If you are a self-builder planning your own home building project in 2021 sustainability will no doubt be a priority for you. You will need to consider what types of renewable energy systems can power your home but make as low an impact on the environment as possible. There are a number of renewable energy systems available which can considerably reduce your carbon emissions and cut your energy costs. Established carbon neutral technologies have never been more affordable with the greatest results being achieved in new build projects. With renewable energy prices falling and incentives to go green now is the ideal time to build your own home and create an energy efficient space that will have much lower long-term running costs.
It’s an excellent time to get ahead of the game as the UK government has ruled that gas boilers will be banned in all new homes built after 2025. The government’s “future homes standard” will require all new builds to have low-carbon systems, such as electric heat pumps. The ruling is part of the government’s ten-point initiative to help the UK reach its target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. From this year all new homes are expected to achieve a 31% reduction in carbon emissions to ensure industry is ready to meet the new standards by 2025.
Although any experienced self-builder will understand that doing it yourself isn’t the easiest path to take, they will also be aware that the cost of a self-build home can be considerably cheaper than if you were to buy from a commercial developer. For many people money will be the biggest incentive to installing renewable energy into their home.
It’s almost always cheaper to merge renewables into a new build rather than trying to retrofit into an older house. You will be able to tap into the best options available rather than having to compromise.
If you build your own home as a DIY ‘self-build’ project or contract a builder to create a ‘custom-built’ home, you will be eligible to apply for the Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). With the RHI, you can enjoy financial returns for up to 7 years after the instalment of renewable energy systems, meaning the end cost is far less. In order to be eligible for the RHI your renewable energy systems must be accredited by the Microgeneration Certification Scheme. MCS certification is an internationally recognised quality and safety scheme for small-scale renewable energy technologies.
Some of the most common renewable energy technologies available are:
Air Source Heat Pumps
Air source heat pumps are one of the most popular options for self-builds being cheaper to run than traditional heating sources as well as producing significantly less CO2 emissions which will promote a higher Standard Assessment Procedure rating (SAP). SAP calculations are a requirement of the Building Regulations and are required for all newly built dwellings in the UK. An SAP is the official, government approved system for assessing the energy rating for a new home. Air source heat pumps run on electricity and work by converting outside air to warm air, which then acts as your heating system. They are compatible with solar panels which means you can generate your own electricity to power your air source heat pump. Known for being efficient and reliable air source heat pumps are also eligible for the government’s RHI.
Ground Source Heat Pumps
Ground Source Heat pumps use the heat energy collected in the ground from solar exposure to provide your heating and hot water needs.
Installing the ground source heat pump system is perfect for new builds as it requires a lot of soil upheaval in your garden or drilling deep down into the earth. Installation isn’t cheap but the end result is a system with a very low running cost. These pumps are an attractive choice for self-builds because after you’ve made the initial outlay, the RHI will give you a good return on your investment by the end of the 7-year term.
Solar PV & Solar Thermal
Solar panels, otherwise known as photovoltaics (PV) are a system for generating electric power via solar cells which convert energy from the sun into a flow of electrons via the photovoltaic effect. Generally better for a south facing property, solar panels are improving all the time with specialist PV cells able to generate power even on a cloudy day.
You can either use this energy directly in your home or store it with a special renewable battery storage system. If you don’t need to use all your stored energy you can sell excess energy back to the grid. Solar PV is far more affordable today and can be paired with air source heat pumps or used as a standalone system to generate all the electricity your household will need. With oil and gas prices rising year on year the sooner you invest in solar the more quickly you will get a return. There are no longer any government subsidies for solar panels, but you can benefit from the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG). The SEG pays customers of the big energy companies for renewable electricity they have generated and put into the grid. They have had to participate in the SEG since the beginning of 2020.
The sun is an infinite renewable energy source which can also be used for solar heating water. Solar thermal panels are ideal for a self-build project. They work by transferring the suns heat within special pipes on your roof via copper wires inside. Solar thermal panels are a great option for heating water for a new build home and can be a part of your eco build strategy. They are also eligible for the RHI.
An important benefit to bear in mind when installing renewable energy in your self-build is that your house value will ultimately rise too. Having a super energy efficiency rating will make your home even more attractive to potential buyers knowing that they won’t have to go through a ‘transition’ to clean energy later on as the work is already done. This means that renewable energy is a real investment into your present and future wealth.
Investing in a green self-build project means your home will no longer be a part of the problem causing climate crisis but instead part of the solution. According to the Climate Change Committee (CCC) 40% of the UK’s emissions currently come from households which explains why the government is so keen to see change in the way we use energy in our homes.
Air source heat pumps, solar panels, solar thermal and ground source heat pumps produce a significantly lower amount of CO2 making your home clean and green.
Another factor that should be taken into account is the degree of pollution generated by using fossil fuels such as gas, oil and coal which affects the health of many people. When you build your new home using renewable energy you are a making a big difference to your contribution to air pollution. By not burning fossil fuels such as gas, oil and coal via home heating and electricity, you are no longer pumping poisonous gases into the atmosphere which benefits you, your whole community, and the future health of our planet.
Ultimately you may be able to go off-grid entirely with renewable energy, no longer subject to energy price increases and self-sufficient. To be completely independent of the national grid, a single renewable technology won’t be enough. A combination of a storage battery, a solar PV system and a heat pump will likely be needed to match the usual energy needs of an average household on grid.
It is clear that the technology is now available and appealing for those thinking about how to start a self-build project.