Solar power is a viable, sustainable alternative way to generate energy. You might not be able to meet all your needs this way, but even providing part of them means you’re significantly lowering your carbon footprint.
Solar Water Heating
If you’re going to attempt any one thing with solar power, heating your water should be the one. Of course, it has its limitations – for summer it’s fine, but come those grey days of winter, solar won’t do the job alone, so you shouldn’t be completely reliant on it.
You’ll find plenty of options available to you, ranging from commercial systems to do it yourself, and you can get a government grant to help pay for it.
You do need a few things for it to be viable, such as between two and four metres of south or southwest-facing roof space with no obstructions, so it can get full sun. Above all, you’ll need a hot water system that will work with solar – if you use a combi boiler, you’re out of luck, really. You should also have the room to put in an additional water cylinder. That’s it, really, other than the fact that for a good system you’ll be spending a bit over £2,000.
On the plus side, even allowing for winter, you should be able to provide more than half your hot water during the year from solar energy, with spending less on electricity or gas, and reducing that carbon footprint.
There are also kits available for you to install yourself, if you have the ability, although unless you have some experience or talent, it’s probably best not to attempt it.
Solar power is far more than a dream. A growing number of people are using it to run at least part, if not all, the electricity in their homes. There are even families who sell energy back to the National Grid.
The carbon savings can be substantial, more than eight tonnes over the life of the photovoltaic cell that powers solar energy, or around 325kg of CO2 each year. These days there are more options than the traditional panels on the roof, which opens up the installation possibilities, and with grants of up to £3000 available, it’s certainly more affordable than ever. That said, it’s still not cheap, since the upfront costs tend to run between six and seven thousand pounds, hardly a drop in the bucket, and, realistically, you can probably only generate about 30% of the household’s electricity this way, as storage of electricity is complex. You can sell power to the Grid, but don’t expect to receive anything more than the wholesale price for it.
Although they’re really only viable in more rural locations, small wind turbines can provide 30% of your electricity at no cost, and with no carbon footprint. At around £1500 for a small turbine and £650 for a battery to store the electricity, it’s a very affordable system, and once again, grants are available.
Efficient wood-burning stoves work well, especially wood boilers. You might also consider a heat pump, if you have the room in your back garden. Far less practical for most people is your own hydro electricity, using a water wheel.