Renewable energy sources

Find out how renewable technology can help you do your bit for the environment, and the savings you could make on your energy bills.

Amy Smith
Amy Smith
Updated 16 June 2020  | 4 min read

Key points 

  • Renewable technology allows us to use natural energy to generate electricity or heat
  • A few types include solar panels, wind turbines and ground-source pumps
  • Renewable energy doesn’t harm the planet like traditional power methods and can make your energy bills cheaper
  • With the money you save on your energy bills, you’ll eventually recoup the costs of buying and installing the renewable technology

Renewables explained

Renewable technologies harness natural energy from the sun, earth, water or wind to generate electricity or heating for homes and businesses. There are two main kinds of renewable technologies available: electricity or heat generating.

Electricity-generating technologies

  • Solar panels these panels are installed on your roof and convert sunlight into energy, which is then used to power lights and appliances inside your home.
  • Wind turbines wind pushes large blades around to drive a turbine and subsequently generate electricity. The windier it is, the better.
  • Hydro power as water flows downhill, it drives a turbine to generate electricity, similar to how a wind turbine works. The stronger the flow, the more energy you could generate.

Heat-generating technologies

  • Wood-fuelled heating Also known as biomass installations, these provide warmth to a single room or power central heating and boilers by burning wood chips, pellets or logs.
  • Ground-source pumps Pipes are buried in your garden to extract heat from the ground, which is then used to heat radiators and hot water in your home.
  • Air-source pumps These pumps extract warmth from the outside air and use it to heat radiators and water. They can get heat from air as cold as -15C.
  • Solar water heating Heat is collected from the sun via solar panels and used to heat hot water stored in a water cylinder.

Advantages of renewable tech

Any electricity or heat you generate with renewable technology goes directly into running your home. Generate enough, and you won’t need to buy energy from a supplier. 

The government has renewable energy grants that could help offset the cost of installing the technology. 

Some energy suppliers also offer tariffs that pay you for any excess energy you generate and export to the national grid – it’s called the smart export guarantee (SEG). 

Saving money with renewables

All renewable technologies have a payback period - the time it takes for them to save you an amount equal to installation costs. But how long it takes varies between technologies.

For example, a medium efficiency 3kW solar panel system could cost £5,400 to buy and install. If that system saved you £270 on your electricity bills per year, it’d take 20 years to make back the cost of the system. But, if you manage to sell back excess energy into the grid, or get a grant from the government to help with the costs, you’ll break even a lot quicker. 

To be completely dependent on your own power sources, or reduce your bills substantially, you’ll need to generate enough energy for your building. 

This can be difficult if: 

  • There’s not enough wind to rotate the blades of your wind turbine
  • There’s a drought, which prevents hydroelectric tech from working
  • It’s cloudy, or your panels are positioned so they can’t perform as well

Renewable technology resources

The Energy Saving Trust  has a wealth of comprehensive information on all aspects of renewable energy, including advice on finding a suitable energy company and installer.

The government  also has the most up-to-date information available on the latest funding and financial incentive schemes.