Global warming and targets set by the Paris Climate Accord to reduce greenhouse emissions regularly feature in our national press. To help the move toward a carbon-neutral future, many people are now looking to build eco-friendly houses, built from recycled or natural sources, as well as switching to renewable energy sources. But how easy is it to harness renewable energy and what is being done to store energy to ensure a reliable supply, which will be necessary for everything from running our cars to electric heating within our homes?
Making the switch
There are currently two main options available to homeowners , wishing to switch to renewable energy sources –
- Remain connected to the national grid, but top up your energy supply using solar panels or a small wind turbine
- Move completely off grid, by installing your own hybrid system, this will require:
- solar panels
- a wind turbine
- a battery bank and inverter
- a back-up generator
Living off grid may reduce monthly outgoings, however it will never be as reliable as drawing on supply from a national grid. Additionally, remaining grid-tied has the potential to not only reduce monthly bills but to also bring in an income, if the system is producing more energy than is being consumed.
Hybrid renewable sources
Given the drive to reduce carbon emissions and adopt clean energy, Governments and energy companies around the world are investing heavily in renewable energy and how this can be effectively harnessed and distributed nationally. The very nature of renewable sources such as solar and wind power has made their uptake a challenge. In the UK, while wind in coastal areas can be a given – hence the rise in the number of off-shore wind farms – reliance on photovoltaic power isn’t always as reliable, especially during the winter months. Given these constraints, energy companies are looking to combine renewable energy, known as hybrid energy, drawing on energy from multiple sources at optimal times of production. This is proving hugely successful and in June of this year renewable sources generated more electricity than coal and gas in Great Britain for the first time ever, heralding a future where all homeowners can rely on renewable energy to power their homes, from the national grid.
Effective storage and distribution
Harnessing hybrid energy is, however, only one piece of the puzzle – storing excess energy for non-charging periods is also a challenge, as well as effectively distributing it to large cities. At present, batteries such as the Tesla Powerwall 2 are not only expensive for homeowners – costing £6,000 just for the battery alone – but power can only be provided for a few hours, meaning multiple batteries would be required for each individual property. Tesla is currently upscaling the potential for battery storage, developing the world’s largest lithium battery for the South Australia Government, which will be capable of supplying power to 30,000 homes. Governments are also investing in smart-grid, connected technology designed to intuitively draw on energy at peak times, not only controlling production but also distributing and managing loads to times of peak use.
Relying on grid technology to harness energy from renewable sources will undoubtedly have a significant impact on us all. As the cost of electricity is driven down, we’ll see far fewer houses built with traditional gas boilers. This will influence the design, infrastructure and location of new clean energy homes, minimising our impact on the environment and allowing us all to contribute to a sustainable future.