Renewable energy

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Energy demand is growing rapidly worldwide and statistics show that we will require 50% more energy by 2025. Renewable energy, generated from natural resources such as wind, water, sun and biomass, have the potential to supply 100% of the UK’s power. They are non-polluting and are in limitless supply thereby providing us with a sustainable option for our future energy needs.

Wind Turbine RF

Renewable energy is growing in popularity across the EU, supported by the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive, which sets targets for its member states to achieve. In the UK, we have set a target of supplying 15% of our energy from renewables by 2020. As of 2014, we currently supply 7% of our energy from renewables, leaving a further 8% of our demand to be met with renewables to achieve our 2020 target. Progress varies widely across the EU’s member states. The shining example so far is Sweden, which sourced 39% of its energy from renewables in 2004, set a target of 49% by 2020, and already exceeded this target by 3% in 2013.

Generating your own energy from renewables

Solar power

Solar power is ideal for urban living since solar energy systems can be easily integrated into the existing structure of a building. Solar energy can be used to provide either electricity or heat. 

Solar Panel

Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems convert the suns energy into electricity. Contrary to popular belief they do not require direct sunlight to generate electricity and are therefore suitable in our northern climate.  Many systems allow the householder to connect a two-way meter so that any excess electricity can be sold to the grid.

Solar thermal systems absorb heat from the sun which can be used to heat domestic hot water. There are two different available types of solar thermal collectors – evacuated tube and flat plate collectors. Evacuated tube collectors are more efficient but also more expensive. A typical solar thermal system, when fitted to a south-facing roof, will supply around 72% of a household’s hot water over a year (a boiler or immersion heater is usually also required during winter). They are probably the most cost-effective domestic renewable energy technology that can be installed in this country, with the shortest payback time.

Micro wind power

TurbineWhilst there is little potential within the St Albans district for large-scale wind turbines, there are many opportunities for small scale domestic turbines, called micro-turbines. These can be integrated into a building by being fitted to the roof or on a mast.  

Micro-turbines typically cost from £1,500-£20,000. The effectiveness of micro-turbines is highly dependent on wind speed and the surrounding land-use so are most suitable for properties in a rural location, where there is open exposure free from turbulence and obstructions from surrounding buildings or trees. If you are considering a wind turbine it is advisable to have a professional assessment of wind-speed in the exact location of the turbine over a year. 

Wood-fuelled heating systems

Biomass boilers use wood fuel in the form of pellets, chips or logs to power central heating, provide warmth and hot water. This system of heating may either consist of a standalone stove which may also be connected to a back boiler to provide hot water or a wood burning boiler connected to a central heating and hot water system.

Ground and air source heat pumps

GSHPGround source heat pumps transfer heat from the ground into a building to provide space heating and in some cases pre-heat domestic hot water. Some electricity is used to power the pump but for every unit of electricity used, 3-4 units of heat are produced, making it an efficient way of heating a building. The system is ideal for new build homes and there are no planning issues given the underground nature of the system. You will need space outside for the ground loop and the heat generated can be linked to existing systems, though it is ideally suited to households with underfloor heating.

Grants for renewable technologies

The Feed-in-Tariff (FIT)

The Feed-in-Tariff provides payments to those who generate their own electricity from renewable or low carbon technology. You can be paid for the electricity you generate, even if you use it yourself, as well as for any surplus electricity you export to the grid. Eligible technologies include, up to an installation size of 5 MW, solar PV, wind turbines, hydroelectricity, anaerobic digesters, and micro-combined heat and power (CHP). The tariff has been set at a level to ensure that anyone investing in renewable technology makes a 4-5% return on investment across the life of the technology. For more information visit the Energy Saving Trust website. 

Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI)

The Domestic RHI is designed to provide a financial incentive to households to install heat-generating renewable technologies such as biomass boilers, air or ground source heat pumps and solar thermal systems. Payments will be made to householders on an annual basis according to an estimation of the amount of heat generated. An essential criterion for joining the Domestic RHI is that the renewable heating system heats only a single domestic household, which is evidenced by obtaining an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC). For further details about the Domestic RHI and how to apply, visit the Ofgem website. In cases where the renewable heating system is in commercial, public or industrial premises (including hospitals, schools and organisations with district heating systems), application may instead be made to the Non-Domestic RHI. For further information about this scheme and how to apply, visit the Ofgem website.

Planning requirements

The planning rules have been simplified to make it easier for those wishing to install renewable technology. Please refer to the Planning Portal website for comprehensive information on the specific rules for individual technologies. Special considerations are likely to apply to listed buildings or those sited within the green belt or conservation areas. Within conservation areas inconspicuous positions for installations are encouraged however this may mean that solar panels cannot be placed on the south facing slope of the roof. 

Buy renewable energy

If you want to see provision for renewable energy improved in the UK, choosing a green energy tariff is a great start. Choose a tariff where the energy supplier can demonstrate that for every unit of energy you purchase, they will fund equivalent renewable resource, 'additional' to their statutory obligations. Switching is free and there are websites, such as the Energy Saving Trust, to help you do this. Remember to tell your old supplier why you’re switching!

Useful links

To find out more please visit the following websites and sources of advice: 
Date of last review: 29 November 2016