Your home can be a powerhouse of green ideas to slash energy bills
What are the best ways to generate your own power? Sharon Dale reports.
RELAXING in the bath at the end of a long day has become much more pleasurable for Bryan Broom just recently.
The summer sun means that he gets all his hot water for free thanks to two solar panels on the roof of his three-bedroom semi in Kirk Ella, near Hull.
“We had them installed in October when there wasn’t much sun, but there was light, and when we got our gas bill in March it was 30 per cent lower than usual,” he says.
“We’re expecting the next bill to be even lower. At the moment the sun is heating all of our water.”
Brian and his wife Roz opted for solar hot water panels after becoming concerned about rising fuel prices and dependency on Russia for gas.
“Our gas and electricity bills were going up and I thought,: “What if the Russians decide to turn the tap off?’,” says Bryan.
“That’s why we started looking around and thought solar might be the answer.”
York-based Solarwall were recommended by the local council and the panels and a new boiler took two days and cost £4,000 to install. The boiler acts as a backup on the days when the sun isn’t powerful enough to heat all the hot water the house needs.
Thanks to a grant, the cost was almost halved for the Brooms, but these installation grants are now rare and most have been withdrawn.
“Even without a grant it would’ve been worth it. People talk about pay back time, but judging by our bills that won’t be very long,” says Bryan.
The confusing and everchanging green grants system is once again in a state of flux thanks to a new Government.
There is virtually no financial help with initial costs and installation, but a recent Labour incentive to generate your own electricity, which began in April, still stands, at least for now, and is very generous.
The feed-in tariff promises payments for the average house with electricity generating photo voltaic solar panels (not solar hot water), hydro equipment or wind turbines.
The average payment for a house with PV panels is about £900 a year and a payment is guaranteed for 25 years.
“It’s a massive tax-free incentive,” says Grant Henderson, of York-based insulation and renewables specialist Solarwall, which enjoyed a visit from Energy Secretary Chris Huhne last week.
Mr Huhne refused to be drawn about the tariff’s shelf life or Labour’s Renewable Heat Incentive, which was set to start in April 2011.
Under the RHI, renewable heating systems are eligible for annual incentive payments from April. These are expected to be from £200 for solar hot water and £750 for air and ground source heat.
“We’ll have to wait and see what happens with that one,” says Grant, who has helped launch Solarwall’s new energy centre.
The company started 33 years ago specialising in insulation and pioneered solar panels until their supplier went out of business.
“There was interest then from people who wanted something different, nothing like the amount we have now.
“We started supplying and installing again 12 years ago and there’s been a steady growth of interest. We have a lot of customers who have oil heating, who have switched to solar hot water and ground source heat, ” says Sue Lamb, Solarwall MD.
There are hundreds of installers and as with all bandwagons, cowboys have jumped on board.
“It’s the new double glazing. There are good and bad operators,” says Grant, who suggests that people look for installer who have an accreditation and good customer feedback
To help instil confidence, Solarwall, which has put renewables into everything from schools and village halls to homes and stadiums, have equipment and helpful signage on display in their energy centre, which helps to explain the technology.
It reveals that insulation is the key to saving energy efficiency and you must insulate first before thinking about renewables.
Those on a small budget could try solar hot water panels. They start at £3,500 to £4,500 and you may need a new boiler, though combi boilers can be adapted at additional cost. You will need room for a tank/cistern to store the heated water in. But the panels can save up to 70 per cent of your hot water costs.
PV – photo voltaic panels convert the suns rays to electricity and feed into the national grid. The average house needs about 12 to make an impact at a cost of £10,000 to £13,000, but they should generate about half of the electricity you need.
Ground source heat pumps, which take heat from the ground should supply all your heating and hot water.
They are best installed when building or renovating and cost from £12,500. You need to bury the heat collecting pipes in gardens or grounds. If you don’t have the space, specialist equipment will be needed to create a deep bore hole.
They have proved especially useful to country dwellers who rely on oil or LPG (liquefied petroleum gas). Air source heat pumps take the heat out of the air and feed it into underfloor heating or conventional radiators. They cost £5,000 and £9,000 and the unit is situated just outside your house.
Pay back time for these “renewables” is said to be seven to 12 years, but the equipment tends to last far longer than a gas boiler does.
The above renewables have a good track record on the Continent and are expected to last at least 35 years.
“There is nothing too complex about any of these technologies and they have been around for years, so they are tried and tested.
“It’s just that people here haven’t really been interested until now, now that fuel bills are so expensive,” says Grant.
Bryan Broom admits that this was his main motivation.
“It was about saving money, but we’re also doing our bit for the environment. I also think the solar hot water will be a selling point if we ever put the house on the market.” He could be right. Kevin Hollinrake, of Hunters estate agency, says: “It all depends on the buyer. But yes, as a general rule I would say renewables do have some value – probably about 50 per cent of their initial cost. Some purchasers will be really interested but most are still more interested in the location, accommodation and features of the house they want and those so inclined can always add windmills and solar panels afterwards.
“Install these kind of things to save energy, by all means, but not to enhance the value of your home.”
Solarwall, Green Lane Trading Estate, Clifton, York. Tel: 0500 127005 or visit www.solarwall.co.uk
For more information about incentives, contact the Energy Saving Trust www.energysavingtrust.org.uk. Tel: 0800 512012