a typical domestic wind turbine, you’re looking at between £21,000 – £30,000.

So it’s not cheap, but remember you can also benefit from financial incentives. For everything you need to know, check out our guide to wind power.

Biomass systems

Biomass pellets in a heap

Another popular source of renewable energy is a wood-fuelled heating system, also called a biomass system.

It involves burning wood pellets, chips or logs to power your central heating and hot water boilers. Or you can use it to provide warmth in a single room.

You will need some space for the system, so it’s normally suitable if you have a larger home or you live in a rural area.

A typical biomass system costs between £9,000 – £21,000. But once installed, you could make big savings on your heating bills and benefit from financial incentives. Learn more in our guide to biomass systems.

Helping you go green

Even if you don’t think solar power is such a bright idea or you don’t get fired up by the idea of a biomass system, there are plenty of other options for you to join the green energy revolution.

You can use a micro-combined heat and power unit to generate heat and electricity at the same time, or you could produce more than enough electricity for lighting and household appliances through hydropower.

We completely understand that generating your own energy seems like a big step, so the Energy Saving Trust is here to help. Get the low down on all the options in our guide to renewables

If you live in Scotland, you can also have a chat with Home Energy Scotland. Their expert advisors will offer you free and impartial advice about renewable energy for your home. And they will even help you apply for grants and loans. Why not give them a call? 

Good for your wallet and the planet

Powering your own home with renewables won’t just save you money on energy bills. You could also benefit from some pretty decent financial incentives.

Under the Government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme, you could receive quarterly cash payments over seven years for installing renewable heating technology in your home, like a biomass system or a solar hot water system.

Want to see how much money you could earn? You can check out the Government’s RHI payment calculator, and learn more about the scheme in our guide.

The Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) is another Government scheme. It involves energy suppliers paying the people – like you – who generate small amounts of renewable energy for electricity that they export to the grid.

You could benefit if you export electricity using your own solar PV system, a wind turbine, a hydropower system or a micro-combined heat and power unit. 

Under SEG, it’s up to the energy suppliers to decide how much to pay you as an exporter. There are no set or minimum tariffs – the only requirement is that the tariff must be greater than zero at all times.

You can read more about SEG in our guide. Our Insight team have also done a detailed study, calculating how long it would take you to pay back the installation cost of your solar PV system using SEG tariffs. 

There’s a lot more that we could say about generating renewable energy in your own home – but you probably have a lot of questions already! Hopefully our guide to renewables will tell you everything you want to know.  

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