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Blog Post 4 November 2021 Updated 1 April 2022

How can renewable energy help the UK reach net zero?

Please note: the Renewable Heat Incentive closed to new applications on 31 March 2022.

To reach net zero emissions by 2050, one of the main areas we need to cut emissions is from generating electricity. This will require a transition to cleaner forms of energy: the main topic of conversation on day four of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

When fossil fuels like coal and gas are burned to meet our demand for energy, it releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, causing climate change. We’ve already started to shift away from using fossil fuels to generate our electricity, relying on renewable energy sources like solar and wind instead.

In 2010, just 7% of electricity in the UK came from renewable sources. A decade later, the figure was 42%, as renewable electricity in 2020 overtook electricity generated from gas and coal plants for the first time. And while much of this low carbon energy is produced by giant wind and solar farms, it’s possible to generate your own renewable energy at home.

Solar energy

Solar panels are the most common domestic renewable energy source in the UK, with many buildings across the country now featuring rooftop panels.

Known as photovoltaics (PV), solar panels capture the sun’s energy and convert it into electricity that you can use in your home. They don’t need direct sunlight to work, but ideally you need a roof that faces south and isn’t shaded.

Solar energy is green, renewable energy – and sunlight is free – so once you’ve paid for the initial installation, your electricity costs will be lower. A typical home solar PV system could save around one tonne of carbon every year (depending on where you live in the UK), so you’re also helping the UK reach its net zero targets.

Wind power

Wind farms are now a common sight around the UK. They work when wind forces the blades around, driving the turbine that generates electricity. The stronger the wind, the more energy produced.

Domestic wind power generally isn’t suitable if you live in a built up area, but if your house is in an exposed or isolated location, it could be a suitable renewable energy option. As with solar power, wind energy can cut your carbon emissions – a typical domestic wind turbine could save you almost two tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.

And just like sunshine, wind is free, so once you’ve paid for the initial installation, you’ll save money on your electricity bills.

Biomass heating

Another popular source of renewable energy in the UK is biomass. Wood in the form of pellets, chips or logs is burned to heat your home and hot water.

You’ll need some space to install a biomass system, so it’s usually suitable if you have a larger home or live in a rural area. Biomass does release carbon dioxide when burned, but at lower levels than fossil fuels. The process is sustainable as long as new plants continue to grow in place of those used for fuel.

There are two main types of biomass heating systems: stoves and boilers. A stove burns logs or pellets to heat a single room – and may be fitted with a back boiler to provide water heating as well. A boiler burns logs, pellets or chips, and is connected to a central heating and hot water system.

Alternative options

While solar, wind and biomass are the main sources of renewable energy in the UK, there are other options to help you go green and reduce your carbon emissions.

You can use a micro-combined heat and power (CHP) 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.

If you live in Scotland and would like advice on installing home renewables, get in touch with Home Energy Scotland. Their expert advisors will offer you free and impartial advice about renewable energy for your home, and can help you apply for any funding you might be eligible for.

Financial support

In addition to lowering your carbon emissions and cutting your energy bills, you could benefit from some financial incentives when you install a renewable energy system.

Under the UK Government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme, you could receive quarterly cash payments over seven years for installing renewable heating technology such as biomass in your home.

There’s also the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) scheme, which involves energy suppliers paying people who generate small amounts of renewable energy for electricity they export to the grid. You could benefit from this scheme if you export electricity using your own solar PV system, a wind turbine, a hydropower system or a micro-CHP unit.

To achieve net zero, we need to generate our electricity from a mix of low carbon, renewable sources. Explore our guide to renewable energy to help you make the right choice for your home and play your part in addressing the climate emergency.

Head to our Climate talk at COP26 hub to keep up to date with the latest news and announcements from the climate conference.

Last updated: 1 April 2022