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Sustainable Living

Kitty Corrigan, Deputy Editor of Country Living magazine offers some advice on how to… go off grid (almost)

What Does It Mean?

Producing your own heating and hot water from renewable energy, chiefly sun and wind. You may live off the beaten track where connection to the National Grid is expensive, or simply want to reduce your carbon footprint by relying less on coal, oil and gas to run your home. Whatever the reason, this is the time to consider installing new technologies, as prices are falling and funding is available. Planning permission has been relaxed for most properties (except in National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty), you should see a big reduction in your fuel bills, and low-energy running costs could help to sell your house.

Let The Sunshine In

It’s a myth that there isn’t enough sunshine in Britain to produce electricity from panels on your roof. Daylight rather than a Mediterranean climate is required, and photovoltaic (PV) panels, so called because they generate a voltage from the energy in light, can provide about half of the power required by the average household to run appliances. PV panels work best on an unshaded, south-facing site; they are easy to install and are ‘fit and forget’, with a payback period of around ten years. The initial cost is from £8,000, but grants of up to £2,500 are available (visit www.energysavingtrust.org.uk), and from April 2010 you can be paid a premium to sell any surplus electricity back to the Grid. The Met Office will give you an indication of how much energy you could generate, but you will still need to be connected to the mains unless you are very frugal indeed – although 25,000 people in the UK do survive without mains water or power, according to Nick Rosen, author of How to Live Off-Grid (Transworld, £12.99).

Getting Into Hot Water

Solar panels for heating water is a win-win option. They enable you to enjoy free hot water for up to five months a year, and even in winter they will take the chill off your supply. The panels contain water that is heated by the sun’s rays and transferred to your hot water cylinder. When there is a stretch of cloudy days or certain family members use up more than their fair share, you will still need a conventional system as back-up. This could be a back-boiler on a woodburning stove, for example, or an energy-efficient boiler such as the Greenstar condensing boiler by Worcester Bosch. Installation of solar panels costs from £3,000 and grants of £400 are available from the government’s Low Carbon Buildings Programme (www.lowcarbonbuildings.org.uk).

Blowin’ In The Wind

The UK is the windiest part of Europe, but there is disagreement over how effective a domestic wind turbine can be. In towns and cities it is unlikely to be cost-effective, because of buildings in the way, and the equipment could damage the roof as well as causing vibration and noise – not popular with the neighbours. But in a rural area, on a hilltop in a wide open space without trees, it is a viable proposition, especially if erected on a tall mast. Before applying for planning permission and parting with any cash, find out how windy your proposed site will be - visit www.carbontrust.co.uk/windpowerestimator. Even a small increase in wind can significantly increase output, so it is worth monitoring the site over several months. If you decide to go ahead, expect to pay £2,500-£6,000 for the turbine plus mast; again, government grants are available.

To go completely off-grid, through necessity or choice, requires a greater investment of time and money than any of the above options. But they all provide clean energy for free and that can’t be bad. For detailed information and short courses, contact the Centre for Alternative Technology (01654 705989; www.cat.org.uk).

First published in Country Living Magazine, October 2009.

Cutting Your Own Energy Bill

It's in everyone's interest to reduce our usage of expensive energy. Some of the best advice on how individuals can save energy and money can be obtained from The Energy Saving Trust. The Trust also has a programme called Green Communities that supports community based initiatives to produce a lower carbon footprint. Take a look at both sources of information:

Easy ways to stop wasting money

Green Communities

Using Solar Energy

A local resident has recently installed photovoltaic tiles on his house in Burwash, and will be writing about his experience shortly. Meanwhile further information on the use of solar power can be found on this company's website - click here

We welcome contributions from local residents on environmental issues and sustainable living - in particular we would like to hear about real case histories and personal experiences from which others can benefit.
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