Power to the people
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Date: 22 July, 2011
'Just remember – generating your own power isn’t the answer to everything. Reducing energy use is still important.'
Suzanne Elvidge asks if you can really generate your own power
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A few years ago, there was a lot of talk about microgeneration (everyone generating their own energy), and even DIY stores like B&Q started selling micro wind turbines.
However, B&Q withdrew these from sale in 2009 because they didn’t work as well as expected.
This rather damped people’s expectations, but microgeneration technology has moved on over the past few years.
There are a number of different technologies that are suitable from microgeneration of power – try the Energy Saving Trust’s tool to see which one will be the best for you, or the Power Predictor to help you work out how much solar and wind energy you could potentially generate.
Just remember – generating your own power isn’t the answer to everything. Reducing energy use is still important.
Photovoltaic cells and solar panels
Even though the UK isn’t always sunny, it’s still possible to generate electricity using photovoltaic cells, which convert sunlight into electricity.
Solar kits for the home include standalone 60W kits with a 3-pin plug socket to large systems that are eligible for a feed in tariff (see later).
Though wind turbines have developed a bad name, they still have potential in the right place. If you are in the right place (find out here), wind energy can be one of the most cost-efficient technologies.
If you are feeling technically minded, you can build your own wind turbine. Don’t have the space? Get what might just be the world’s smallest wind turbine!
Biomass microgeneration uses organic material such as wood, wood waste and fuel crops, so is carbon-neutral. Home biomass systems tend to provide heat rather than power.
Micro combined heat & power uses biomass or other fuel sources to generate both heat and power. This is often used in district heating and community settings rather than individual homes.
If you are lucky enough to have a river or stream running through your property, you might be able to try water power. Upfront costs are high, however, and because of this, hydropower may work better for a community rather than for an individual property.
Selling back into the grid
With British Gas announcing electricity price hikes of 16% (and doubtless other companies following suit), the idea of selling power back into the grid is very attractive.
This is known as a feed-in tariff (unfortunately, the Pay As You Save scheme mentioned in this link seems to be closed).
People who have a feed-in tariff for electricity get three benefits – payments for electricity that they produce and use themselves, payments for electricity that they return to the grid, and reductions on overall electricity bills.
Find out how much you could earn using the Cashback Calculator.
Can’t generate your own?
If you can’t generate your own power, look for a renewable power supplier like Ecotricity (and if you use the link, it raises money for Christian Aid too).
And in the mean time, learn about renewable power with an education kit, and look into wind up radios, solar power laptop chargers and dynamo torches. To quote a nameless supermarket, every little helps.
Hot off the press – researchers have developed printable paper solar panels. The next step – solar curtains and solar wallpaper?
Suzanne Elvidge is a freelance writer and Surefish Ethical Living Editor