Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Home Hydroelectric Systems

Before I get onto this week's feature technology (hydroelectric systems for the home) I would like to return to the hot topic of the Government's Green Deal scheme.  So this week's blog is in 2 parts:

- Part 1:  The Green Deal Revisited
- Part 2:  Hydroelectric Systems for the Home

Part 1: The Green Deal Revisited

Success or Failure?
I discussed the Green Deal in my first blog 2 weeks ago.  Since then there has been a flurry of articles in the national press on the scheme, some positive and some negative.  So I thought I would offer my own opinion on why the Green Deal has not taken off yet.

The Government's Spin
The recent national press coverage has been in reaction to a Government press release which highlighted the impact of energy saving home improvements on home values:
"Making energy saving improvements to your property could increase its value by 14 per cent on average - and up to 38 per cent in some parts of England ... For an average home in the country, improving its EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) from band G to E, or from band D to B, could mean adding more than £16,000 to the sale price of the property. In the North East, improved energy efficiency from band G to E could increase this value by over £25,000 and the average home in the North West could see £23,000 added to its value."

A recent Government commissioned survey of 900 homes provided further positive feedback about Green Deal assessments.  75% of households rated the usefulness of Green Deal assessments as being high.  77% of households also stated they had confidence in assessors’ recommendations.  So there has been some very positive news (spin?) on the Green Deal.

Outlook for the Green Deal
I continue to believe that the Green Deal scheme is good in concept, if a little more complicated than it should be. The main problem is that much of the British public is not quite ready for it. Our homes may be draughty, but just not draughty enough. Our energy bills may be high, but just not high enough. Remember that last year the big energy companies had a hard time even giving away free insulation!

The British public are concluding that the financial costs (plus the nuisance factor) of making their homes more energy efficient are not yet outweighed by the benefits of carrying out the Green Deal funded home improvements. This will change when our energy bills reach a level at which they can no longer be ignored.  This tipping point may be coming soon.  

Impact on House Prices
The recent change in tact from the Government in their Green Deal publicity, whereby they are now pushing the message that Green Deal home improvements will significantly push up the value of our homes, may just work. They are cleverly tapping into the British public's obsession with house prices. If there is some truth in the Government's statement, and energy efficient homes are starting to command a price premium, the Green Deal may be about to take-off.

This brings us nicely onto one of the technologies that the Green Deal may be able to assist householders in financing - Hydroelectric Systems for the home.

Part 2: Hydroelectric Systems for the Home

How do hydroelectric systems work?
Hydroelectric systems (also known as hydropower systems) convert running water, usually in the form of a nearby river or stream, into electricity.  

Hydroelectric systems can take the form of very small installations, designed to power a single home, or larger 'community' installations that can power several homes. 

How much power will a hydroelectric system generate?
The smallest domestic hydroelectric systems will typically generate around 5kW of power - more than enough electricity to power the typical home.

Larger 'community' Hydroelectric Systems can generate up to 50kW, which is enough electricity to power more than a dozen homes.

What are the advantages of hydroelectric systems?
Hydroelectric Systems are very reliable, and will normally generate electricity all year round.  The electricity generated is normally higher in the winter than in summer months, which mirrors actual electricity usage.

Where should hydroelectric systems be sited?
Hydroelectric systems need flowing water to work, usually in the form of a river or stream.  Not all rivers and streams will be suitable however. You should speak to a 'certified' installer about site suitability before committing.  

We also recommend that your site is capable of connecting to the national grid.  This is vital if you want to sell any surplus electricity back to the grid.

What consents will I need?
You will need planning permission from your local Council and permission from the Environment Agency before you install.

How much do hydroelectric systems cost?
Installation costs can be high (expect to pay £25,000 or upwards for a small domestic installation).  However, maintenance costs are low as hydro systems are highly reliable.  Most systems can continue to operate for at least 40 years!  

Expect a payback period of up to 20 years, but this can be significantly reduced in optimum locations.

Is there any grants or other funding support available?
The Green Deal scheme may be able to help you pay for the steep upfront costs of the installation through Green Deal financing.  The installation costs will then be paid back over time, with interest,  through your electricity bill.

Your electricity supplier may pay you a Feed-in Tariff (F.I.T.) for generating your own electricity by hydro power.  You can also sell extra units of electricity back to your electricity supplier for a tidy profit through an Export Tariff.  For the latest Feed-in-Tariff rates go to

In optimum locations (rivers or streams with either lots of flow or a high speed of flow) specialist companies may offer to install the equipment for free.  They will do this in return for income generated through the Export Tariff.  The benefit of these schemes is that households can tap into the free energy generated without paying the high upfront installation cost.

Where can I find further information?
For case studies and practical advice on siting a hydroelectric system, check out the Environment Agency publication:  Hydropower: A Guide for You and Your Community.

The obvious point to make is that most homes are not sited close to a suitable river or stream.   Therefore for most of us hydro power is simply not an option.  

However, if you do live close to a suitable water course, whilst the high upfront costs are rather daunting, it is still well worth considering hydro power given the reliability and longevity of these systems.  You will invariably recover your upfront costs over time, and could make a tidy profit through an Export Tariff.

Is anyone aware of any cheaper domestic hydroelectric systems out there?  Has anyone had a hydroelectric systems installed?  We would be keen to hear from you.

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