More and more of us are thinking about ways we can do our bit for the planet and cut down on our emissions, ideally while reducing our energy bills at the same time.
Generating our own power for our homes is one way to achieve these goals, although it often involves a significant financial outlay for installation and upkeep, so it may take a long time for you to really feel the money benefits.
In this article, we’ll talk about the various ways you may be able to generate power for your home, as well as how much these are likely to set you back, and whether they’re likely to be an option for you based on the type of property you live in.
Is generating my own energy a good idea?
Whether it makes sense for you to generate your own energy for your home will depend on a few factors.
Firstly, most of these options will set you back at least a few thousand pounds, with costs sometimes running into the tens of thousands. In most cases, you’ll be paying not just for the system itself, but for a contractor to come and install it. You’ll also have to factor in any changes that may need to be made to your home to accommodate the system. Most renewable energy systems also require some form of regular maintenance, which can add on further costs if you need to pay a contractor to do this.
One upside is that no value added tax (VAT) is paid on the installation of any of the systems mentioned in this article, as part of a government scheme lasting until April 1 2027.
Of course, you’ll usually need to own your home to install any of the renewable energy systems mentioned here, and many of them likely won’t be suitable for a flat, meaning you’ll probably need to own a house.
You may also need to seek planning permission for these systems too, depending on what type of system you’re getting, the kind of building you live in and where in the UK you are based. Some of the time you won’t need permission – solar panels are usually not an issue, for instance – but you should always check with your Local Planning Authority (LPA) to make sure. You also need to let your Distribution Network Operator (DNO) know if you are planning on installing any of these systems (other than biomass).
If you are interested in installing a renewable energy system, the best place to look for a contractor is generally using the search tool on the Microgeneration Certification Scheme’s (MCS) website. All contractors listed on this site are MCS-certified, meaning they have to abide by the Scheme’s quality and safety standards and meet Office of Fair Trading (OFT) requirements. They will also be able to help you register your system with the MCS.
Solar panels are often the first thing that springs to mind when you think about homes generating their own energy. Data from the MCS indicates that more than 1.3m homes in the UK currently have solar panels installed – that’s about 4.1% of UK homes using solar power to supply some or all of their power.
Solar panels convert sunlight into energy through photovoltaic cells, which can then be fed directly into your home – surplus energy can even be fed into the National Grid. Solar panels are the most efficient on sunny days, but as long as it is light enough to see, they can still generate some electricity, since they respond to light rather than heat.
How much do solar panels cost?
According to the Energy Saving Trust, the average solar panel system for a home costs around £6,500, but this can vary depending on factors such as the size of the array (a group of panels together make up an array) and the kind of panels you use.
Can I install solar panels?
Not all properties will be suitable for solar panels, with the Energy Saving Trust claiming that an average solar panel system will take up around 25 square metres of roof space. The trust also doesn’t recommend installing solar panels on a north-facing roof, as the amount of power generated will be so minimal. South-facing roofs are the most efficient, followed by east and-west facing roofs. It may also not be worth installing solar panels if sunlight access to the roof is blocked by trees, buildings or other obstructions.
Can solar panels save me money?
Solar panels can potentially save you money, provided you remain in the property long enough for your energy savings to offset the cost of installing them. The Energy Saving Trust calculates that a London household could save up to £415 a year on their bills from having a solar system installed. Your exact savings will largely depend on how much time you spend at home using energy and where in the country you live.
The other main way you can earn money through solar power is through compensation for any excess power you generate that gets sent to the National Grid. Introduced in March 2019, the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) is a payment you can claim by registering your solar system with the MCS. You can search for a contractor to set up your solar panel system using the search tool on their website, who will help you get registered. Bear in mind the SEG is not available in Northern Ireland.
You can find out about how much you can earn from SEG payments and about installing solar panels on your property in our article How much do solar panels for your home cost?
The science behind wind power is simple – the wind blows, pushing around the blades of the wind turbine and generating power. The stronger the wind, the more energy gets produced.
The two main types of wind turbines suitable for domestic use are the free standing pole-mounted turbines, and smaller, building-mounted ones. The former are generally much more powerful than the latter, but also more expensive.
How much do wind turbines cost?
The cost of installing a wind turbine system will depend on which type of turbine you go for, how big it is, and its energy capacity. A small roof-mounted turbine may cost a few thousand pounds, including installation, but save you less energy – and therefore, less money. A large capacity pole-mounted turbine, on the other hand, will likely cost you over £20,000, plus installation costs, but cover a much larger chunk of your energy usage, saving you more money in the process.
Can I install wind turbines?
You will of course need to get enough wind where you live for a wind turbine to be a worthwhile investment, meaning that if you live in a densely-populated area with lots of buildings or obstructions, you may be out of luck. Generally speaking, properties in high, remote areas with lots of open space around them are best suited to harnessing wind power. As a result, wind turbines tend to be most efficient near the coast or in the countryside.
You’ll also need enough land space to install a free-standing turbine – you need to have at least 30 square metres available to make sure it isn’t too close to any properties, including your own. Roof-mounted turbines are generally only allowed on detached houses. Again, checking with your Local Planning Authority is key to make sure you’re not breaking any rules by having a turbine installed.
A contractor will be able to advise on whether your property could benefit from a wind turbine and carry out the installation.
Can wind turbines save me money?
Wind turbines could save you money in the long run by reducing your energy bills, if they have enough capacity, work efficiently and you stay in the property long enough to see the benefits. Domestic wind turbine owners can also benefit from the Smart Energy Guarantee (SEG), so you should make sure to sign up and receive payments for any excess energy that gets used by the grid.
The exact savings you make will depend on the size and power of your turbine system. According to the Eco Experts, a free-standing 2.5 kW wind turbine could save you £741 on your annual energy bills, assuming an average local wind speed of just under 10 mph. However, a small roof-mounted model with a 1 kW capacity could save you around £177 a year. These figures both assume you are claiming SEG payments.
Be aware that the average lifespan of a domestic wind turbine is around 20 years, and they require regular maintenance. This, coupled with the high upfront cost, means that you may not recoup the cost of installing a wind turbine, particularly with a less powerful building-mounted model. Make sure you speak to a contractor and understand whether or not a wind turbine is likely to be an efficient choice for your home.
While they don’t generate all-purpose electricity like wind and solar systems do, heat pumps can be a great way to heat your home in an efficient, environmentally-conscious way.
Heat pumps extract heat from natural sources – most commonly the air, but sometimes the ground or water – and use it to heat your home or water. They use a bit of electricity to do so, but are still considered much more energy efficient than a conventional boiler setup.
Air source heat pumps come in two varieties: ‘air to air’ and ‘air to water’. Air to air pumps tend to be cheaper, and can be used as both space heaters in the colder months (when they will move hot air inside) or air conditioners in the warmer months (when they will move it outside). Air to water pumps are more expensive but also more efficient, and can heat radiators in your home.
How much do heat pumps cost?
The cost of installing a heat pump will depend on the type of pump you buy and the size of your home.
Air to air heat pumps are the cheapest, tending to cost between £1,500 and £3,500. Air to water pumps are more expensive, typically costing between £8,000 and £18,000 to install. Water source heat pumps tend to cost around £10,000.
Ground source heat pumps vary quite dramatically in cost, but tend to be considerably pricier. The cost of the pump and installation itself can range in the tens of thousands depending on the size of your home, and the necessary groundwork on your property is also likely to set you back a few thousand.
The government’s Boiler Upgrade Scheme runs until 2025 and currently offers a £5,000 grant towards the cost and installation of an air source heat pump, or £6,000 towards the cost of a ground source heat pump. However, the grant will increase to £7,500 on 23 October for both kinds of pump.
You can find out more about the grant at GOV.uk. Your installer will apply for the grant on your behalf when you purchase a pump from them, but bear in mind that the scheme is only available to those in England and Wales.
Can I install a heat pump?
Whether or not you can install a heat pump depends on the kind of pump you want and the type of property you live in. Air source heat pumps are quite easy to install, and tend to take up no more space than a washing machine, but water source heat pumps require a large water source nearby, such as a lake or a river, with outdoor space for pipes to carry the water and indoor space for a compressor.
A ground source pump will require you to have a very large garden and also be prepared to have this dug up to install the necessary pipework. Ground source pumps are the most expensive type of pump to install, but also the most powerful.
Can a heat pump save me money?
Heat pumps are considered highly energy efficient, and you may recoup the cost of installation from reduced heating bills if you remain in your property long enough, particularly as heat pumps have impressive lifespans of up to 50 years. You can learn more about heat pumps in our article Can I get a heat pump installed?
A biomass system allows you to heat parts of your home by burning wood and other organic matter. It produces some carbon dioxide, so there are some emissions, but it is still far more eco-friendly than fossil fuels.
A biomass system can consist of a stove for burning wood to heat a single room, a boiler that can be connected to your central heating or hot water, or both.
Biomass systems are primarily fuelled by wood, in the form of either logs or pellets. Pellets, which can sometimes also comprise plant matter and animal dung, are easier to use and can be set up to feed into a boiler automatically, while log-burning systems have to be refilled by hand. Pellets can be bought almost anywhere in the mainland UK, but if you can find a good local log supplier, it may be cheaper than buying pellets.
How much does a biomass system cost?
According to the Energy Saving Trust, a typical biomass system can cost anywhere between £9,000 and £21,000, but tend to average around £16,000 (including installation). There’s also the cost of fuel – that is, pellets and logs – which will depend on the suppliers in your area and how much storage space you have.
The government’s Boiler Upgrade Scheme runs until 2025 and currently offers a £5,000 grant towards the cost of installing a biomass boiler, or £7,500 from 23 October – you can find out more at GOV.uk. Your installer will apply for the grant on your behalf when you purchase a pump from them, but bear in mind that the scheme is only available to those in England and Wales.
Can I install a biomass system?
Biomass systems require plenty of space, so they are best suited to large properties or those situated in rural areas. You will also need a flue to release gas, which can either be an existing chimney modified with new lining or a new steel pipe.
Can a biomass system save me money?
It depends – according to the Energy Saving Trust, a biomass boiler can save you around £700 a year over an LPG heating system and over £1,000 a year over electric heating.
However, a biomass boiler is likely to be more costly to run than a condensing boiler found in most homes today.
Check your home insurance
If you are thinking of setting up a renewable energy system in your home, you should make sure to consult your home insurance policy and see if it covers these kinds of additions. For example, solar panels or small building-mounted wind turbines tend to be covered by buildings insurance, but not always. You should always let your insurer know if you are planning to make changes to the property as well.
The main takeaway with all of these systems is that they cost a lot to install and it could take years or even decades for the savings you make from generating your own energy to make up for it.
Of course, you may decide this is worth it anyway – after all, if you decide to sell the property, most of these changes will certainly help boost its market value, whereas if you pass it onto your child or loved ones, they will feel the benefit for many years to come. You may also simply feel that the positive environmental impact is worth the cost.
In any case, you should make sure you are fully aware of the financial implications of having one of these systems installed. Ideally, speak to people who are already generating their own energy to see whether they are pleased with the system they use, and whether there’s anything they would do differently with the benefit of hindsight.
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