This blog was originally based on a course ran by Professor Nick Gray of the Trinity Centre for the Environment at Trinity College Dublin who also wrote a textbook for the module Facing up to global warming: What is going on and what you can do about it. Now working as an independent consultant, Nick continues to work in the area of environmental sustainability and looking at ways of making a difference without recriminations or guilt. Saving the planet is all about living sustainably.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Self-Powered House

 With sustainability becoming the latest buzzword to infiltrate itself into our workplace, education system and media, isn’t it about time we took a serious look at in our homes? The increasing emphasis on our need to provide a cleaner, more green future for our children has lead to advancements in technology that have made renewable energy sources readily available for household installment.
Despite the technology being available and an apparent thirst for more sustainable solutions towards energy, we only see these techniques employed on the governmental scale and rarely on the individual household scale. Why is this? Is it cost, practicality, maintenance or some other reason?

Micro Wind Turbines
Wind turbines are generators that are installed on the top of a mast that harness energy from prevailing winds. As expected as wind speeds increase the amount of energy generated also increases. This mans that appropriate wind speeds are required for this renewable energy technique. The lowest wind speeds needed to generate energy is a reliable 3m/s (6.7mph) wind with the maximum wind speed being 15m/s (33mph).
Any energy created by the wind turbine will be consumed initially by the household property. If the household is unable to consume all of the energy then the excess energy created will be spilled back into the grid. The household will then be paid for each kWh exported to the grid.
The price for your excess energy can vary but currently in Ireland the rate is 19c/kWh for the first 3000 units and then 9c/kWh thereafter. There is currently no tax relief for wind turbines but a scheme maybe introduced soon.
The cost for the smallest 1kw tower is €5,334 rising to €22,643 for the much larger and productive 5kw tower. There is also cheaper DIY and special offers to be found on wind turbines. It is of course important to remember that once the unit is installed the energy is free.
More information on costs can be found at:
The working life of the best quality wind turbines is 20 with annual maintenance check-ups. However, due to the nature of the generation damage can occur after the first strong storm.
The average time needed for an investment in an average size turbine is between 10-12 years, there are however, many factor affecting this such as maintenance, damage, power production and demand.

Solar Panels
Another common and accessible alternative to wind turbines is solar panels. Traditional household solar panels will be attached to the residents south-facing roof. There are A 6m2 solar panel can produce the energy equivalent of a 3kW immersion heater running for 2.5 hours each day, even in Irelands overcast climate. Solar panels work off radiation emitted from the sun and so can still generate power despite overcast skies. This allows Irelands climate to be as productive as Paris and 70% of the Mediterranean coast.
The two main types of solar panel instillation are those of photovoltaic panels and active solar water heaters. The solar water heaters reduce energy bills and carbon footprints along with producing a constant supply of hot water. The photovoltaic panels are like the wind turbines and provide a source of electricity directly to the house and connected to the grid for spill over. The payment for the spill over energy is the same as mentioned above.  
The costs of solar panels vary from product to product due to size, quality, power generation and lifespan. At the lower end of the scale a 20 tube water heating system would currently cost €3,300 and photovoltaic systems starting from €3,910.
There are currently government schemes in place to assist with the instillation of solar panels in Ireland calculated at €250 per m2 installed up to a maximum of €1800.
More information can be found at:

Looking Forward
These two renewable energy schemes on scratch the surface of systems available at the household level today. Hopefully with increased awareness of these systems and continued government grants we will see a marked increase in the uptake of systems such as these.

Charlie Blakemore

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