The energy Britons use for heating, cooking and lighting increasingly comes from renewable sources. Back in 2013, 14.9% of all electricity generated in the UK was from renewable sources. This rose to 25% in 2015 and 29.8% in the second quarter of 2017.
The UK, along with the rest of the EU, has agreed to cut carbon emissions and to promote renewable electricity generation through schemes like Renewable Obligation Certificate scheme (ROCs) and Feed-in tariffs (FITs).
Being able to supply almost a third of its electricity from renewables has put the UK in an enviable position. Indeed, while Government investment and private sector innovation have no doubt helped to drive these advances, this success is largely down to the fact that the UK "has more offshore wind power capacity than any other country in the world".
However, the UK is still reliant on gas for more than 40% of its electricity generation. But current trends are likely to continue - not only due to government policy driven by emissions targets, but because renewables - and wind power especially - requires increasingly lower state subsidies. Building new wind farms costs half what it did just a few years ago and is considerably cheaper to subsidise than nuclear.
Renewable power generation at home
Blessed as the UK is in terms of renewable capacity, it's logical that many home owners want to harness renewables in their own properties.
In the UK, the three most viable options to produce energy at home are:
- Solar power: special panels that harness the sun's energy in order to either heat water (known as solar water heating) or to generate electricity for lighting, cooking, etc. (known as photovoltaic or solar PV).
- Biomass: this technology uses plant products such as wood, crops or plant oils which are burned to heat a property and/or to produce electricity. Animal waste can also be used, but wood is most common.
- Heat pumps take energy out of the ground, water or air, so it can be used for heating or for hot water. Ground source heat pumps, as the name suggests, extract heat from the ground after it has been heated by the sun. Water pipes in the ground transfer this heat so it can be used for heating or hot water. Air source heat pumps work in a similar way, extracting energy from the air for later use in heating or hot water.
While wind power can deliver a huge amount of energy through wind farms, replicating that success in a domestic setting (even on a small scale) can be more challenging. Installing a micro wind turbine on your roof is unlikely to be worth the expense, for example. Turbines mounted on special masts in exposed locations, however, are likely to be more effective.
If a river or large stream passes through or by your property, it may be possible to set up a turbine to generate electricity.
Producing renewable energy at home is great for the environment, because it reduces or eliminates the need to draw electricity from the grid - much of which will have been generated from fossil fuels.
But there are also potential economic attractions to producing green energy at home.
This is a financial incentive set up by the UK government to encourage the take-up of renewable technologies in domestic, commercial and community premises. The incentive pays entities depending on how much energy they produce, with tariffs being higher for domestic than non-domestic premises. The system applies to England, Wales and Scotland. Learn about the Scottish RHI scheme here.
- Biogas combustion (Combined heat and power -'CHP' - is permitted, but landfill gas is not); at capacities of less than 200kWth
- Biomethane injection
- Ground/water source heat pumps
- Geothermal, inclusive of CHP
- Solid biomass/solid biomass from municipal waste, inclusive of CHP
- Solar thermal (less than 200kWth capacity)
This system functions in much the same way as the RHI, but is for small-scale electricity generation of up to 5MW and is therefore more suited to domestic premises. The technologies used to generate energy must be from certified suppliers.
There are two tariffs: one which pays for each unit of electricity made (payment levels guaranteed for 20 years) and another for each unit of electricity exported to the grid.
Other ways to cut your home energy bill
If investing in renewable energy generation at home isn’t right for you, there are other ways to reduce your energy costs.
- Consider switching energy supplier
A number of energy suppliers operate in the UK. Chances are there is a supplier with much lower prices than your current one. Which? magazine data suggests people can make an average saving of £237 annually by doing this.
- Change your light bulbs
LED bulbs use 90% less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs. Up to £180 could be cut from your bill over the lifetime of an LED bulb, making it a prudent choice.
- Block out draughts
Applying draught-proofing strips to your windows, doors, fireplace, loft doors, floorboard and skirting could save you money too.
- Turn down the heat by 1 degree
The Energy Saving Trust says that turning down your thermostat by a single degree you could save £80 each year.
- Invest in a new boiler
Buying a new boiler is expensive, but if your old boiler needs replacing, investing in an energy efficient replacement could save you several hundred pounds a year. Such big savings are more likely if you had a G-rated boiler with minimal controls before. But with the most efficient new boilers costing around £3,000, it's probably only worth considering a replacement when your old boiler is no longer economical to repair.
- Buy energy efficient appliances
When the time comes to replace that fridge, washing machine or TV, it's a good idea to choose an appliance with a high energy efficiency rating. Savings could run into hundreds of pounds.
- Insulate your home
Opting to insulate your loft and cavity walls could also save you hundreds of pounds. While there are initial costs involved, these are likely to be paid back in savings within a few years.