Alternative energy

Using renewable energy could cut energy bills significantly and contribute to ways of reducing carbon emissions. Renewable energy can be generated from a range of energy sources including wind, wave, tidal, solar, hydro, geothermal and biomass. These forms of generation offer an enormous potential energy resource. The UK has one of the best onshore and offshore wind resources in the world. The potential energy resource available from biomass (including wood, crops, or organic wastes) is being realised at many installations around the UK for providing heat and/or power in installations ranging from individual wood-fuelled boilers in households to large scale biomass-fired heat and electricity generation schemes.

Help and advice

There is help available to choose the right renewable energy solution as well as grants. Contact the Carbon Trust for the latest information and advice.

Renewable Energy Options

TYPE OF INSTALLATION Photovoltaic (PV) panels for electricity or water/evacuated air panels for heating/ hot water Wind turbines providing electricity from small diameter 50w to large commercial turbines providing 0.5mw or more Ranges from small microhydro turbine running off constant stream with a drop to large commercial dams and river installations Straw, wood or various fast growing crops can be harvested for burning to create energy.
EASE OF INSTALLATION Can be installed as part of roof (new build) or retrofitted
Replumbing required for existing water tank only appropriate for south facing roofs with minimum pitch of 30º
Depends on size

Larger installations require large foundations and should be sited at a distance from any dwellings
Easiest with small stream and high head of water requires pipework and concrete work to house turbine Requires large amount of land sited near to fuel burning facility. 300500m² of coppice for space heating one dwelling
HEATING REGIME REQUIREMENTS Solar panels most effective in summer (up to 80% of hot water supply). Best with low constant heating. PVs not effective for heating. Provides renewable energy for electrical heating most effective in winter heating demand should be relatively Constant as there is an energy storage limitation. Provides renewable energy for electrical heating most effective in winter.
Energy storage limitations. More reliable than either wind or sun.
Best for hot water only rather than space heating.
PVs not effective for heating.
Effective all year round, but requires storage space (5m³ per dwelling per year for wood
EMBODIED ENERGY PAYBACK 712 years 0.5 years N/a (?) Minimal
AESTHETICS Problems of integrating panels on existing stock in urban/conservation areas Needs careful siting in rural areas. Does not affect dwelling Pipe work should be underground ideally turbine house and dams need integration with landscape Monoculture cropping can look unsightly and out of place as well as restricting views. Fuel storage issues
FINANCIAL PAYBACK 10-15 years for water panels

Photovoltaics do not payback over their lifetime yet
Depends on size larger installations pay back more quickly 7.5-12.5 years Small scale systems can pay back within 7-8 years 8-10 years depending on size of scheme and species planted
LIFE CYCLE IMPACT AND HEALTH Minimal health Impacts; Clean technology; Some environmental impact from products Beating noise can be intrusive if sited to close to housing, otherwise
clean technology; some environmental impacts from turbines
Minimal health impacts clean technology microhydro has minimal environmental impact larger schemes have more impact Fuel must be burnt cleanly to avoid toxic emissions possible impact on biodiversity
MAINTENANCE Life expectancy of panels 15-20 years; servicing required Life expectancy of turbines can be 20 years or more; servicing required Very long life expectancy turbines can run for 30-60 years; minimal maintenance Requires intensive input for harvesting and maintenance of crops

Case Studies

New system saves time and money at City College Plymouth
Employing modern technology and having the right service providers can help an organisation significantly reduce energy and water consumption, as well as saving money.

Continue the journey

More information and case studies about energy savings and alternative energy can be found in Buildings and Estates section.