Getting started with renewables

Home renewables, and low-carbon microgeneration such as micro-CHP, are good for the environment and good for your pocket too. Low-carbon technologies such as wind turbines, solar panels and biomass boilers let you generate your own energy, saving money and reducing your carbon footprint in the process. What’s more, with government financial incentives available, it’s never been a better time to install. Find out more now!

What is renewable energy?

We've all heard of solar panels and wind turbines, but renewable energy covers more than that. It is energy from any source that is naturally replenished when used. Often called 'renewables', 'green energy', 'microgeneration' or 'sustainable energy', the main sources of renewable energy for the home are:

  • energy from sunlight
  • heat from the earth, the air or water sources
  • plants grown for fuel (biomass or biofuels)
  • waste
  • the movement of water (known as hydro) and wind.

There are lots of different technologies available – usually used to produce electricity or to generate heat.

Step 1 – Make your home energy-efficient

To ensure you get the most out of your renewable technology, make your home as energy-efficient as possible before you start. Think about:

  • insulating, draught-proofing and double-glazing wherever you can
  • making your  heating and hot water systems run efficiently
  • saving water.

Step 2 – Find out the options for your property

The factors to consider for your property are:

  • for solar PV and solar thermal: which way your roof faces
  • for solar thermal, heat pumps and biomass: space inside and outside
  • for hydroelectricity, whether you have a stream or river running past
  • for wind turbines, what the average wind speed is.

Step 2 – Decide what you want to achieve

Most people want to save money and reduce their emissions at the same time, and it is becoming more possible to achieve both of these. But sometimes there are other factors that might influence your choice.

  • If you need to replace your boiler or central heating system anyway, installing a new biomass boiler or heat pump becomes more cost-effective.
  • If you want to save the most carbon dioxide, consider wood-fuelled heating, a large wind turbine or a large solar PV system.
  • If you want to do a bit for the environment but have limited funds, think about a cheaper option such as solar water heating.
  • If you live in an isolated rural property with no mains electricity, you may get the most reliable off-grid supply from  hydro if you have the resource, or from a mixture of  wind and solar PV.

Step 3 – Narrow the options

Now you know which options suit your site and your needs, you can narrow down the options and consider:

  • the size of the system
  • what products are available
  • the costs
  • any issues about the installation.


Step 4 – Check planning and insurance

Check whether you need planning permission. Many domestic generation systems are now classed as permitted development in England, Scotland and Wales: they do not need planning permission provided they meet certain criteria. The rules are different for different technologies – and for different countries. There is more information on the pages for each technology, but to be certain you should contact your local authority.

Check with your home insurance provider to make sure your policy covers the changes to your home, and make any adjustments you need. Some policies cover the more common systems such as solar PV.

Step 5 – Work out what you can save – and earn

All the systems here can potentially save money by reducing the amount of electricity or heating fuel you need to buy. Now new schemes are coming in so that you can earn more money just for producing energy from renewable sources:

  • The Feed-In Tariff (FIT) pays you when you produce your own electricity using an eligible renewable system such as wind or solar PV, at a guaranteed rate for every unit you generate. And the FIT will also pay you for electricity you don't use, which you can export back to the grid.
  • The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) gives similar payments to owners of eligible renewable heating systems such as solar water heating and wood boilers.

How much you can save and earn will depend on a number of factors, including technology, the size of the system, your location, and the size of your house.