Up until we started mining coal in the 1800s, all energy that mankind generated was renewable. That’s pretty staggering when you think about it. We burned fires for warmth, harnessed wind for sailing and used water to power mills. Today, renewables are big news again, with people becoming increasingly conscious of how they can help protect the environment and even save money.
Nowadays, we call it microgeneration. That’s the production of heat and electricity from renewable sources, including wind and solar, to you and me! But like the name suggests, microgeneration is all about generating energy on a smaller scale. So instead of linking up to the main grid, communities and businesses can generate power from their own sources.
Microgenerated power doesn’t have to be used in isolation – it can be used as a back-up for when another power source fails. And whilst people can do it in their own homes, microgeneration is particularly useful for bigger projects – like new housing developments or businesses - where new technologies can make a massive difference.
So what kinds of microgeneration are there? And how do you know if they could work for you? Here’s our very practical step-by-step guide to microgeneration:
Step 1: Choose your method of microgeneration
With so many options out there, how do you choose which technology is right for your home, business or project? A lot depends on the amount or type of energy you need, what you want to happen to any waste energy that is generated and what your site is suited to. These kinds of questions will help you decide which method could work for you. Here it goes:
If you want to make sure every last kWh is put to good use
… Then combined heat and power (CHP) is a good option. CHP technology ensures any ‘waste’ energy will be reused to heat water or will go to the national grid. And that means ultimate peace of mind for people who want their energy production to work hard.
If you want to generate energy for heating and hot water
… Then heat pumps are a clever solution. There are two types of heat pumps – air source and ground source. These extract naturally occurring heat from the outside air and from under the ground respectively. The main difference is that an air pump is located outside your house or building, whereas the ground pump is located inside.
If your site is near the sea or on high ground
… Wind energy could be the best choice. A totally renewable source of generation, energy is generated by wind moving the blades of a turbine and spinning the motor to generate electricity. Not all sites are suitable for wind turbines though, so speak to an expert to find out if this is right for you.
If you want to generate just water or just electricity
Solar energy can be produced in several ways, so is really flexible. Photovoltaic panels capture the sun’s energy to create electricity, whilst solar tubes do the same for hot water. If you’re looking for energy to complement an existing generation source, this could be the option for you.
Step 2: Look out for government incentives
The government are committed to low carbon projects, like microgeneration, so there are lots of financial incentives out there. You can apply for the Government’s Feed-in Tariff, which allows you to make money from the electricity you produce. You’ll need a Microgeneration Scheme Certificate (MSC), which E.ON can provide you with. But once you have that, it means you can run your microgeneration project with financial help from the government.
Step 3: Get set up
Once you've received your Microgeneration Scheme Certicifate, you'll be ready to install your own renewable power source. You will need to find both a certified product and installer. The government has lifted restrictions on building and installing most types of microgeneration energy source, but for technologies such as wind turbines and heat pumps, you'll need planning permission from your local council. For more information on recommended suppliers and checklists for planning and installation, see the Microgeneration Certification website.
Step 4: Monitor your energy
Once you’re up and running, we’re still here to help. For ground source heat pumps and solar generation, we fit you with a smart meter. This makes it easy to manage and review how much energy you’re using. Once you have one, you can log on to our website and we’ll help you analyse how well your microgeneration method is working. This also helps us spot any problems quickly, so we can resolve them.
Step 5: Avoid problems with your energy flow
What if you have solar panels, but it’s not sunny – or what if the technology goes wrong with your ground source heat pump and you don’t have a clue how to fix it?
Firstly, don’t worry – renewable energy sources are more reliable than people realise. Wind turbines, for example, don’t need gale force conditions to generate energy! Secondly, we won’t just leave you hanging if the worst does happen. With our service plan, we schedule regular maintenance checks so that you always know what's going on. It also means that we can spot breakdowns and prevent them before they happen.
There are lots of benefits to microgeneration – you can reduce your carbon footprint, lower energy costs and generate a reliable source of energy. If you're keen to get set up, or to find out more, take a look at our section on Feed-in Tariffs.