Sunday, 29 June 2008

Homes that produce their own energy

Welcome to the new eco-industrial revolution. Until now, many people who have installed solar panels, wind turbines or other such green paraphernalia have done so largely out of ideological conviction. Increasingly, though, it can make economic sense, too, thanks both to the rising cost of energy and to a series of financial incentives, unveiled by the government last week, that will allow householders to sell surplus energy to the grid at premium prices. The proposals, which include the building of 3,500 onshore wind turbines, are designed to ensure that Britain hits its EU target of generating 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.

Companies producing solar panels and turbines, or converting redundant water wheels, are reporting a sharp rise in sales as more and more of us try to move partially or completely “off grid”. Even Prince Charles is said to be looking at plans to dig 600ft down to install a ground-source heat pump beneath the gardens of Highgrove.

Such is the rise in demand for energy-sufficiency that County Homesearch, a property-finding company, has launched a specialist service, in conjunction with Gage Williams, a former army officer turned micro-generation consultant, that helps buyers to locate homes capable of producing enough surplus power to generate a considerable income. The company’s Cornwall office has identified 800 promising mills in the southwest, in various states of ownership and repair. If converted, they could produce enough electricity to pay back the cost of a turbine in as little as four years.
Using renewables to heat your home will not produce an income in the same way, but can reduce your energy bills. The main methods are solar thermal collectors, which heat water in pipes on your roof; heat pumps, which extract warmth from the ground; and wood-burning boilers. A basic solar thermal system should cost about £1,800 and provide about 80% of a typical family’s hot water during summer months - and make a useful contribution at other times. A typical ground-source heat pump - which requires either a deep hole in the ground or a large horizontal area - could cost between £6,400 and £12,000, while you could buy a 20kW boiler for £5,000.

John-Paul Flintoff

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