Cheap energy? Generate your own!

Pylons

Image by Elsie esq.

Global oil prices are up. Electricity and gas companies are hiking their prices. And all the while, people are wondering what to do about their energy bills.

We’re going to take a look at some methods that are available to generate your own energy and power/heat your house. Remember that there are a load of methods you can use to minimise energy loss at home (loft insulation, double-glazing, switching appliances off at the wall), but that’s not a topic for today. Today we’re looking at generation, not conservation.

Use the sun!

Probably the greatest source of energy available isn’t even on the planet… the sun. We all know it warms the Earth, and no doubt you know its energy can be harnessed. So what tech can you use to enlist the sun’s help in powering or heating your home?

Solar Panels

Dead obvious, this one :) Solar panels! Those shiny sheets that power the International Space Station and a multitude of eco-friendly concept cars. There are two types of solar panels that concern us here, photovoltaic (electricity generating) or water heating panels.

Photovoltaic panels generate electricity from the sun’s energy, which can be used to fulfil some or all of your home’s electricity needs. It’s even possible to put your house ‘on-grid’ and sell any surplus energy you generate back to the National Grid. From what I hear, though, you will get the lowest price possible for your electricity in the UK, while the prices are a bit more favourable in other countries.

Water heating panels pass cold water through the panel, which is then (obviously) heated by the sun. This heated water is then delivered either to a pre-heat water tank or directly to the hot water tank, depending on the type of system. Even if the water that’s returned from the solar panels isn’t hot enough to take a bath in, it still represents an energy saving as it has been part-heated for you.

Ground Source Heat Pumps

The sun isn’t just heating your roof, though: it’s also heating the ground around your house. Ground source heat pumps are a way of extracting ground heat and using that to heat your water up. If you have ever touched the grille at the back of a refrigerator you will realise that it’s warm. That’s because the refrigerator is transferring heat from inside the fridge to the grille, where it radiates away. Ground source heat pumps do pretty much the same, but they transfer heat from the ground into your house. Heat is collected by laying pipes in your garden – either in a trench or, if you don’t have enough room, in a deep bore-hole. You’ll have a unit in the house that transfers heat from the water in the pipes to your heating system, so you don’t need to worry if the garden’s not roasting hot! :)

What about wind?

Another renewable energy source is all around us – wind. You’ve seen those wind farms, right? The groups of massive windmills? Well what about having one all of your very own? Not a whole wind farm, obviously, but you can have a small turbine generating electricity for your house.

The technology here is just the same as on the larger turbines – the wind turns the blades and a generator converts that motion into electricity. Add a power-shaper to iron out any spikes or dips and you’re good to go. You can even to ‘on-grid’ with this as well and sell any excess power back to the National Grid.

Be warned though: wind turbines will usually require planning permission (in the UK), and to be really worth it you should have a survey carried out to ensure that there’s enough wind in your chosen location (apparently the average windspeed can be worked out for where you are).

And the downside?

The big downside with these systems is the installation cost. Domestic solar panels can range from a few thousand pounds up into tens of thousands, whilst the cheapest domestic wind turbine I could find was £1898. I was unable to get a price for ground source heat pumps without having someone come out and do a survey of my garden!

These are all pretty hefty methods of reducing your energy bills, and they certainly aren’t a quick fix. You won’t recoup your money in a single winter, or anything like that, but if you’re going to be staying in the same house for a long time and are serious about reducing your reliance on the utility companies, they are certainly worth thinking about.

Have you tried any of these methods of generating energy? Got a wind turbine in your garden? Solar panels? Have you any experience of Ground Source Heat Pumps? Let us know how well they work and if you’re seeing any savings in the comments.

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Comments

  1. Those are great ways to reduce the electric bill, but I heard that here in my country (Mexico) they don’t allow people to produce electricity. On the summer months in my city (Mexicali) the temperature goes as high as 120F and the monthly bills in my house can go up as much as $1,000 dlls – although usually it’s around $350-500 dlls because we try not to turn on the A/C on all the house, but single mini-splits in one room or two at most. I’m a photographer, and is not that uncommon to pay as much as $1,500-$2,000 dlls for a monthly electric bill in my studio, although usually we pay $1,300 dlls for July and August. So, it would be great if the goverment would let us produce our own energy – but they don’t.

  2. Thanks for dropping in Lalo, and thanks for the comment. That seems an odd position for the government to take – is there a government-owned electricity company in Mexico? If there is, I guess that might explain why they don’t want people generating their own!

    Apparently you can get ground-source cooling systems as well as heating systems, but I don’t know much about them. Perhaps something like that would cut your a/c bill though?

  3. Yes, in fact until recently, the government had the electric monopoly. According to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electricity_sector_in_Mexico) there are a few private owned companies that are allowed to generate electricity, but they have to sell that electricity through the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) to the final consumer. The government keeps all the distribution and selling rights monopolized. I couldn’t find information about private use of own electric generation, but many people tell me that it’s not allowed. I made some screen-copies of my electricity online bills for you to see if you’re curious about how they look. These are from the Jul-Aug period: My home bill (http://sobrenatural.net/images/lalo/cfehome.gif), and the 2 bills I get for my studio (http://sobrenatural.net/images/lalo/cfestudio1.gif) and (http://sobrenatural.net/images/lalo/cfestudio2.gif). As today: £1 pound = $18.43 pesos. By the way, I appologize for drifting away too much from the main subject of the post. My very best regards, Lalo Marquez.

  4. Don’t worry about drifting off the topic, it’s good to have a conversation :)

    I’m not sure about the exact setup here in the UK – I know the electricity companies are privately owned, but I don’t know who owns the power cables etc. I do know that the energy companies are regulated by a government body called OFGEM who are supposed to make sure we get a fair deal.

    There used to be national power companies here, but they were privatised under a previous government.

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