Green Living: Shout it from the rooftops: you're powering the country

Tom McTague asks whether it's worth installing your own wind turbine or solar panels and then selling the 'clean' energy to the national grid
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The Independent Online

Micro generation" is the new environmental buzz phrase. From the wind turbine perched atop Tory leader David Cameron's house to the solar panels starting to adorn the homes of the middle class – generating your own power from renewable sources is in vogue. And if people can "green the grid" by selling this energy into the national grid, then, it seems, all the better. But how do you go about it? And is it cost effective?

The first thing to note is that you will not be selling to National Grid, the company, but a utility such as British Gas, in the form of "renewable obligation certificates". One ROC represents one megawatt hour of energy and is worth around £40.

Before you can sell ROCs, you must register with industry regulator Ofgem (www.ofgem.gov.uk) as a renewable supplier. Power companies have given an undertaking to source 10 per cent of their energy from renewable sources.

There are, however, strong reservations about generating energy and then selling it on. "Installing solar panels will cost between £5,000 and £10,000; exporting energy will bring in about £30 per year. We do it as a gesture but in practice it's a red herring," says Dale Vince, founder of Ecotricity, a green energy provider. There are other costs too, such as a £1,500 export meter, and the average rooftop turbine only produces 1,500 units of energy – some 1,800 short of the average household's needs. "The whole thing is a nonsense, to be honest," adds Mr Vince.

But renewables firm Good Energy has come up with an alternative: it is offering to pay customers for the energy they produce, without them having to sell it to the grid. It also doubled the pay recently – from 4.5p per kw/h to 9p. The firm said this would translate into savings for an average household on their energy bills of £262.50 a year.

However, customers on this scheme will still need to buy the bulk of their energy in the standard way from the grid – and through Good Energy, whose tariffs it openly admits are around 14 per cent more than the average for the sector. Throwing such a cost into the equation, the return, in terms of discounted bills, is unlikely to justify a £5,000 to £10,000 initial investment on solar panels or turbines.

A spokesman at EnergyWatch, the gas and electricity watchdog, advises consumers: "Do all the energy- efficiency measures first, which have a far bigger impact than micro generation." These include changing your boiler and insulating your loft and cavity walls.

Those dead set on generating their own power and selling it on can get help with the initial investment: a government grant is available via the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (www. berr.gov.uk). To qualify, you must have already "installed the basic level of energy-efficiency measures".

After getting a quote from a certified micro generation installer, you can apply for a grant of up to £2,500.

Those with a green conscience may be heartened that green technology is improving. "The current crop of wind turbines are technically unable to do their job," says Mr Vince. "But the next 12 months will see the advent of the second generation –with fundamentally different designs."

'It's a nice feeling when you produce your own energy'

Alan and Margaret Pinder live in Thornbury, north of Bristol, in a 200-year-old country cottage, which they describe as "not particularly energy efficient".

The Pinders have, though, taken steps to cut their carbon footprint as they strive to become more self-sufficient. They have installed nine solar panels, about a square metre, each on their roof. "We are both worried about global warming and the environment and we don't have loads of money, so cutting energy bills is a bonus," says Alan.

"At the time, the Government was offering 50 per cent grants and we were lucky enough to get a windfall, which was just enough to take care of the expense. The whole thing cost £11,000.

"In the summer it covers about two-thirds of the electricity we use, but over the year the solar panels produce about one-fifth of our total electricity. As part of the deal we buy the remaining energy from Good Energy. You need to have the normal grid supply as well.

"It's a nice feeling to produce your own energy and people are always asking us about it."

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