Q: How do you know if getting a solar panel, heat pump or wind turbine installed in your home is the right option for you? A: With great difficulty, and lots of confusion, so it seems.
I wasn’t surprised by the results of a recent survey asking 200 homeowners how they felt about small-scale home energy technologies.
Two-thirds told ReEnergise Renewables that they didn’t know enough about the various options available to make an informed decision on whether any were worth the investment, despite 80% supporting the idea of renewable energy in general.
The idea of a shiny solar panel on your roof certainly sounds eco-friendly – and lucrative too, in light of the Government’s feed-in tariff scheme which offers payments in exchange for generating renewable electricity.
But in reality, useful, tailored advice on viable options for your home is hard to come by – and practical trials of some microgeneration technologies have yielded disappointing results so far.
How renewable installations stack up
The UK’s largest trial of wind turbines conducted by the Energy Saving Trust in 2009 highlighted the poor performance of urban or surburban-sited installations. Only freestanding wind turbines in remote rural surroundings exceeded performance expectations.
Ground source heat pumps may be one of the technologies included in government plans for a Renewable Heat Incentive. This scheme is akin to feed-in tariffs, guaranteeing payments in return for installing low carbon heating tariffs. But only a staggering 13% of the 83 heat pumps monitored (again by the EST in 2010) achieved an efficiency level deemed ‘well performing’ – with poor quality installation a key factor.
Our investigation last year into solar water heating installation companies, meanwhile, uncovered dodgy sales tactics and misleading claims from installers – the very professionals homeowners are relying on for practical advice.
Is generating your own energy right for you?
Microgen technologies are not ‘off the shelf’ products. The suitability and size of a system for your home will depend on the type, age and location of your property, the fuel you currently use and your average energy consumption – amongst many other variables.
Given the complexities involved, not to mention the steep upfront costs, you should think long and hard before deciding which – if any – is suitable for you.
Seeking professional advice from an impartial body such as the Energy Saving Trust is also wise, with its home energy generation selector tool being a good first port of call. And before you do anything else, make sure you’ve explored lower cost energy efficiency options like insulation.
Don’t get me wrong: the right technology, properly installed in the right location can provide a low-carbon, low-cost means of powering your home that pays for itself (and more besides).
But at the moment, it feels like a reliable source of information to help understand what these ‘right’ conditions look like – applied on a home-by-home basis – isn’t easy to come by. Who would you trust to fill the information gap before investing your thousands?