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Guide to renewable technologies

Renewable technologies can help the environment and pad out your back pocket at the same time. Find out about some of the products on the market that may make you think again about your approach to utilities bills.

What is renewable technology?

In a nutshell, renewable technologies allow us to harness the natural energy of the sun, earth or wind in order to generate electricity or heating for homes and businesses.

There are a number of technologies on the market, all offering different benefits and becoming increasingly common features in domestic and commercial buildings around the country.

Why would I want to invest in renewable technology?

It's a fact that the cost of energy is on the rise, and is likely to continue getting more and more expensive. Renewable technologies offer a number of financial benefits that counteract these increasing charges.

All renewable technologies have a payback period, which is the amount of time it takes for them to generate income and savings equal to the sum of the cost of installation

Firstly, any electricity or heat generated by the technology goes directly into running your home, which means less reliance on utilities companies and lower household bills.

Secondly, many technologies are backed by government incentive schemes which offer a fixed, regular payment to householders, simply for installing and running the technology.

These schemes are subject to change, however. The government has the most up-to-date news on incentives available.

How much money can I save with renewable technology?

The financial benefits of renewables for any individual property will depend on a whole range of factors, including the type and size of the technology installed, the size and energy demands of the building, the government funding and incentives available at the time, and so on.

All renewable technologies have a payback period, which is the amount of time it takes for them to generate income and savings equal to the sum of the cost of installation - some are longer than others.

There are numerous reputable renewable energy companies on the market that will be able to provide an appraisal of the technologies that will be suitable for your home, and this appraisal is usually free with no obligation to buy.

What technologies are available?

Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of renewables available for domestic and commercial use, those that help to generate electricity and those that help to generate heat:


Electricity-generating technologies

Solar panels

Panels covered in photovoltaic cells are installed on your roof and convert sunlight into energy, which is then used to power lights and appliances inside the building.

This is one of the more accessible technologies available, and usually offers a shorter payback period than others.

Wind turbines

Wind turbines use large blades to 'catch' the wind, forcing the blades round to drive a turbine and subsequently generate electricity. The windier it is, the better.

Wind turbines are usually associated with enormous structures on hillsides, but a much smaller version of this technology is also suitable for houses - usually only in particularly windy areas, though.

A mid-size 2.5 kW turbine can generate up to 4,700 kW hours of electricity every year, which could account for a household's total energy requirements.

However, as the wind is not constant, neither is the energy created, and you may need a power back-up, such as the national grid, or a special generator.


Heat-generating technologies

Wood-fuelled heating

Wood-fuelled heating systems - also known as biomass installations - provide warmth to a single room or power central heating and boilers by burning wood chips, pellets or logs.

Ground-source pumps

A ground-source heat pump involves burying pipes into your garden to extract heat from the ground, which is then used to heat radiators and hot water in your home. Bigger houses will require longer pipes.

Air-source pumps

In the same way that a fridge extracts heat from its inside to keep cold, air source heat 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

Solar water heating systems collect heat from the sun via solar panels and use it to heat hot water stored in a water cylinder.

On their own they may appear less lucrative than other renewable heat technologies, but they're more attractive when used in conjunction with solar panels for electricity. Green energy tariffs

Where can I find out more?

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.

Let Gocompare.com help you find the right deal for domestic gas and electricity and/or business gas and electricity.

By Rachel England