Cathryn Hickey, from the National Skills Academy for Environmental Technologies

Cathryn Hickey, from the National Skills Academy for Environmental Technologies, explains the steps we can take to make a dent in household expenses while doing our bit to cut carbon.

“There’s never been a better time to ‘go green’, with cash-back incentives from government meaning homeowners that choose renewables can save pounds on their fuel bills and even make money in some instances.

“As fuel prices rise and the planet heats up, now is the time to consider the alternative, renewable, options that are available. Apart from saving you money on your utility bills, these ‘environmental technologies’ offer a financially appealing proposition, with cash back from government through Feed in Tariffs (FiTs) for electricity generating equipment, such as solar photovoltaics and the soon to be introduced Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) for heat producing ones, including solar thermal and wood biomass.

“Through these schemes, payments are given out over a 20-year period, with the cost of the equipment covered in about five to ten years and a return on investment of up to 12 per cent – much better than putting your money in a savings account. If your property makes more energy than you require, this can be sold back to the national grid or heat network, further increasing the money-making potential.

Solar PV house. Light from the sun is collected in panels on the roof and turned into power

“FiTs has been going since last year and the RHI is already in place for businesses and will be introduced properly for homes from October 2012. Interested domestic customers can take advantage of the RHI now through the Premium Payment, where the government provides money towards the cost of the equipment in exchange for information about how it works and the savings being made.

“These same homeowners will then be put on the RHI’s payback scheme when it launches in the autumn. More information about the RHI and FiTs can be found on the Energy Saving Trust’s website:”

The main contenders

For electricity generation, the most popular choice is solar photovoltaics (PV) and for heating and hot water the main contenders are solar thermal, heat pumps and wood biomass. Each technology has its pros and cons:

  • Solar PV: This works best in the south of the country and it is very important that the roof is not shaded. A back-up electricity supply will be required in the winter months.
  • Solar thermal: Warmth from the sun is collected in panels with this method and used to heat water. Like PV this is not a year-round solution and a gas boiler, electric heater or alternate renewable solution is needed.
  • Heat pumps: Either buried in the ground – extracting heat from the earth, or attached to an outside wall – taking warmth from the air, heat pumps act like a refrigerator in reverse and can provide heating and hot water even on the coldest of days. Smaller homes are more suited to an air source heat pump, as the ground source version requires a considerable area of outside space.
  • Wood biomass: Heating and hot water is supplied through a wood burning boiler, which runs on logs, wood chips or pellets. This is an ideal solution for rural properties which may have access to managed woodland and the space to store the boiler and associated equipment.

“Next year, the Green Deal is being introduced. This is a loan scheme for energy efficiency measures, including renewable systems, where homeowners will pay for the equipment through their utility bills. This can be combined with the RHI and FiTs, making renewables an even more attractive proposition. To access these schemes householders must choose an installer and equipment that have been Microgeneration Scheme (MCS) accredited.”

The National Skills Academy for Environmental Technologies ( delivers government-approved training for renewable installers, as well as a qualification in understanding the principles of low carbon equipment for anyone interested in making a move to greener alternatives, such as house builders.