Renewable energy at home: what are your options?
Many of us dream of powering our homes entirely through clean, green energy that we generate ourselves.
By harnessing free and available energy, such as the sun or wind, you could both save money on your fuel bills and do your bit to reduce carbon emissions.
But creating a home powered by green heat or electricity isn’t simple. There are lots of choices and considerations and the upfront investment can be very expensive.
Here we provide a rundown of the main options available for home renewable energy.
- Solar panels
- Other options for renewable electricity generation
- Renewable heating
- Heat pumps
- Government grants
Solar panels are a very common site on roofs now, and are in fact the most common renewable source of energy in the UK.
Put simply, they capture the sun’s energy and convert it into electricity that you can use in your home. Solar electricity is low carbon, renewable energy. It’s also free, once you’ve paid for the initial installation of the system.
The panels generate electricity even on cloudy days. However, if you use more electricity at home than your panels are generating, or during the evening when your panels aren’t generating any electricity, then you’ll continue to pay for some electricity from the National Grid. You can buy a battery to store energy and use in the evening, but these are expensive.
Could your home be suitable for solar panels? An unshaded, south facing roof is ideal. East or west facing roofs could still be considered, but will yield less energy, but north facing roofs are not recommended.
It’s an expensive investment, at £6,500 for the average domestic 4.2kWp solar PV system - a price which varies depending on the size of array and any difficulty with access to your roof - and could take an average of 13-24 years to recoup through savings.
For a more detailed idea of the benefits you may see from installing solar panels, check out the Energy Saving Trust’s calculator.
Solar is by far the most popular technology for generating green electricity at home. But there are alternatives:
Wind turbines: There are two types of domestic-sized wind turbines: pole mounted, free standing turbines which need to be located in exposed places; and smaller building-mounted options which can be installed on the roof of a home. Building-mounted turbines cost less to install than pole-mounted ones, but they tend to be smaller and less efficient. If it is in a windy spot, a 6kW turbine can generate around 9,000kWh a year, equivalent to a saving of around £510 a year electricity bills, but they don’t come cheap and around £33,000 will buy you a 6kW pole-mounted system.
Hydroelectricity: an option for few homes, usually in isolated locations, small or micro hydroelectricity systems can produce enough electricity for all electrical appliances and lighting in the average home. Prices vary, but you can read more about the costs of hydroelectric schemes.
Generating your own electricity is one part of the green home equation. Another is putting in place a green (or greener) system to heat your home and provide hot water.
If you need a new boiler, rather than opting for another gas or oil model, you could consider a greener alternative: a heat pump.
There has been lots of publicity around heat pumps given that the government expects millions of them to be installed in homes over the next 10-15 years to meet the country’s net zero targets.
They work by capturing warmth from outside - at any time of year - and moving it into your home. This is a renewable source of energy, although it’s important to know the pump itself is powered by electricity, which may or may not have a renewable source.
There are several types of heat pumps, including:
Air source heat pumps: Also known as air-to-water source heat pumps, these are the most common type of heat pump. They transfer heat from the outside air to water, which heats your rooms through radiators or underfloor heating. They can also heat water stored in a hot water cylinder. You’ll need a place outside your home for a unit, which will be fitted to a wall, or placed on the ground. You’re likely to spend up to £13,000, but could benefit from a £5,000 government grant (see below).
Ground source heat pump: A more expensive option, these transfer heat from the ground outside your home and can be suitable for properties with lots of land. You can choose to have a long or coiled pipe buried in trenches, or a long loop inserted into a borehole. You can expect to pay around £24,000 if your ground loop is buried in trenches, or around £49,000 if you need to dig a borehole. You could reduce this cost with a government grant of £6,000.
Biomass: This option involves burning wood pellets, chips or logs to power your central heating and hot water. You will need some space for this, 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.
Solar water heating: Also known as solar thermal systems, this technology uses energy from the sun to provide hot water. Solar water heating won’t provide all of the hot water you need in your home and so is usually used alongside a conventional boiler or immersion heater. Like with solar panels, solar hot water collectors are typically placed on a south facing roof, or at least not north facing. Installation costs around £3,000 to £5,000.
The government is encouraging households to replace boilers and install greener heating systems, as well as generating their own green energy through technology like solar panels.
Over the years, it has provided various financial incentives to help households achieve this.
Currently, incentives include grants to encourage property owners to install low carbon heating systems such as heat pumps. Until 2025, you could get £5,000 off the cost and installation of an air source heat pump or biomass boiler, or £6,000 off the cost and installation of a ground source heat pump.
The government website has more information to help you find out if you’re eligible for one of these grants.
Find out more about renewable energy options at home
This article introduces some of the main ways of generating renewable energy for your home. But a lot depends on your individual circumstances and factors such as how much space you have at home.
To find out more information, a good place to start is the Energy Saving Trust website. This will provide detailed information about the costs and savings of each type of technology. It also explains all of the financial help available.
If you live in Wales, you could also take advantage of the Nest scheme, which offers free, impartial advice on renewable energy. You can simply give them a call on Freephone 0808 808 2244 and speak to one of their experts about your individual situation.