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Confused.com’s guide to generating domestic renewable energy

solar panel and wind turbine energy farmUnderstanding and harnessing the power of nature in your own home

If you want to go green and save money on your electricity bill, why not start generating power yourself. Confused.com’s simple guide can show you how to become a green energy generator as well as a consumer.

What is renewable energy? 

Renewable power harnesses inexhaustible natural resources – such as energy from the sun, wind, core heat and water – instead of exhaustible ‘conventional energy’ resources such as coal, oil and natural gas.

For several years consumers have been able to buy green energy from the power companies, but these days it’s possible to start generating the green stuff yourself – and you could even receive help with the costs.

So with a little investment and a little know-how, you could turn your fossil fuel-dependent home into a green-energy palace.

SOLAR POWER

Solar power uses the energy of the sun to create electricity or to heat water for your home.

How do solar panels work? 

The sun’s energy is trapped by solar panels that use special photoelectric cells to convert light energy into electricity.

Solar panels don’t need strong sunlight to function, just regular daylight will do. However, long hours of strong sunlight will obviously generate more power than a grey winter’s day.

The beauty of solar panels is that the power they generate can be used straight away or linked back into the power grid – so if you happen to produce more than you need, you can sell it back to an energy provider.

What’s involved?

Solar panels can be installed on roofs and conservatories – basically anywhere that can hold some weight and attract light. They can range from grey solar tiles (that resemble roof tiles) to transparent cells that can be fitted on conservatories.

What’s the cost? 

The cost you pay depends on whether you opt for solar tiles or panels. Solar tiles have a higher price tag than conventional panels, but you can expect to pay around £5,000 to £8,000 per kilowatt (kW) yield, with most homes requiring 1.5 to 3kW.

WIND TURBINES

Today’s modern wind turbines can be found on rooftops or as part of large windfarms around the world.

The world’s biggest proposed windfarm, the London Array, is set for development just 20 km off the coast of Kent and Essex. It will consist of 341 turbines and create 1,000 megawatts of energy – enough to power one-third of London homes and save millions of tonnes of CO2 every year when it opens in 2010.

How do wind turbines work 

When wind moves the blades of a wind turbine, an internal rotor spins, and electricity is generated. The faster the blades turn the more electricity is produced, which is why wind turbines are best located on a mast or tower, ideally on a hill with clear exposure to the wind.

What’s involved?

Wind turbines are suited to homes with an annual average wind speed of 6 metres per second or more, and where there is no obstruction from nearby buildings, trees or hills to block the wind.

What’s the cost?

Depending on whether you install it on a mast or a roof, you can expect to pay anything between £1,500 to £20,000 for a turbine, mast, inverters, battery storage (if required) and installation – depending on the size and system.

However, the turbine should last over 20 years, requiring checks every so often and battery changes every six to 10 years.

Any surplus electricity produced by the turbine can be sold to an electricity company and fed into the national grid.

Is there funding available?

Domestic renewable energy isn’t cheap, and returns aren’t necessarily that fast, but you can apply for Government funding to help pay your way to a greener home.

To qualify for a grant, you’ll first need to get planning approval from the council. Your home must also be have at least 270mm of loft installation (or cavity wall insulation), low-energy light bulbs throughout, and basic controls for your heating system including room thermostat and programmer or timer.

The amount of funding varies on technology, with up to £2,500 for any one property available for up to three different green technologies. All you have to do is contact the Low Carbon Buildings Programme to apply for an online grant or contact the Energy Saving Trust to find out more.

There are also other ways to apply for funding. One is through Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs), or other green energy certificates, which entitle you to money for generating energy. Your local council or Regional Development Agency may also have monies you can access.

Failing that, some banks offer green loans to help you make eco-friendly changes to your home, such as installing microgeneration projects.