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We often dread opening our energy bills. Whether they arrive on our doorstep or through our email inbox, they can deal a huge blow to our carefully balanced household budgets when they exceed our expectations. Changing your energy suppliers and your tariff regularly can be an invaluable way to keep energy costs down. Not to mention taking steps to make your home more energy-efficient. But no matter what you do, the wholesale cost of UK energy will always be one thing you cannot control. So even if you do all that you can to keep energy costs low, you’re still liable to get stung every now and then. Could generating electricity at home be an elegant solution to an age old problem?
Last update: January 2021
More than ever, our team of experts remain on deck to help you make savings on your energy. We understand how deeply the lives of many are affected by these trying times and we want to support you the best we can. More on your energy supply during COVID-19 in our article.
There are more ways of generating electricity at home than ever. And by reducing your reliance on the National Grid, you can insulate your household from the unexpected and pronounced rise of wholesale energy prices. Furthermore, by generating your own energy, you can significantly reduce your household’s carbon footprint. But is generating electricity at home a realistic prospect for UK homeowners?
How can I generate my own electricity?
Energy prices have risen exponentially in the past 20 years. Even with the Energy Price Cap in place, many of us have come to resent the rising cost of keeping the lights on, keeping our homes warm and powering the various devices that allow us to work, play and relax at home. In 2004, the average household paid just £277 for their gas and £288 for electricity in a year. By 2014, this figure had more than doubled to £1,344 per year.
As such, many energy consumers have made proactive steps to reduce their reliance on energy from the grid. And this has given rise to an entire industry dedicated to helping people generate their own electricity at home.
Is free electricity possible?
Not only is it possible to get free electricity, you can even get your energy supplier to pay you for any excess that you don’t need. This can be fed back into the grid and result in further savings on the energy that you may occasionally need to use from the grid.
However, while there are many means of generating electricity at home, they all require some substantial upfront investment, and may take time to pay for themselves. What’s more, you likely won’t be able to take them with you when you move house.
Which is why it’s so important to choose the right method for your home. Here we’ll look at a wide range of options to help you generate your own energy…
Residential solar panels
The most common way for households to generate their own electricity is to use solar panels. Residential solar panels can not only be used to generate electrical energy, they can also use heat energy from the sun to heat your water.
Solar energy is an infinitely renewable power source. And while the UK isn’t known for its bright and sunny days, energy can still be generated when the weather is cloudy or overcast. This can result in a substantial reduction in your home’s environmental footprint and sustained savings. Use The Energy Saving Trust’s calculator to see how much you could save.
Let’s take a closer look at the different types of solar panels and their associated costs…
PV Solar panels
The most common type of solar panels, Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels can be seen on the rooftops of homes and businesses all over the country. Because there are so many manufacturers and installation companies, they can vary enormously in cost. You can expect to pay anywhere from £3,000-£9,000 to get solar panels fitted to your roof. However, average installation costs tend to be between £5,000 and £8,000.
The national average for solar panels to pay for themselves and generate a profit is 9 and a half years. However, this may be significantly less depending on where you live. Those who live in southern areas like Plymouth, Exeter or Truro may find that their solar panels pay for themselves in a little over 8 years.
PV solar panels can be very prominent. If you prefer a more discreet option, you can also install solar tiles. These look just like regular roof tiles, but allow you to generate your own electricity at home. They’re also a useful way of getting past building codes that might prohibit the installation of PV solar panels.
While solar tiles have their aesthetic benefits they’re less efficient and more expensive than PV solar panels. Meaning they will take longer to pay for themselves. A 3kw solar tile system costs £10,000-£12,000 to install, with an estimated £7250 in savings over 25 years.
As such, it can take over 30 years for them to become profitable.
DIY solar panel kits
If you’re a competent DIYer you may be able to significantly reduce the cost of your PV solar panels by installing them yourself. DIY kits cost as much as £4,500 and as little as £600. However, you’ll need to be extremely careful when installing them yourself. Damage one of the panels during installation and it could prove a very costly mistake.
Because they’re cheaper, DIY solar panels can become profitable in as little as 5 years or even less.
Solar water heaters
Finally, solar water heaters (also known as thermal panels) use heat energy from the sun and use it to heat water kept in a storage tank. These are much cheaper than PV panels at around £4,000-£5,000 including installation. However, they also take longer to become cost-effective, as they are rarely of much use in cold, dark British winters. Uk energy consumers can typically save around £50-£80 per year by using solar water heaters.
This means that most systems have paid for themselves within 10 years.
Wind turbines provide the lion’s share of the UK’s renewable wind energy with over 10,000 active on and offshore wind turbines around the country and surrounding waters. But it’s not just the UK’s wind farms that are generating energy from our natural air currents. A growing number of UK homes, businesses, farms and communities have begun to use their own wind turbines to supplement their grid energy.
There are three types of domestic-sized wind turbine:
- Mast mounted: These freestanding are placed in exposed areas on your property. They have a capacity of 2.5-6 kW and cost anywhere between £9,000 and £30,000 to install depending on capacity.
- Building mounted: These smaller systems can be installed on your home’s roof. They have a typical capacity of 1-2kW and will cost up to £3,000 to install.
- Micro domestic turbine: Homes with more modest energy needs may find a micro domestic turbine more practical. These are used to charge battery banks and will cost around £800, not including the price of an AC / DC converter.
As with solar panels, excess energy produced can be fed back into the grid and sold back to your supplier. More on that later.
Depending on weather conditions, your supplier’s rates, and the kind of turbine you use, your system could turn a profit in less than 5-10 years. If you can get 10,000 kWh a year out of your turbine, it could make around £1,300 per year according to this guide from HomeBuilding.
Ground source heat pumps / Geothermal heat pumps
Ground source heat pumps absorb heat from beneath the earth’s surface and use a combination of water and antifreeze to transfer it into your home where it is passed through a heat exchanger into a heat pump.
Although they are also known as geothermal heat pumps this actually isn’t technically correct as geothermal energy is found far deeper underground than these heat pumps are able to get.
A ground source heat pump requires an investment of around between £10,000 and £20,000. Furthermore, you will need to spend around £250-£300 a year on servicing. However, this can be offset by significant savings all year round, not just when the sun is shining or the winds are blowing.
Households can expect to save approximately:
- £425 per year compared with gas-fired heating.
- £600 per year compared with oil-fired heating.
- £1,000 per year compared with LPG heating.
- Up to £1,200 per year compared with traditional electric storage heating.
You can find out more by checking out the Energy Saving Trust’s website.
Biomass at home
Biomass leverages the energy emitted by natural biological processes. And while it represents a relatively small part of the UK energy mix (8.1% in Q1 of 2020), relatively few people realise that you can generate biomass energy at home.
Burning firewood at home is the most common way of generating biomass energy. However, biomass electricity generators are slowly making their way onto the UK market.
Hydropower accounts for just over 2% of our overall energy fuel mix. But as well as the huge hydropower stations like Dinorwig, Cruachan and Kielder, there are also a number of microhydropower systems that allow energy consumers to use the kinetic energy of nearby bodies of water to generate their own energy.
This option won’t be for everyone. How much energy you can generate depends on the vertical drop or “head” of the water, the flow rate and the kind of turbine you use. Even an entry level 1kW turbine is likely to cost around £5,000-£6,000 plus installation. However, this will offset your energy bill by roughly 16p per kwh.
Can we make free energy with magnets? Magnetic generators explained
Magnetic generators use permanent magnets to power a 1kW turbine. The principle behind how these work is the same as using a copper coil around a bar magnet in those science experiments we all did in school. A conducting coil is placed inside a magnetic field created by two permanent magnets. As the coil moves through the magnetic field, the electrons within are also moved, generating an electric current.
This simple scientific principle can be enough to power your home and even keep any excess in a storage battery.
However, prefabricated generators are hard to find in the UK. Those who wish to make free electricity using magnets have to assemble their own generators. And while this can be cost effective it also requires a certain amount of engineering know-how.
Can you turn fire into electricity? Thermoelectric generators explained
Biomass generators use the burning of wood pellets and chips to generate electricity. However, they are not the only way to make electricity from fire. Thermoelectric generators are scalable in the same way as magnetic generators. However, they are also equally difficult to buy as prefabricated units.
Even something as simple as heating a pot on a wood fire can generate enough energy to power your USB-charged devices. This is due to a scientific principle called the “Seebeck effect”. As new thermal conductive materials are discovered, we can expect thermoelectric generators to become more commonplace in the coming years.
Feed in Tariffs (FiT) and Smart Export Guarantees (SEG)
Generating your own electricity at home is one thing. Storing it is another. Battery storage can be expensive and impractical. If your home generates off the grid energy, any excess can be sold back to your energy supplier to offset your grid energy costs. This is called a Feed in Tariff.
Feed in Tariffs (FiTs) were discontinued in March of 2019 and replaced with Smart Export Guarantees (SEGs). However, these are functionally identical to FiTs and have very similar rates.
Feed in Tariff rates 2020
Feed in Tariffs are still offered by energy suppliers. However, they are now only extended to existing customers. Those new to generating electricity at home will need to apply for a Smart Export Guarantee. The good news is that these are virtually identical to FiTs and even more readily available with similar rates.
Rates depend on supplier and can vary between 2p and 5.6p per kWh. At the time of writing, Social Energy offers the best rate, at 5.6p/kWh.
What is the best form of alternative energy?
That really depends on your home, your location, your needs and your budget. If you happen to live next to a fast-moving body of water, you may find that microhydropower is your new best friend. Or, if you’re an engineering geek, you may relish the chance to build your own magnetic or thermoelectric generator.
For most, however, solar panels are the best form of alternative energy that’s off-grid. They’re highly renewable (they can even be recycled when they are at the end of their life), and in the past 10 years have become far more affordable. When coupled with the right Feed in Tariff or SEG they don’t take very long to start paying for themselves.
Looking for a supplier with a great Feed in Tariff? We’re here to help!
You have more means than ever to generate electricity at home. However, these are mostly reliant on the weather and the ebb and flow of natural energies. As such, your home will likely always be partly reliant on energy from the grid.
We can help you to find a supplier who not only has great rates and a green energy mix but offers you the best rates on your Feed in Tariff / Smart Export Guarantee. What’s more, we can manage every stage of your switch from end-to-end. So you get no hassle, no headaches and no unpleasant surprises. Just affordable, green energy from a supplier you can trust.
Want to know more?
Get in touch with us today on 0330 540 017. We’re available from 9am to 7pm.
Generating Electricity at Home FAQs
What is the alternative to electricity?
There are a number of alternatives to electricity from the grid. These include:
- Solar panels and solar tiles
- Solar water heaters / thermal panels
- Domestic wind turbines
- Ground source heat pumps
- Microhydropower systems
- Magnetic and thermoelectric generators
- Biomass generators
What is the cheapest way to make electricity at home?
Depending on your DIY expertise, the cheapest way to make electricity at home may be to install your own solar panels, which can be done for as little as £600. Alternatively, you can use a very simple thermoelectric generator to charge your USB devices while you cook your pot of soup or beans.
How can heat be used to generate electricity at home?
There are a number of ways in which heat can be used to generate electricity at home. Biomass generators can be used to generate electricity by burning wood chips or pellets while thermoelectric generators can also turn waste heat from fires and cooking stoves into electricity.
Can a magnetic generator power a house?
Yes, a magnetic generator can generate enough electricity to power your whole house. However, they are difficult to finds and expensive to buy as prefabricated units. However, skilled engineers may be able to build their own magnetic generators with relatively affordable components sourced online.
Updated on 22 Jan, 2021