All of us are concerned about the cost of rocketing fuel bills. Many of us are also seeking ways in which we can lower our carbon footprint, whether by changing our diet or our shopping habits. We may be considering driving an electric car or growing more of our own food. Turning to the natural resources of the wind or the sun to source heat and power for our homes may seem like a logical next step to help address the challenges of reducing our environmental impact and cutting our annual energy bills.
Wind turbines work by harnessing wind power and using it to generate electricity. The turbine blades turn when the wind blows so the stronger the wind, the more electricity is produced.
We have all seen the vast wind farms, standing onshore and offshore around our windy island. For domestic use, there are basically two different types of wind turbine, both of which are considerably smaller! One is a free-standing pole mounted version and the other is smaller still and can be mounted on the roof of your house, if you are in a sufficiently windy location.
On the plus side, you don’t have to pay to access wind, so the main cost of a wind turbine is the installation of it in the first place and then some service costs to keep it maintained over the years. Your bills will come down and by using this ‘clean’ energy source, your carbon footprint will certainly be reduced. If you are living ‘off grid’, you can also store electricity generated in batteries to use on days when the wind isn’t blowing. However, many locations do not have the stable, constant, wind that is most effective and installation costs are still too significantly too high for many people to justify, even in their laudable desire to reduce their carbon footprint.
Harnessing the power of solar energy
Solar panels, which are cropping up in large numbers in fields across the country, are another form of renewable energy that can also be put to domestic use. These are growing in popularity and as demand increases, the prices of installation are significantly decreasing.
Solar panels, which you may sometimes see described as photovoltaics (or PV) convert energy from the sun into electricity. Contrary to popular belief, solar panels can still work to generate electricity even on cloudy days, but the stronger the sunshine, the more power they will generate. In the UK, south facing roofs work best for maximum efficiency and it’s best if the roof is completely unshaded. Another attraction of solar power is that as well as reducing your carbon footprint and cutting your energy bills, you can also get money back from any electricity you generate that is surplus to your household’s requirement.
Planning permission for solar panels?
Quite often, you don’t actually need to have planning permission to install solar panels, but as with all significant works to your home, it’s well worth checking with your local planning office anyway. Don’t forget, if you live in a listed building or a conservation area or within a national park, different rules may apply, so again, always check before carrying out any work.
Don’t forget, there is much more to energy efficiency than turning to alternative energy sources. Read blogs from our own Passivhaus Designer about retrofitting high standards of energy efficiency to an existing house and talk to us about designing a more sustainable home.
Taking renewable energy further
Wind, photovoltaics and even hydro schemes generate electricity. However this may not always match your daily demand cycle. It is therefore worth considering the installation of battery storage that can store the energy until it is needed, reducing the need to import so much from the national grid. Recent advancements in “smart hybrid inverts” now mean it is possible to couple batteries to smart “time of day tariffs”. This means you may never pay for peak-rate electric again as the battery is topped up at times of lower tariff rates and power drawn from the batteries during peak time.