It’s Time for Renewables

After the coldest December on record, and with energy prices soaring, now might be a good time to consider renewable energy systems for your home.  In this brief guide we’ll take a quick look at solar, wind and water power.

For any solar installation, ideally you’ll have an area of sloping roof that’s not shaded by trees, buildings etc, facing somewhere between south-east and south-west for good results.

Solar water heaters can be a good investment, typically providing more than half your hot water needs.  They will not provide central heating, and installation involves plumbing alterations which might prove difficult.

Solar photo voltaic (PV) systems for generating electricity can be a very smart investment.  Under the recently introduced Feed-in Tariff (FiT) scheme, you are paid for all the power you produce whether you use it yourself or export it to the grid.  Some might say if you’ve got a suitable roof, and you can afford the cost, you’d be daft not to get a solar PV installation.  Beware however, there are suppliers who will install a system for nothing, but take all the FiT payments, and pay you what amounts to a minimal rent for the use of your roof.

Wind power is not for everyone. You need a clear and open windy location for a start.  Any useful wind turbine costs a small fortune, so if you have mains electricity, there are probably better investments you could make.  If you are in a rural “off-grid” situation, talk to your local planners.  A medium sized turbine as part of a mixed-technology system could be for you, but get some good advice on your site.  Getting planning permission for a turbine doesn’t prove the site is a good one, quite possibly the opposite as planners have been known to insist that turbines are tucked away out of sight, down the hill and behind the trees where the wind doesn’t blow!

When we think of water mills, we might think of a Constable painting or maybe a local mill such as Dunster.  A big old building with a large wheel, lots of water flowing over it and falling through a short distance of a few feet.  The way water mills were built from ancient times.


However, the power developed by a mill is a product of the water flow rate and the distance through which it falls.  In other words, useful power may be obtained from a small flow of water piped down from a greater height.  Power is extracted using a small turbine spinning rapidly, rather than a large wheel turning slowly.  While still not being cheap, the size and cost of such systems are not in the same league as restoring and running an old water mill with all the problems such projects entail.  A ‘FiT’ feed-in tariff scheme is in place for these so called ‘pico-hydro’ systems, not as generous as the one for solar PV, but still worthy of consideration.

A stream tumbling down a steep valley.  Sites that fit this description on Exmoor and the Quantocks could be providing power to one or more homes.  The Exmoor National Park Authority recently granted planning permission for one such scheme to power one “off-grid” home near Porlock.  This will power the home continuously, except in the driest of summers, and largely replace an expensive to run diesel generator.