Thursday, November 10, 2005

Micro-generation is cool

We need a campaign to make building level decentralised energy generation - d-i-y customised, lifestyle techno-fetishism - cool as owning an i-Pod. Imagine if Apple made solar panels!

On the day when Green MSP Shiona Baird outlined her vision for small scale renewable energy devices to power homes and businesses as a central solution to tackling climate change, and deliver jobs and energy security across Scotland, here's a guide to the technologies - something for everyone!

What are Micropower technologies?

Solar Photovoltaic (PV) panels

· Use energy from the sun to create electricity to run appliances and lighting.

· The average UK home could generate 50-60% of the power needed to supply its own electricity providing it is used efficiently and it has a south facing roof

· PV requires only daylight - not direct sunlight - to generate electricity. So it works in Scotland!

· The electricity generated by the solar PV panels can be used immediately in the home or fed into the grid to supply other homes. Electricity generated by a household could be sold to the grid or make the electricity meter run backwards, generating electrical credit for that household.

Solar water heating

· Solar water heating systems gather energy radiated by the sun and convert it into useful heat in the form of hot water.

· Water heating makes up 8% of UK energy demand.

· Solar water heating typically uses roof-mounted panels to provide 40-50% of a household’s hot water needs

· More than half of the UK building stock is suitable for solar thermal water heating.

Micro-wind turbines

· Micro versions of the turbines used in wind farms.

· A typical domestic system would provide 1.5 - 6 kilowatts of electricity, depending on the location and size of the home

· Costs around £3000 per kW


· Hydro-power systems use flowing water to turn a turbine to produce electricity.

· A micro hydro plant generates below 100kW of electricity (a kettle uses about 1kW)

· Improvements in small turbine and generator technology mean that micro hydro schemes are an attractive means of producing electricity.

· Useful power may be produced from even a small stream. The likely range is from a few hundred watts (possibly for use with batteries) for domestic schemes, to a minimum 25kW for commercial schemes.

Ground source heat pumps

· The ground stores heat from the sun during the summer and a few metres down the earth keeps a constant temperature of about 11-12oC throughout the year.

· Ground source heat pumps (GSHP) transfer this heat from the ground into a building to provide space heating and for pre-heating domestic hot water.

· For every unit of electricity used to pump the heat, 3-4 units of heat are produced. As well as ground source heat pumps, air source and water source heat pumps are also possible.


· Biomass is often called 'bioenergy' or 'biofuels'. These biofuels are produced from organic materials, either directly from plants or indirectly from industrial, commercial, domestic or agricultural products.

· Biofuels fall into two main categories: woody biomass (includes forest products, untreated wood products, energy crops, short rotation willow or elephant grass) and non-woody biomass (includes animal wastes, industrial and biodegradable municipal products from food processing and high energy crops e.g. rape, sugar cane, maize).

· There are two main methods of using biomass to heat a domestic property; stand-alone stoves providing space heating for a room (fuelled by logs or pellets) or boilers connected to central heating and hot water systems (suitable for pellets, logs or chips).

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