Generating your own energy in the home is one way to make sure you are not contributing to climate change. In fact, as some commentators believe we have now reached the point of no return, being able to go ‘off-grid’ is also a survival tactic that may come in handy as the problems unfold.
There are two main classes of micropower or microgeneration, as it is becoming known, the production of heat and the production of electricity.
Heating Up Water
The most common form of ‘free’ energy today is solar water heating, where water is heated up as it passed through tubes mounted on the roof.
Once the water is heated it can be passed through cylinders indoors to heat up the water in the cylinder for use in the home.
In the UK, however, the system is likely to need a boost at times, particularly in the winter, as the temperature won’t get high enough.
Ground source heat pumps are gaining in popularity and are another way of heating water using the sun’s energy, but this time indirectly.
A large coil of pipe is run under the ground a few metres below ground level, where the earth acts as a heat store and keeps the temperature at about 11-12 degrees all year round.
This system works best with under-floor heating rather than radiators as the fluid doesn’t have to be as hot.
Of course, as with solar roof panels, this needs a pump running constantly, but the energy for this can come from sources other than the grid too.
Photovoltaic cells convert the light of the sun into electrical impulses and panels can be placed on roofs and walls to provide electricity for the home. These are not yet particularly efficient, but this will surely improve in time.
There are also PV units produced in the shape of standard roof tiles so that a whole roof can produce electricity, although these are much more expensive than ordinary tiles.
Wind turbines can produce electricity too, and a combination of PV cells and turbines would mean that you’d get electricity when the weather is good and also when it’s bad. But turbines can be as fickle as the wind and quite noisy too, so check that you get enough wind in your area before splashing out.
Currently, in England and Wales at least, the installation of most of the above options, with the exception of ground source heat pumps, will come under building regulation control, so you area advised to seek the advice of the local planning department.
Only wind turbines require planning approval, unless you are under the control of an overall area control such as a conservation area. It’s wise to seek planning advice just in case.
Putting Power Back on the Grid
Most of these systems will take a long time to pay back the investment compared to continuing to use centrally provided sources of energy, but for many people these days, that just isn’t the point.
And in the case of electricity generation, when you are generating more than you are using, you can sell it back to the National Grid!