If you want to be more environmentally friendly or just reduce your energy bills, then updating your heating could make a big dent in your home’s carbon footprint. Renewable heating systems could offer you all these advantages.
Why Consider Renewable Heating?
Homeowners can spend up to 60% of their energy bills on heating, so a new system could save you money in the long run and be more reliable as well.
If your home has an old and inefficient boiler then it could cost you a lot more to heat your home. The Energy Saving Trust estimates that replacing your boiler could save £55-320 per year and the savings are greatest for those boilers with a D-G energy efficiency rating. Not only will replacing your boiler reduce your energy bills but it will be more reliable, and it will help pay for itself.
If your current boiler does not have heating controls, such as a room thermostat, thermostat radiator valves (TRVs), or heating programmers which allow you to control your home heating more effectively then it might be worth investing in them too. Heating controls can not only save you around £75 per year, according to the Energy Saving Trust, but it can also make your heating easier to manage and more effective to heat.
If you decide to install a new boiler then make sure that you select one that is highly efficient by looking for the energy efficiency rating and selecting one that is A-rated. This will maximise your energy bill savings.
If you live off the gas network you may want to explore renewable heating or electric boilers as a way to reduce your heating costs, make your heating more convenient and no longer reliant on fuel deliveries.
You can also reduce the cost of your heating bills by insulating your home, which could save you up to £425 per year. Look at our insulation guide for more information.
Is Renewable Heating an Option for Me?
Renewable heating has advanced a lot over the last ten years, and the systems are becoming more affordable and efficient which makes them comparable options when wanting to replace your heating system. If your home is off the gas network, then renewable heating could be an even more attractive alternative to your current heating system.
Whether the technologies are right for you and your home will depend on your circumstances and heating requirements.
There several renewable heating options that could be feasible for your home:
- Combined heat and power
- Heat pumps
- Solar thermal
Combined Heat and Power
Domestic combined heat and power systems are called micro-CHP. These are boilers that create heat like any other boiler, but the unique thing is that they utilise the wasted gases to drive a generator to produce electricity. The electricity generated is not a huge amount, but it will help power your home and reduce the amount of electricity you need to buy.
Micro-CHP systems are technically not renewable, but they are a low-carbon technology as it produces electricity from the wasted energy. So, although this boiler is much more energy efficient, it is not fuelled from renewable sources and is the least carbon reducing of those listed.
Micro-CHP boilers are current similar sizes to conventional boilers, they generate similar levels of heating, and can be wall or floor mounted. They are compatible with gas and LPG systems. The energy used by the boiler will create a ratio of 6:1 heat and electricity. Micro-CHP boilers can generate up to 1 kW of electricity at present when they are at full capacity.
Micro-CHP is eligible for the government’s Feed-in Tariff (FIT), so it will also generate an income as well as electricity regardless of whether you use the electricity or export it to the grid. See our FIT guide for more information about the FIT.
Biomass boilers are designed to burn wood pellets or chips, and they can produce either heating only or heating and hot water. Unlike a wood burning stove, biomass boilers do not need to be manually fed fuel, and they can be programmed to produce heat and hot water when needed. They also produce less ash and waste than other wood fuels.
Although biomass boilers burn wood fuel, they are still classed as being renewable as other trees are planted to replace those used to make fuel.
To reduce the carbon footprint of your biomass boiler, you should select a fuel that is from a sustainable and local source. To qualify for the government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), you may need to provide evidence that the fuel is from a sustainable source.
Biomass boilers require more space than a conventional boiler as they tend to be much bigger and you will need space to store the wood pellets or chips.
Fortunately, these boilers can be installed with existing central heating systems and use the existing radiators. They tend to be most popular with those who are off the gas network in rural locations as they tend to have more room for storage and these homes may have typically used fires or stoves with back burners to produce hot water, and therefore are more familiar with this technology.
Biomass boilers are eligible for the RHI which means that you will receive an income from the heat they generate. See our RHI guide for more information about this initiative.
There are three different types of heat pumps: air, ground, and water. A heat pump operates in a similar way to a fridge but in reverse, as the heat exchanger absorbs the heat from either the air, ground, or water and then passes the heat through a refrigerant fluid which enables it to absorb the heat. The pump then compresses the heat to create a higher temperature which can be used to heat the home and its water.
Many existing heating systems can be adapted to work with a heat pump, including radiators, warm air systems, and underfloor heating.
It may seem strange that a heat pump can operate all year round to produce heating even in the cold months, but they can work in temperatures as low as -20C. Heat pumps can supply hot water without backup heating.
Heat pumps are viewed as a more renewable source of heating because the heat source is truly renewable and sustainable. The system still has a carbon footprint as it needs electricity to run the compressor and fan. However, the amount of electricity is small, so if you want to reduce your carbon footprint even further, you should either purchase energy from a renewable energy source from your energy supplier or install solar PV to counteract or supply the electricity need to the heat pump.
Air source heat pumps are straightforward to install as they only need a small amount of external space and they look like an air conditioning unit. The unit does include a fan which can create low-level noise.
Ground source heat pumps require you to have space to bury either vertical or horizontal lengths of pipe under your garden or land. Vertical designs bury the pipes to depths of up to six meters. Horizontal designs need long trenches dug one to two meters deep to hide the pipe coils. You will need the required land and suitable access for this work, but it can be disruptive and expense to install.
Water source heat pumps require you to have access to water on your land to put the coil pipes into which is not an option for most people.
Unlike other heating systems, heat pumps typically run at lower temperatures. This feature means the pump must be on for longer so that it can heat the home effectively. Because of this, oversized radiators are recommended, and they are best suited to properties that are well insulated.
Heat pumps are eligible for the RHI which means that you will receive an income for the heat they generate. See our RHI guide for more information about this scheme.
Solar thermal panels use a renewable and sustainable energy source to produce hot water which will lower your home’s carbon footprint.
Contrary to what many people think, solar panels can produce energy all year round as they only need UV exposure and not heat from the sun to produce energy.
The intensity of the UV rays and the length of daylight hours will affect the performance of the solar panels.
Generally, solar thermal panels can only produce enough heat to supply the hot water needs of a home, so another form of heating is needed to keep your home warm. During the winter months, you may need to use some electricity to increase the water temperature to the desired level using an electrically powered element in the hot water tank.
Solar thermal panels require a hot water tank and can be combined with some central heating systems to provide a backup hot water supply.
Solar thermal panels are eligible for the RHI which means that you will receive an income for the hot water they generate. See our RHI guide for more information.
Renewable Heat Incentive
The Renewable Heat Initiative (RHI) aims to promote the adoption of renewable and low-carbon heat generating technologies in the UK. If consumers follow the rules of the scheme, the RHI guarantees payments for seven years (domestic) or 20 years (non-domestic) for the heat produced by the microgeneration system.
The payments are made quarterly and are calculated from either the estimated heat output from the system or metering readings.
The Feed-in Tariff (FIT) scheme is a government initiative that was explicitly created to promote the adoption of renewable and low-carbon electricity generating technologies in the UK.
The FIT is made up of two elements. The first is a generation tariff which pays the owner of the system for every kWh of electricity they produce. The second is an export tariff which pays a rate per kWh for the electricity that is exported to the National Grid.
The generation tariff is based on the metered amount of electricity generated, whereas the export tariff is a deemed proportion of the system capacity as it cannot be accurately metered at present.
You can learn more about the FIT in our FIT guide.
Home Energy Efficiency Requirements
There are additional requirements for properties wanting to claim the RHI or FIT which may require them to meet minimum energy efficiency standards or reach a minimum Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of D or above.
For RHI you need a valid EPC, and if it recommends loft or cavity wall insulation, you will need to have them installed before installing the system to be eligible for the RHI. If your property’s EPC rating is below a D rating you then you will need to bring your EPC rating up above D and get the EPC re-done before installing the renewable system to be eligible for the RHI or the highest rate of FIT.
You can learn more about EPCs, ratings, and how to obtain a certificate through our EPC guide.
Choosing an Installer
When you are searching for an installer for your renewable energy system you should look for ones that are MCS accredited as your system will not be eligible for the FIT or RHI without this. The system that is installed should also be MCS certified to make it eligible for the FIT or RHI.
The Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) is a quality assurance that certifies microgeneration technologies that generate electricity and heat from renewable sources and low-carbon technologies. They accredit both the system technologies and the competency of the installers. It covers electricity generating technologies up to 50kW and heat generating technologies up to 45kW.
You should also obtain three quotes and compare their costs, the systems they propose, and any reviews about their workmanship.