Energy challenge: Cheap green energy at last?

This week during my challenge to save energy around my home, I’m looking at alternative energy sources. And I have to say I’m feeling pretty encouraged by some changes that could be afoot.

I’ve just been speaking to eco-warriors at Friends of the Earth who are pretty thrilled by something the government may be doing – can you believe! Thanks to the tireless campaigning by the charity, along with the Coop Bank, the Renewable Energy Association and others, ministers are tabling an amendment to the Climate Change Bill which – if it goes through (fingers and toes crossed) – would introduce something called a ‘feed-in tariff’. Despite its name, it has nothing to do with subsidies for takeaway dinners, but would guarantee rates for electricity produced from renewable energy.

Now, don’t nod off…do stay with me, because this could eventually mean cold hard cash for all you environment-loving frugalists out there. Right now, if we decide to save the planet/save on our hefty energy bills by installing solar panels etc., there is no legislation determining what rate our energy company should pay us for the energy we produce. By law they are supposed to pay us something, but according to Friends of the Earth, enforcement of the legislation has been patchy. “The energy companies currently pay people what they fancy and some paid nothing at all until recently,” explains Dave Timms, senior parliamentary campaigner at the lobby group. “The legislation hasn’t been enforced.”

In comparison, in other EU countries, such as Germany, if a business builds a warehouse they can go ahead and invest in solar panels, knowing roughly how much money they will be able to generate from them because they will be paid a set amount for each kilowatt of electricity they produce.

But the amendment to the Climate Change Bill could incentivise consumers and businesses to install renewable energy. “This would totally transform the economics of renewable energy,” says Dave Timms. “It will take it into the realms of something anyone can do. And it wouldn’t just apply to households but businesses too. You could have solar thermal or solar electricity, ground source heat pumps under the garden or, for people in windy areas, wind turbines, or biomass wood pellet heating systems.” So we could obtain cheap green energy and make some money out of it too!

While the changes mean people with enough savings could install renewable energy sources in their homes – admittedly not something those in fuel poverty could afford to do – Friends of the Earth want a more organised approach.

“What we want is for whole communities to come together and install renewables that work,” says Dave. “In Derbyshire Friends of the Earth came together with the Coop to finance a water turbine. But these schemes are few and far between – done because of dedication. We want it to be done by everyone. People have seen their energy prices rocket,” he says. “Some of the worst cases of fuel poverty are people living in rural areas in stone houses (unsuitable for cavity wall insulation) relying on oil-fired heating. What we want is something big enough that a council can do it.”

And if you think all this is years away, then think again. “If the government gets this right and they make it available to a sufficient scale, and if they bring it in with a timetable, then we could see it in 18 months,” he says. “If they don’t we’ll have to fight on.”

Exciting stuff! Let’s hope the government doesn’t change its mind or drag its feet on this one…

Would you install renewable energy in your home? Do you already have solar panels/a wind turbine etc.? Leave a comment and tell me all about it!

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7 Responses to Energy challenge: Cheap green energy at last?

  1. Christine says:

    This is another case of fiddling whilst Rome burns and a handy idea for those who can afford to install alternative energy sources. The government would do far better to legislate for all new build houses to have solar panels and to fund the fitting of same to all social housing within the next say 2 years. Decent installations on social housing would pay for themselves over the life of the social housing as it would be part of the fixtures and fittings that go with the house when tenants change. The payback should go to the council or housing association to pay for upkeep and replacement of the units. For those people who live where there is no gas supply (these are usually very rural housing units), there should be generous grant help with such systems as biomass heating, ground heat pumps or even wood burning stoves which would all be cheaper than said oil fired heating. And this help should be available to social housing that is way out in rural areas too without tenants having to jump through hoops. Never mind tinkering at the edges – let\’s go for big solutions.

  2. Christine says:

    Hmm – don\’t I just sound a way out eco-warrior there? But you really set me thinking about the bigger picture but it\’s obviously going to be a pipe dream unless some big name with clout comes along to kick a few well padded backsides in that well known area of outer space – the House of Commons. We need a visionary like Bevan and the welfare state to get a proper job done with our utilities.

  3. piper says:

    Couldn\’t agree more. I think it\’s a great idea. I think there are already certain rules about new houses being insulated in place, so why not alternative energy sources? After all, the people out there struggling to pay their bills and who really need this are precisely the people who won\’t have a few spare grand to pay for solar panels. It will only work if somebody in government really wants it to work. Let\’s hope there is somebody there who actually cares and isn\’t just in politics to line their own pockets or get famous…mmm!

  4. Christine says:

    Much ferreting later I\’ve found the rules about new houses and insulation – these are the codes for sustainable housing and a bit of a deep read but not as hard as I expected. There is also information on how work is being done to bring older housing up to reasonably insulated standard – all the stuff on decent homes with a fairly good insulation standard. Not a lot of hope for cutting edge technology here in most cases (blocks of flats being one of the nightmares). But here we are back to the old hairy egg situation of the grants not always covering the cost of the necessary work and houses not being of the right sort for the technology that the grants cover. Ho hum. Some of us are too old to see the improvements that should be coming but maybe – other disasters allowing – our grandchildren might have a decent housing stock to inhabit.

  5. 小西 says:


  6. Karen says:

    We are doing a new build and are trying very hard to be green, its not easy, we are installing solar panels. We now have decided on a certain brand after much reasearch and lots of silly quotes from people who are jumping on the green band wagon. We were disgusted  to find that most of these people offer the government grants ony to pre load the price! shocking no-one seems to be doing anything about it. These companies are making sickening amounts of money from these grants. So we now are buying direct and installing ourselves.  Its not been easy being Green.

  7. M says:

    Hi there,
    I\’ve had solar PV panels installed on the roof of my house for 2 years now and can say that, with all the other energy saving measures I\’ve undertaken they save  just over a Third of our total yearly electricity consumption. Considering that We have 3 children, thats not bad at all. They cost £8000 in total but we got a 50% grant from the EST  so 4 grand.I understand now that the Government has now stopped the 50% grant and now help out with a much smaller sum. (short sighted and not in line with what they say!)
    I must say that the greatest benefit of installing the panels has been the awareness that I now have on Energy and its consumption… Our bills have dropped considerably.
    I have also recently had a solar hot water system installed, partly by myself with a plumber doing the final commisioning cost £1500. The parts are available on the Net. In conjuction with our condensing boiler we are already seeing the benefits.
    I find peoples obsession with pay back times and investment slightly bewildering….People spend a small fortune on a new car and see it depreciate immediately. Renewable installations would make any house have more value. not only could you add to the selling price but you save all the time you live there.
    Every time the sun shines the monitors clock up the Kilowatt hours and heat the bath water ! it has become a hobby and the kids take a great interest in the weather and climate. People also spend a great deal of money on their individual interests and hobbies.

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