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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 September, 2004, 10:04 GMT 11:04 UK
Renewable energy in the home
By Philip Sellwood
Chief executive, Energy Saving Trust

Philip Sellwood
Philip Sellwood: Renewable energy may enhance your home's value

Fuel bills for millions of UK households will rise in September, after British Gas announced big price rises. An energy saving expert explains how going green could pay off.

Householders can protect themselves against energy price hikes by introducing simple energy efficient measures into the home, which in turn will help reduce household fuel bills.

Increasingly, consumers are also looking to renewable technologies to help them save money on bills and help the environment.

Renewable technology is an option that perhaps the average householder may not have considered and indeed the terms biomass, ground source heat pumps, solar PV and wind turbines probably sound rather high-tech and alien. But they are easy to get grips with.

PV Solar Panels

Installing solar panels in your home could generate up to half of the electricity needed to power it.

As well as cutting down energy bills the PV (photovoltaic to be technical) system never needs refuelling, emits no pollution, is silent and requires minimal maintenance.

Solar panels on a roof
Householders can slash their energy bills by installing solar panels

Its a myth that solar panels won't work on a cloudy day. Solar panels can generate 25% of a households electricity even in the depths of winter and 75% in the summer.

Solar PV systems typically cost from 8,000 to 18,000.

However, sizeable grants are available from the Energy Saving Trust which can reduce the cost by up to 50%.


Wind power uses the kinetic energy from the wind to turn an electricity-generating turbine.

Individual turbines can vary in size and power output from a few hundred watts to two to three megawatts.

The ideal site is a smooth-top hill with a flat, clear exposure, free from excessive turbulence and local obstructions such as large trees, houses or buildings.

Most household sized systems are two to three kilowatts.

It costs between 2,500 to 5,000 to install a system.

Ground Source Heat Systems

Ground source heat systems pump heat from the ground into a building to provide central heating and, in some cases, to heat domestic hot water.

A heat pump is usually powered by electricity and for every unit of electricity used to pump the heat, 3-4 units of heat are produced.

A typical 8 kilowatts system would vary between 6,400 and 9,400 plus the cost of the heat distribution system.


Biomass can be used for heating systems or for electricity generation.

There are four main methods of using biomass to heat a domestic property:

A windfarm
Smaller wind turbines can be used for homes

  • Stand-alone stoves providing space heating for a room
  • Stoves with back boilers - supplying domestic hot water
  • Ranges - used for cooking as well
  • Boilers - connected to central heating and hot water systems
Biomass contributes to waste management by harnessing energy from products that are often disposed of at landfill sites.

The cost of a wood-fuelled boiler will depend on the type of system and fuel. A typical 20 kilowatts system (average household size) would cost around 5,000 to install.

Solar Water

Solar thermal systems use energy from the sun to pre-heat water for your hot water or heating needs.

In the UK, solar hot water systems can produce up to 50% of the average households' hot water requirements.

Solar panels, also known as collectors, can be fitted to a building's roof. They use the sun's heat to warm water, or another fluid, which passes through the panel.

The fluid is then fed to a heat store (a hot water tank) and helps provide hot water or central heating for the building. The panels work through daylight hours, even if the sky is overcast.

It costs between 2,000 to 4,500 to install.

Planning Permission

Planning permission is not normally needed before installing most renewable technologies (excluding wind turbines). However, this will depend on whether you live in a historical building or conservation area.

Scottish Community and Householder Renewables Initiative (SCHRI): 0800 138 8858.
Clear Skies: 08702 430930
Solar panels: 0800 298 3978 (Energy Saving Trust)
General information about energy efficiency: 0845 727 7200 (Energy Saving Trust)

The Energy Saving Trust advises householders to contact their local authority planning department to check if there are any local planning considerations before starting a project.

If you take into account the value-added components of renewable technology, like the extra equity a solar PV system might create in the value of your home, you can recover your capital costs of installing these technologies over a period of time.

Remember most people choose to install one of these systems for environmental reasons primarily and will be taking a long-term view of their energy needs.

Most technologies will last between 10 to 30 years.

Our role at the Energy Saving Trust is to make renewable energy technologies accessible to householders across the UK.

For further information on Renewables log onto our website.

Grant Information

A number of grants are available to householders, which can drastically reduce the initial outlay of these technologies.

The type of grants available depend on the technology you will be installing.

For example, for a PV installation you can get help with up to 50% of the overall costs. Full details on the range of grants can be found on our website.

In Scotland households can get 30% of the installation cost up to 4,000 from the Scottish Community and Householder Renewables Initiative.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland funding is available through "Clear Skies", a project funded by the DTI and managed by the Building Research Establishment (BRE).

And The Energy Saving Trust operates the government's grant scheme for photovoltaics (solar panels) and has a list of accredited installers on the website.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by the BBC unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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