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Beginner’s Guide to Types of Renewable Energy for Your Home

Published July 21, 2016 in Green - 1 Comment

There are five types of renewable energy which you may be able to install in your home.

Also known as 'alternative energy' these sources will allow you to save money on your household bills by providing you with warm water and heating for free or by generating free electricity to use in your home, or even sell back to the supply grid.

​These five renewable energy sources are considered to be types of clean energy because they run using fuels which do not emit new carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, unlike the 'dirty' fossil fuels coal, gas and oil.

The renewable energy types which may make sense for your personal circumstances are:

  1. Solar Power (Photovoltaic Cells) - These convert sunlight into electrivity
  2. Solar Heating - Use the sun to heat your water and your home
  3. Wind Power - Take the power of the wind and convert it to electricity
  4. Geothermal Heating - Uses the constant temperature of the ground below your garden to heat your home in the winter and cool it in the summer
  5. Biomass Heating - Use sustainable fuel (i.e. wood) to heat your home

Scroll down to read more detail about each renewable energy type, discover their advantages and disadvantages, watch a video about how they work, and see if they might be the right one for your home.

If you enjoy reading this post and are smart enough to see how something similar could help your business, then...

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1. Solar Power (PV Cells)

What is Solar Power?

Solar panels use the photovoltaic effect to take light from the sun and convert it into electricity.

They are supplied as large, flat panels which are normally mounted on the roof of your house, although they can be  mounted on the ground if there's enough space available. Ideally, your roof will be generally south facing to get the most daylight to them.

PV cells are only light-dependant, so they don't need heat to work, just daylight.

They work best when the sunshine is brightest - so blue skies are better than cloudy - and when days are longer - you'll get more electricity produced by them in summer than winter.

Solar panels connect into your home's electricity systems to supply power directly. On days when they produce more power than you need (e.g. when you're at work on a sunny summer's day) you can store the excess in batteries or get paid by power companies for sending it into the grid.

How Solar Power Works - Video

Video produced by

The Pros and Cons of Solar Power


Advantages of Solar Power

  • Clean energy - There are no emissions 
  • Sunlight is an abundant source of fuel
  • Solar panels are very low maintenance (annual clean for best performance)
  • Silent running (no moving parts)
  • Easy to install


Disadvantages of Solar Power

  • Output varies with weather and season
  • Long payback period (could be 20 years!)
  • You need a lot of roof space to install them
  • Batteries for storing energy push up the costs
  • Low efficiency - generally around 20%

Solar Power Could be Right for You, if...

  • Daylight is not an issue - i.e. you have generally good weather and you don't live too far north where the days are very short in winter
  • You have high grid electricity costs, this will make your payback on PVs faster
  • You have a good amount of roof space facing south (or at least southwest or southeast)
  • You plan to stay in your current home for a few years yet

Solar Power - Further Reading

I found this article from Renewable Energy World helpful in putting this information together.

2. Solar Heating

What is Solar Heating?

Like solar panels, solar heating users power from the sun to run, but it is quite different in that it's a much simpler (and cheaper) system designed to produce hot water, not electricity.

All solar heaters have a similar design in that they are a simple box with a clear front and a black back with pipes running between the two.

The clear front lets sunlight in and the black back absorbs the sunlight and gets hot. Solar heaters then warm your home's water in one of two different ways :

  1. Directly - Your water supply runs through the pipes and is directly heated by the sun
  2. Indirectly - The pipes are filled with a special fluid, which also contains an anti-freeze mixture. The sealed pipes coil through your hot-water tank and use the heat they've collected from the sun to warm your water

Water can be moved around the system passively, but it is more usual to use a powered pump.

For most of the year solar heating will produce all the hot water you need but, in winter, you'll probably need a powered back-up source to get enough hot water. 

How Solar Heating Works - Video

Video produced by

The Pros and Cons of Solar Heating


Advantages of Solar Heating

  • Zero emissions from the system (but - installing a pump and winter back-up supply may cause some)
  • Could more than halve your water heating costs
  • Quiet - the only moving part is pumping water
  • Low maintenance - anti-corrosive added to pipes every few years
  • Integrates into your home very easily


Disadvantages of Solar Heating

  • Weather-affected, longer payback in poorer climates
  • High up-front cost of installation
  • A new or additional water tank can take space
  • Tank can radiate a lot of heat - be careful on position
  • A 'one-trick pony', i.e. only heats water

Solar Heating Could be Right for You, if...

  • Your climate is good with lots of daylight
  • You have space for the panels (not as much as PV cells) and water tank
  • Your current water heating system is near the end of its life
  • You plan to stay in your current home for a few years yet

Solar Heating - Further Reading

I found these articles from The Cylinder Guy and Proud Green Home helpful in putting this information together.

3. Wind Power

What is Wind Power?

Wind power, as its name suggests, is a way of generating electricity from the wind.

To do this, you need to install a wind turbine on your property. Turbines create electricity when wind turns their blades, which turns a shaft in a generator and the generator produces power.

There are two different kinds of wind turbine:

  1. Roof Mounted - Although relatively inexpensive, they are quite small and will not generate much power. Below 0.6kW you'll only really have enough to charge a battery
  2. Pole Mounted - These can be much bigger (and more expensive) and can generate a meaningful amount of electricity in the right conditions

Like solar power, there is the potential for any excess any you produce to be fed back into the grid and for you to be paid for it. The electricity your turbine produces can be stored in batteries for later use, but you'll need to buy an inverter (which is not cheap) to do that.

How Wind Power Works - Video

Video produced by

The Pros and Cons of Wind Power


Advantages of Wind Power

  • Pole-mounted, free standing turbines can be quite efficient
  • Decreases your power bills
  • Clean energy source (but power needed for inverter)
  • Potential to get paid for excess energy created
  • Low running costs


Disadvantages of Wind Power

  • Few locations have the required 6m/s average wind speed for breakeven
  • High cost inverter will need replacing before turbine does
  • Will make noise in high winds
  • Roof-mounted turbines unlikely to save you money
  • Not a constant supply of energy

Wind Power Could be Right for You, if...

  • You live in a location with average wind speeds of 6m/s or more
  • You have space for a pole-mounted turbine with long blades...
  • ... and the money to do it!

Wind Power - Further Reading

I found this article from Which? helpful in putting this information together.

4. Geothermal Heating

What is Geothermal Heating?

The ground about 6-10 feet below your feet maintains a constant temperature all year around of about 50 degrees.

An installation called a ground source heat pump uses this heat to warm your home in the winter (when your home is cooler than the ground temperature) and cool it in the summer (when it is warmer).

To do this, liquid-filled pipes are laid a few feet under your lawn/garden and connected to your heating system.

As it's pumped around the pipes, the liquid absorbs heat from the ground and radiates it in your cold house.

In the summer, the reverse happens: the liquid in the system absorbs heat from your home and radiates it into the cooler ground (see the video below for more).

Up to 75% of new homes in Sweden and Switzerland are built with this system in place; it is simpler to install with a new home. However, modifying existing properties can be done and many homeowners benefit from doing so.

How Geothermal Heating Works - Video

Video produced by

The Pros and Cons of Geothermal Heating


Advantages of Geothermal Heating

  • Very efficient and can out-perform traditional heating systems like electricity and LPG
  • Low carbon emissions, just the electricity for the pump
  • Safe - no fumes are given off and so no flue needed
  • Provides both cooling and heating = more savings
  • Long lifetime - many decades life expectancy with low maintenance


Disadvantages of Geothermal Heating

  • Water not as hot as traditional boilers; more insulation, bigger radiators or under-floor heating needed
  • Potentially less economical than some oil and gas systems
  • High start-up costs and space needs
  • Professional, individual assessment needed for every installation
  • Disruptive installation - impacts your home and garden

Geothermal Heating Could be Right for You, if...

  • You have the land to install it (plan on needing 4000 sq. ft. for an 8kWh system)
  • You're planning to replace your existing water heating system
  • You currently use electricity, LPG or coal to heat your home

Geothermal Heating - Further Reading

I found these articles from Proud Green Home, Renewable Energy World and Green Match helpful in putting this information together.

5. Biomass Heating

What is Biomass Heating?

Biomass, in the context of heating, is organic matter which is burnt to produce heat.

In the home this usually means a form of wood, either logs, chips or pellets.

Biomass heating is different from the other four types of renewable energy we've looked at so far because the fuel is not 'free' like the wind, sun or heat from the ground. Instead, it has to be grown and then manufactured into a suitable fuel source.

It is 'green' because the carbon released by burning the wood is not new carbon being released, i.e. burning it only releases what the trees stored as they grew. Growing replacement trees for those we burn will, in theory, lock up that carbon dioxide again.

There is a counter-argument however: the energy required to create pellets or chips through harvesting, cutting and drying, in addition to the fuel used to transport them to where they are burned, outweighs the environmental benefit of burning sustainably grown trees.

This discussion is not a settled one, and is outside of the scope of this post, but it is worth noting that biomass heating is arguably a lot less environmentally sound than the other renewable energies discussed above.

How Biomass Heating Works - Video

Video produced by

The Pros and Cons of Biomass Heating


Advantages of Biomass Heating

  • Low running costs
  • Renewable energy (although green credentials are argued)
  • Near-limitless supply of fuel
  • Deals efficiently with waste materials
  • Cleaner than other fossil fuel based heating systems


Disadvantages of Biomass Heating

  • Fuel energy-intensive to produce
  • Large equipment needed
  • More suited to business  than residential
  • Fuel growth can compete with food growth land
  • Expensive to install, long payback without subsidy

Biomass Heating Could be Right for You, if...

  • You have a large or multiple properties to heat from one system
  • You have the space to house storage for the fuel and the boiler itself

Geothermal Heating - Further Reading

I found these articles from Green Spec, Triple Pundit, and the Energy Saving Trust helpful in putting this information together.

Conclusion - Beginner's Guide to Renewable Energy

You've now got a good overview of the most common types of renewable energy available for your home.

For powering your home, solar panels have the best potential to provide your electricity needs, and are significantly more likely to be suitable for you than wind turbines.

We've also looked at the three alternative technologies for heating your home: solar, geothermal and biomass.

It seems that biomass is not really viable for the average home and, if you are committed to environmental health, there are still arguments about the green credentials of biomass heating.​

That leaves  solar heating and ground source heating to go head-to-head.

Solar is definitely going to be easier to install than a ground source heating system.  But, if you have the land, then your payback from geothermal will almost certainly be shorter than solar... and you get home cooling thrown in!

In the end, whichever of these five renewable energy types you decide to install, you will make a positive contribution to both your bank account (in the long run) and the environment.​

If you enjoyed reading this and would like me to research and write something similar for your business, then please reach out to me at:

1 comment

Green Energy Audits - October 13, 2016 Reply

Thanks for the great share! I also like the idea of Home Energy. The best part I like is this: The reliability and availability of modern energy sources cause people to tend to assume that it will always be accessible. And as for the case of non-renewable energy sources, most people do not know or maybe even refuse to accept that it will eventually run out.

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