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As large and small energy suppliers alike embrace renewable technologies, you may be left wondering what, exactly, does ‘renewable energy’ mean? And how simple is it to generate your own renewable energy at home?
Want to see the latest green energy deals? Skip to the cheapest renewable energy tariffs from uSwitch.
Renewable energy sources
Renewable energy refers to any power source that can be replenished, from sunlight and wind to tidal, wave and geothermal power. Whilst the oldest renewable energy sources are biomass, solar energy has been with us for far longer than many of us realise. Ancient civilisations, from the Egyptians to the Romans, recognised the ability of the sun to heat their homes and water supplies.
However, it is only in recent years that solar power has gained in popularity, particularly for domestic use in the UK — although solar power stations do exist in other parts of Europe and the United States.
Wind power is also growing in popularity, but primarily on large-scale wind farms for industrial-scale production. The UK is now the sixth-largest wind producer after the industry received significant backing from the government, and the largest offshore wind farm now resides in the UK.
The main benefit of using renewable energy is to reduce your carbon footprint.
Large-scale renewable energy production
Under the Renewables Obligation (RO) of 2002, UK energy suppliers are obliged to generate an increasing amount of their energy from renewable sources.
In 2019, the Government and the wind industry announced a deal that will ensure that a third of the UK's power comes from renewable wind energy by 2030. The other 70% is intended to come from solar and nuclear power, but there is a little more progress to be made in those areas, with only one new nuclear power station out of six currently under construction.
If you want to make sure you only get energy from renewable sources you have three options: choose a green energy plan; choose a green supplier; or generate your own renewable energy. Green energy plans are special energy plans provided by most energy suppliers, but they can mean different things.
The best plans are those that match all the energy you use with an equivalent amount of renewable energy generation that they pump back into the grid. However, these plans are often slightly more expensive.
If you are looking for a green energy supplier, as opposed to a green plan, your best bet is the fuel mix tables which energy suppliers are obliged to produce.
Renewable energy in the home
Low-carbon production at home is a great way to save money and reduce your carbon footprint, and thanks to the government’s Feed-in Tariff scheme, they are more popular than ever.
The Feed-in Tariff (FIT) scheme provides a financial incentive by paying you for generating your own renewable energy, as well as using it yourself and saving you money on your energy bills. While the scheme is available for most renewable energy production around the home it is most popular for solar PV and wind turbines.
New applications for the Feed-in Tariff scheme closed on 31 March 2019, but if you already receive FIT payments you'll continue to get these for the rest of the initial 20-year period.
Solar PV panels
Solar panels on homes is the most well-known way to generate your own electricity. Solar energy is a free resource, so the only major cost comes at installation.
A typical solar panel system costs around £6,500 to install — but make sure you shop around and get a number of quotes as costs can vary significantly. A system like that can generate about 3,000 kilowatt hours worth of power, or around a quarter of your home’s annual energy needs.
If you qualify for the Feed-in Tariff scheme, though, you could also earn money back by selling surplus energy back into the grid.
To be eligible for the scheme you have to show your home’s Energy Performance Certificate, which will in turn determine the rate you are eligible for - the more energy-efficient your home the better the rate you will get.
You will also need to maintain your panels by clearing them of any dust or leaves, and making sure they aren’t blocked by overhanging trees. You can read more about this on our dedicated solar panels guide pages.
Wind turbines are due to play an even more significant part in the UK's renewable energy industry, which is hardly surprising considering 40% of all wind in Europe blows over the UK. Larger, pole-mounted wind turbines – the most effective kind – can be expensive, costing between £15,000 and £22,000 to install, but a larger 6kWh system can generate up to 10,000kWh, and should also eligible for the Feed-in Tariff scheme.
Switch to a renewable energy tariff
It's easier than ever to switch your current energy tariff out for a green one with uSwitch.
View the cheapest renewable energy plans from uSwitch below or read more about how to find the best green energy plan.
|uSwitch Exclusive Octopus 12M Fixed||£943||Compare now|
|So Tiger - Green||£944||Compare now|
|Go Green (1 Year) v10||£949||Compare now|
|Fix Online Exclusive v4 with Clean £2||£966||Compare now|
|Energy and Boiler Cover Green Jun 2020v2||£994||Compare now|
|Octopus 12M Fixed||£994||Compare now|
|GNE Family Green 12 Month Fixed||£1000||Compare now|
|My Green Plus 1 Year Fix Issue 14||£1013||Compare now|
|GNE Family Green 18 Month Fixed V27||£1019||Compare now|
Based on average bill sizes for a medium energy user on a dual fuel plan paying by monthly direct debit, and averaged across all regions. This information is updated hourly with energy plans which are available to switch to through uSwitch. To appear in this table, plans must be available in at least 7 of the 14 regions.