The guide to becoming an eco-warrior
12:00pm Sunday 24th February 2013 in News
EVER thought of becoming energy self-sufficient? Save on expensive fuel bills and make neighbours green with envy with this guide to adopting an eco-friendly approach to energy: from solar panels to wind turbines.
If eco-warriors including Prince Charles and Glastonbury founder Michael Eavis have their way, solar panels and wind turbines could soon be heating homes and lighting offices in the UK with renewable energy.
His eco-minded Royal Highness recently called on Britons to take shorter showers to save money on energy bills - and revealed he increased the use of renewable energy at his four households to 22% last year.
Farmer Eavis has just started building more than 1,000 solar panels on the roof of his cow barn in Somerset, in what's thought to be the biggest solar roof in the country since new Government subsidies were announced in April.
Renewable energy is a green, cost-effective alternative to coal, oil and natural gas. Easily replenished (or 'renewed') and stemming from infinite resources, it's never been easier to sign up.
Government legislation and incentives mean that with a little investment, you could turn your home from a fossil fuel-dependent space into a green energy palace - and save money in the long run.
:: Solar power Did you know the average home in the UK could generate 50-60% of the power needed to supply its own electricity? And solar panels don't just generate light - they can also provide hot water for your home.
The panels are made up of photovoltaic (PV) cells, each one made from layers of semiconducting material. Light shining on the cell creates an electric field.
They can be installed on roofs and conservatories - basically anywhere that can hold some weight and attract light - or integrated into existing roofs with tiles that resemble normal roof tiles.
The cost you pay depends on whether you opt for solar tiles or panels. Tiles have a higher price tag but you can expect to pay between £5,000 and £8,000 per kilowatt (kW) installed, with most homes requiring 1.5-3kW.
However, it could save up to 1.2 tonnes of CO2 a year, according to the Energy Saving Trust (www.energysavingtrust.org.uk). That could knock £250 off your electricity bill.
Several companies are now offering free solar PV to customers in return for the income generated through a scheme called Feed In Tariffs (FITs).
:: Wind turbines Although the UK is home to 40% of Europe's total wind energy, only 0.5% of that power is currently being tapped into. But before you go slapping a wind turbine on your roof, remember they're best located on a mast or tower, ideally on a hill.
Wind turbines are good for homes with an annual average wind speed of six metres per second or more. Distance from nearby buildings, trees or hills that might decrease the wind coming your way is also key and you'll need to take note of local planning requirements, as permission is usually required prior to installation.
Don't be surprised if some of your NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) neighbours raise an objection!
As wind is free, you can start saving money on your fuel bills straight away, but start-up costs are high. Depending on whether you install the system on a mast or a roof, you can expect to pay anywhere from £1,500 to £20,000.
:: Ground source heat pumps You can heat your home by burning carbon-neutral biomass or by tapping into the heat below the ground with ground source heat pumps. The pumps transfer heat from underground into your home, heating either the space or the water in your house.
You'll need a large space in your garden to fit a ground loop (to heat your home with), or space on an external wall to fit an evaporator coil (if heating the water in your house).
A typical 6-8kW system costs up to £12,000 to install, but if you're replacing electricity to heat your home, you can save around £870 on heating bills and almost six tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.
:: Try it out If you've baulked at the start-up costs of making your home greener, you'll be pleased to hear that Government funding of up to £2,500 is available, as well as Feed In Tariffs - just log on to www.lowcarbonbuildings.org.uk to apply for an online grant.
You could also qualify for Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs), or other green energy certificates, which can save you cash.
Although start-up costs can be high, don't be put off. Homes boasting renewable energy can expect to see their property values increase in the long run, as more homes in the future will be expected to be self-sustaining.
:: Energy efficiency If you don't have the space or can't afford to go sticking solar panels on your roof or wind turbines in your backyard, there are plenty of other ways to save money by saving energy.
According to the Energy Saving Trust, nearly £5 billion is wasted on energy in the UK every year and the average UK household could save £200 a year by taking some simple energy efficiency measures.
Almost half (40%) of the heat is lost through the walls and roof, while a fifth could be lost through single glazing and badly insulated windows, so why not fork out for insulation and double-glazing - and use draught excluders.
If your boiler is more than 15 years old, consider replacing it with a condensing boiler to save up to 32% on your bills. And just lowering your heating thermostat by one degree can save you 10% on heating costs.
Use energy-efficient lightbulbs and the eco settings on appliances like dishwashers and washing machines.
For more energy-saving tips, visit: www.energysavingtrust.org.uk.