Buy green energy

If you prefer to buy your power from the National Grid, rather than generate it at home via solar panels or a home wind turbine, there are three serious Green options. Green Energy (www.greenenergy.uk.com) states that it gets 79% of its power from renewables. Ecotricity (www.ecotricity.co.uk) buys its power from the Grid, but invests in building and bringing onstream new renewable sources. Some national companies offer Green tariffs, too (www.electricityinfo.org).

From June, anyone selling a house will have to provide an energy performance certificate with the rest of the details, so eco-awareness may soon be a major selling point.

Generate your own renewable energy

As Al Gore has said: ‘We are all environmentalists now,’ and so, on an individual or community level, microgeneration will be part of our carbon restricted future. When people look back to 2007, they may wonder why people didn’t generate their own electricity, but allowed a national grid system to waste more than half of what was generated. In recent years, generating technologies have improved and so microgeneration has become an increasingly efficient option.

Solar photovoltaics

Cost: £4,000?£9,000 Solar photovoltaics (PV) uses energy from the sun to create electricity via solar panels. PV systems require daylight not direct sunlight to generate electricity, and preferably a sunny, south-facing roof. As the panels themselves are heavy, the roof must be strong. The size and cost of the system is dictated by the amount of electricity required; however, it should add about 9% to the value of a typical property. Some local authorities require planning permission to allow you to fit a PV system, particularly in conservation areas or on listed buildings.

Solar water-heating

Cost: £2,000?£3,000

Solar water-heating systems use heat from the sun to work beside a conventional water heater, and can provide up to 70% of a house’s hot water for free. Installation requires putting solar panels on a south facing roof, installing a heat transfer system, and having space for an additional water cylinder. The system can be used to heat the home or even a swimming pool. Solar hot-water systems generally come with a 10-year warranty and require little maintenance.

Ground-source heat pumps (GSHPs)

Cost: £6,400?£9,600 + the price of connection to the distribution system GSHPs take heat from the ground into the house, via lengths of pipe filled with a mixture of water and anti-freeze. These feed radiators or an under-floor heating system. The lengths of pipe themselves are buried in the ground, either in a borehole or a horizontal trench. Based on current fuel prices, a GSHP can be a cheaper form of heating than oil, but is normally more expensive than mains gas but you aren’t burning up carbon emitting fossil fuels.

Micro wind turbines

Cost: £1,500 for a 1.5w domestic turbine

Like any wind turbine, micro wind turbines rely on the force of the wind to power aerodynamic blades to gene-rate electricity. To work well, it needs to be sited high enough to catch the wind. The roof of a house is suitable, as long as the local annual wind speed is more than 6m per second. Turbines are emission free, and a well-sited one could save up to 30% of the average household’s energy bills of about £400 to £500. They can have a life expectancy of 20 years, but require servicing every few years to ensure they are working efficiently.

Micro hydro

Cost: Depends on the site, but a typical 5kW turbine would cost £20,000 to £25,000

A water powered turbine requires a water source close to where the power will be used, or to a suitable grid connection. Improvements in small turbine and generator technology mean that micro hydro schemes are a viable way of producing electricity and, as long as the source is there, a micro hydro turbine can power a whole village. The energy available from water depends on the water’s flow rate (per second) and the height (or head) that the water falls. The cost of a hydro turbine depends on the site, but they can be expensive. A medium sized turbine costs about £10,000 plus a further £2,500 per kilowatt of energy it produces.

Biomass

Cost: £1,500?£3,000

There are two main ways of using biomass (wood pellets, woodchips or logs) to heat a house: with a stand-alone wood-burning stove or with a biomass boiler connected to a central heating and hot-water system. A stand alone stove generally costs £1,500 to £3,000 installed. The cost of biomass boilers varies depending on the fuel you choose to use, but on average they cost about £5,000 installed, including the cost of the flue (fitting a flue in a listed house may require planning permission from the local authority). To be cost effective, the fuel should also be bought locally.

For further information on any of these renewable tech-nologies, visit the Energy Saving Trust at www.est.org.uk or the DTI at www.lowcarbonbuildings.org.uk.

Useful Contacts

  • The Carbon Trust

    Helps business and the public sector cut carbon emissions

    www.carbontrust.co.uk
  • Centre for Alternative Technology

    Practical research into sustainable ways of living

    www.cat.org.uk
  • The Dartington Hall Trust

    Incorporates Schumacher College, which is dedicated to teaching ecological and environmental studies

    www.dartington.org
  • Elm Farm Research Centre

    Develops sustainable organic land-use, agriculture and food systems in the UK

    www.efrc.com
  • The Energy Savings Trust

    Useful information on improving your home’s efficiency

    www.est.org.uk
  • The Soil Association

    Promotes sustainable, organic farming

    www.soilassociation.org
  • Freecycle

    Website where members post notices of things they want to get rid of for free

    www.freecycle.org
  • Green Building Store

    Online supplier of energy-efficent products, from insultation and water-saving devices to windows and natural paints

    www.greenbuildingstore.co.uk