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Renewable energy


Most of the energy generated in the UK comes from non-renewable fossil fuels such as coal, gas and the uranium used in our nuclear power stations. Our transport needs are almost exclusively fuelled by petrol and diesel which are derived from oil (another fossil fuel). Burning fossil fuels releases significant amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into our atmosphere where it causes our climate to change via the greenhouse effect.

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Renewable energy comes from natural resources such as:

  • Sunlight
  • Wind
  • Rain
  • Tides
  • Geothermal heat

They can be naturally replenished equal to or faster than they are consumed. Unlike fossil fuels, renewable energy sources produce little or no carbon dioxide (CO2) when used.

Generally speaking, there are two types of renewable energy technology:

Technologies produce electricity

  • Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems
  • Small scale wing turbines
  • Hydroelectric

Those that produce heat and hot water

  • Solar water heating
  • Wood fuelled heating
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Solar electricity systems capture the sun's energy using photovoltaic (PV) cells that convert sunlight into electricity. The electricity can be used to run household appliances and lighting and any excess can be sold back to the grid.

Solar PV installation is quite simple and will be fixed to your building’s roof. Your roof will be assessed to make sure it has a large enough surface, facing within 90 degrees of south, is not overshadowed and is capable of withstanding the extra weight of the panels.

The initial cost can be expensive; anything from approx £5,000 – £12,000 but there are financial incentives available.

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Wind turbines create electricity by harnessing the natural power of the wind to drive a generator. The electricity can either be fed in to the grid or stored in a battery.

Domestic wind turbines located in the correct position are very effective but not all properties are suitable for a domestic wind turbine of any size. To work effectively the wind speed has to reach a certain point and this should be explored at the beginning of the process. Planning permission may also be required depending on size and location.

Small-scale domestic wind turbines can either be mounted to your roof or free standing and vary in cost according to size but can be anything from £2,000 - £25,000. Financial incentives are available.

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Hydroelectricity systems generate electricity from running water. Micro hydro systems can generate enough electricity to fulfil a typical home’s lighting and electrical appliance needs, often with surplus.

You will need to have access to all year round fast flowing water. The success, size and effectiveness of any micro-hydro systems is very site specific and initial assessment will be needed. You will also need to contact your local planning office as you will need planning permission and a license from the Environment Agency.

Mirco-hydro systems are potentially very effective and reliable but the initial cost can be high. The installation cost for a 5kW system can average £20,000 - £25,000. Financial incentives are available.

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Solar collectors work by soaking up and retaining the free heat from the sun’s rays.

The solar collectors will be fitted to your roof and most can be integrated into your existing heating system.

The system you will require may vary depending on the type of hot water system you have (some combination boilers are not compatible), the orientation of your roof and space you have available.

Installation costs are approx £5,000. Financial incentives are available.

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Wood fuelled heating systems are typically wood chips or wood pellet fuelled. You can choose to install a standalone stove or boiler system that can be integrated into the existing central heating or hot water system.

A wood fuelled heating system would be a good option to consider if you have no access to natural gas and have an oil or coal burning heating system. You will also need to consider the installation of an appropriate flume and storage for fuels.

Installation costs will vary with a standalone stove from £3,000 and an entire system from £11,000. Financial incentives are available.

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Low carbon technologies use a small amount of fossil fuel based energy (e.g. electricity) to then collect and convert renewable energy into other forms. Heat pumps are a good example of this and generally very efficient ways of heating a property with between £2 and £4 of heat generated for every £1 of electricity used. Heat pumps come in two main types:

  • Ground source heat pumps
  • Air source heat pumps
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A Ground Source Heat Pumps (GSHP) works by absorbing the heat contained in the ground (or even a body of water) and boosts the temperature using an electric compressor. This then can be used to heat hot water and your home with regular radiators or under floor heating.

The pipes that collect the heat are called ground loops and need to be buried into the ground and the length of ground loop you need depends on the amount of heat you require. The ground loop can be buried either laid flat or vertically if there is limited space. Your land will need to be accessible and suitable for digging.

Heat pumps deliver a lower heat over a longer period than conventional boilers so you will need to ensure that your home is well insulated so you are not losing heat. As heat pumps need a small amount of electricity to run only those homes who want to replace an electric or coal heating system will see a reasonable cost benefit.

A typical system can range from £9,000 to £17,000. This depends on your heat requirements, existing heating system and how well insulated your home is.  Financial incentives are available.

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An Air Source Heat Pump (ASHP) works in much the same way as the GSHP above but uses the heat in the air (instead of the ground) as a heat source. ASHP’s are usually fitted to the back of your property and are the size of an air conditioning unit. If space permits, they can be fitted into roof space.

Heat pumps deliver a lower heat over a longer period than conventional boilers so you will need to ensure that your home is well insulated so you are not losing heat. As heat pumps need a small amount of electricity to run only those homes who want to replace an electric or coal heating system will see a reasonable cost benefit.

ASHP’s may require planning permission depending on size and location but otherwise they offer the same benefits as GSHP’s.

A typical system can range from £6,000 to £10,000. This depends on your heat requirements, existing heating system and how well insulated your home is.  Financial incentives are available.

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Combined Heat and Power or CHP is the simultaneous production of heat and electricity by an engine fitted with a generator. CHP units operate by burning a fuel which can be:

  • Renewable – e.g. Wood or other biomass material
  • Fossil fuel based – e.g. Gas or oil
  • Residual waste – e.g. Waste that would otherwise be sent to land fill

In all cases, CHP offers a more efficient way of generating electricity as the heat also generated is utilised rather than wasted.

CHP units can be industrial sized or small enough to fit in a home where they are referred to as a ‘Micro’ CHP units. These are the same size as a conventional gas boiler and can replace it to provide hot water and heat but can also provide enough electricity to power the lighting and appliances in a typical home.

Electricity is only generated when there is a heat demand so you will need to consider your usual heating and electricity use. A CHP unit is most cost effective in a property that has a high heat demand and is difficult to insulate.

Typical installation of a ‘Micro’ CHP unit costs from £5,500.  Financial incentives are available.

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Financial incentives

We need to reduce our demand on energy which comes from fossil fuels to help tackle climate change and switch to renewable or low carbon energy technologies. There are a range of financial incentives from central government to help encourage businesses and homeowners to make the switch.

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The incentives are spilt into domestic and non-domestic schemes and cover all the main renewable and low carbon technologies.

Those that generate heat (wood fuel, solar thermal and heat pumps) are covered by the:

Those that generate electricity (solar PV, wind, hydro and Micro CHP) are covered by the:

Both the RHI and FIT set a price on what each kWh of electricity or heat produced by the technology will earn the owner and are set for a number of years so you not only benefit from the energy the technology provides, but it also the income it earns.  

For particularly large schemes, there are Renewable Obligations Certificates (ROCs) which can be traded by their owners to energy suppliers. They are required to buy a designated level of renewable energy every year to support the development of renewable electricity projects.

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You could cut your energy bills by joining the UK’s largest council-led collective energy switching scheme – Ready to switch. We have joined forces with 12 other councils in the bulk-buying project which lets every household and business in Wiltshire join with other communities in the UK. The result is a single powerful unit to negotiate cheaper energy bills, with bill payers seeing average savings on a dual fuel direct debit switch of over £100 per year.

There are two schemes for residents and businesses. For more information and to register to receive updates and details about registration dates visit the ready to switch for residents or ready to switch for businesses.

The scheme is free of charge and no obligation – just have your latest energy bills to hand if you can’t remember how much you spend.

The scheme will work by means of a reverse auction run by the company ICHOOSR, which run collective schemes across Europe, where energy suppliers will be invited to bid the lowest price to supply the energy to all those signed up for the scheme. When the scheme re-opens, once you register your details and the auction takes place, you will get a personalised offer in the post or by email which you can accept or decline.”

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Roof rental schemes

Since the implementation of the Feed in Tariff, a number of companies have offered ‘free installations’ of solar PV systems. This can be a good way of installing a system on your building if you haven’t got the money to spend on a system up front. The company is likely to keep the income from the generation tariff as well as the export tariff. The company may well offer you either free electricity or electricity at a reduced rate. You may want to consider negotiating to receive a fee for renting the roof space.

If you are thinking of taking advantage of this type of deal you should consider how much you will benefit from the energy generated on your roof space. Solar PV produces energy during daylight hours. If you are out during the day and are pretty good at switching things off, your house is not likely to consume much energy, other than to run appliances like the fridge/freezer. If this is the case, you may see very little benefit from renting your roof other than from the knowledge that you are helping generate clean energy. There are other practical issues that will need to be considered such as insurance, maintenance liability for the panels and reinstatement of the roof once the panels have reached the end of their life. Another big consideration is what happens if you want to sell your property during the lifetime of the panels.

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The Centre for Sustainable Energy in Bristol has produced guidance which provides information about ‘roof rental schemes’ and some key questions you should ask before signing on the dotted line.

Additional information on free solar PV schemes can also be found on the Energy Saving Trust website.

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Low carbon infrastructure

The UK is committed to meeting the demanding challenge of climate change which includes an overall reduction of carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 (based on 1990 levels).
This target will affect the way that we live and work but includes opportunities to reduce the carbon emissions of our underlying infrastructure.

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The approach to low carbon transport in Wiltshire is being delivered through the Local Sustainable Transport Fund. If you would like to find out more about what we are doing to promote sustainable transport please visit the Sustainable Transport pages at

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Last updated: 27 October 2016 | Last reviewed: 27 October 2016