Eco Friendly Energy Systems Compared

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Electricity, Oil, Gas, Wood, Bio, Coal, Solar, Wind Turbines or Ground Source (Geothermal) - all have their place but what systems are the most economic and work in the Rhone Alps region of France for heating, hot water and cooking? In Britain at the moment, home owners and builders are looking at rising prices of gas, oil and electricity and comparing this with the plethora of ‘green’ systems and grants that are available from the government. Playing the grant game is complicated, for example, when the feed in tariff for solar panels dropped from 45p per unit to 26p per unit, the price of the panels halved. What message did this send out? Were prices for the panels actually inflated due to the grants and suppliers taking larger profits than need be due to the availability of grants and therefore getting the money from the tax payer? Wind generators have often been in the news with the general consensus being that without government grants these are not energy efficient. The price to manufacture and maintain means that the purchase price is high and without the grants per unit to feed back into the grid, the return on investment is not there. Biomass – the latest trend. An excellent solution providing that the raw materials are available at a cost effective price. The equipment to install a biomass system into a domestic environment is expensive, to automate as best as possible is an additional cost with large hoppers needing the space along with the automated feeds. Ground Source (Geothermal) appears to be an excellent solution to take advantage of the ambient steady temperature in the ground and using this to raise the temperature by a few degrees of cooler liquid pumped through it. This difference is enough to allow the system to create steam to heat a boiler which is used for the heating. Electricity is required to pump the liquid round the ground and also in the building therefore any such system must be well planned along with other solutions such as solar to reduce the electricity costs. Solar water heaters – cheap heating for the hot water providing that there is enough sunlight to provide it but, what happens if there is too much sunlight? The system is not designed to switch off therefore this heat must be used – get a swimming pool! Solar gain - through windows, with the correct glass, you can either stop heat or increase heat. This needs to be though through as you do not want to be too hot in the summer and freezing in the winter. The same applies to the bricks used in the build. Some bricks can store heat like storage heaters, others can dissipate heat quickly. Think carefully how the sun comes around when you need heat and when you want to lose it. Below is a list of energy sources and my take on them:- Electricity -       Cheap and easy to install -       Pay as you go -       expensive to run -       No control over price rises Oil -       More expensive to install -       Higher upfront costs -       No control over price fluctuations -       Expensive to run and maintain boilers etc. Wood -       Providing that you have a cheap source then this is efficient -       Labour required to cut wood (and dry it) -       No automated systems if you are not there then the heating will not be on Biomass -       Wood chip or pellet -       Expensive system to install -       Wood chip good value providing that you have a source and equipment to make the chips -       Pellets cheap but limited suppliers therefore prices could increase -       Maintenance required for system -       Upfront costs for pellets Coal -       Need a good supplier and boiler -       Work required as per wood -       Dirty -       Unlikely to have local source Solar -       PV units are efficient -       Investigate the grant system -       Look at both a feed in tariff as well as using it to power pumps etc -       Be careful with water heating systems as too much sun in the summer could cause problems Ground Source (Geothermal) -       Expensive initial investment -       Investigate what is available via grants -       Look carefully at costs as running the system may cost a lot in electricity therefore making the ROI model non-existent in comparison with other fuels How best to actually heat your home using ‘wet’ energy (pumped water) – under floor, radiators or stoves? Again, this is a difficult question to answer as a lot depends on where your house is, how much glass there is to provide solar gain and how much space you have. Under floor heating is by far the most aesthetic as there are no unsightly radiators, the heat is beneath you and rises and there are no cold spots. Under floor heating however is reactive and acts like a storage heater therefore, once it comes on, there is a delay before you feel the heat and this applies in reverse, if you are too hot (should the temperature change), there is a delay to get it to cool down which often means opening windows therefore wasting energy! Radiators although unsightly are easy to install, easy to manage and more reactive than under floor heating. It is however important to have enough radiators in the rooms to provide sufficient heat therefore careful planning is required. Radiators take up valuable wall space hence the natural preference for under floor heating. Stoves – need a chimney and fuel but apart from that are straightforward. A wood burning stove is a popular addition to many modern homes and can be used as a secondary heat source and indeed a feature in many situations. Conclusion Overall, there is a lot to think about when looking at heating systems for a home. A new home is better insulated than an old home therefore will use less energy and therefore will not get as much in the way of grants in comparison with an older house that will use more units. You should be looking at the full costs which include the purchase and installation of the system along with running costs and grants over the expected life of the system. Do not be naïve enough to think that a heating system will last forever therefore allow between five and ten years for budgetary purposes. Be realistic with rises in fuel costs (electricity, oil and gas). Do not rely on government grants as these could disappear as rules change. Speak to your builder and the window manufacturer – look at ways of shading the sun in the summer but letting the sun in over the winter (without living in darkness). Your energy bill could be the highest cost you have in a house if you do not look into efficient ways to manage this but if you invest carefully, you could actually get money to heat your home!    

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