Renewable Energy

This article explains everything you need to know about renewable heating and electricity. You’ll learn about their role in reducing carbon emissions, the incentives for choosing renewables, and the types of available technologies. We’ll also leave you with ideas about how you can get involved without adding solar panels or heat pumps to your home.

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The Problem

Fossil fuels

Fossil fuels, such as gas, oil and coal, currently account for 81% of global energy use. This number is predicted to continue to rise. The burning of fossil fuels emits harmful gases, leading to an increase in global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, which contributes to climate change and the rise in global temperatures.


Renewable energy technologies have played an important role in reducing CO2 emissions and avoiding depletion of finite resources, as they are extracted from inexhaustible resources such as wind, flowing water, sun, and heat from the earth. People recognise the need for environmentally ethical practices in the fight against climate change. This has, however, contributed to ‘greenwashing’ – when companies market themselves or their products as environmentally conscious when, in fact, they are not. Beware of catch-phrases or vague claims to sustainability, especially those that lack third party verification, when supporting renewable energy suppliers or installing low-carbon energy systems.

The Solution

Here are several good reasons to choose renewables:

  • Make use of secure, local resources
  • Reduce your dependence on non-renewable energy
  • Help keep the air clean
  • Help reduce the production of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases
  • Create new jobs in renewable energy industries
  • Save and even earn money

No matter your housing tenure, you can be part of the solution in adopting renewables. Although many incentives are targeted at homeowners, tenants have a number of options to make greener energy choices, too.

Renewable Energy Technologies

Renewable energy can be classed into either electricity-generating technologies or heat-generating technologies.

Electricity generating technologiesHeat generating technologies
Solar photovoltaic panels (solar PV)Air source heat pumps
Wind turbinesGround source heat pumps
 Biomass heating
 Solar thermal

Consumer Incentives

Depending on your chosen renewable energy product and installer, you may benefit from financial incentives provided through government schemes. The Smart Export Guarantee supports households who sell renewable electricity to the grid, while the Renewable Heat Incentive and Green Homes Grant benefit households who choose to install renewable heating in their homes.

Smart Export Guarantee (SEG)

The Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) is a government scheme that makes it mandatory for medium to large electricity suppliers (companies with +150,000 electricity customers) to offer tariffs that provide payments for electricity exported to the grid from their customers. Smaller companies can sign up on a voluntary basis. Small-scale generators of renewable electricity (generating up to 5MW, such as a typical domestic household) are eligible for these tariffs. Householders also need to provide proof that the renewable electricity system installation is Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) certified, or equivalent.

Electricity suppliers generally offer fixed price tariffs and the exported electricity is tracked by a smart meter in the home. Solar Energy UK produced a league table of available SEG tariffs, where you can find rates and other information about these deals. Tariffs offered by electricity suppliers may vary depending on how valuable the export is to the electricity system at certain times. For instance, customers may receive higher payments for electricity exported into the National Grid during times when typically more electricity is being used (‘peak times’).

Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI)

The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) aims to encourage householders to invest in renewable heating systems, thereby reducing the use of fossil fuels. The scheme provides quarterly payments to eligible households over a period of seven years to mitigate the initial cost of installation, as well as encourage the uptake of renewable heat. The amounts paid vary depending on the type of renewable heating technology installed, the size of the system, and the amount of heat generated in kilowatts per hour (kWh). RHI replaced the previous Renewable Heat Premium Payment (RHPP) scheme.

Prior to applying, check that the system to be installed qualifies (not all types of renewable heat technologies qualify) and that the product and installer are MCS accredited. To be considered, your property must also have an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC). For some systems, you may need to install new metering.

Green Homes Grant

Please note: The Green Homes Grant voucher scheme has closed to new applications as of 5pm on 31 March 2021. The Green Homes Grant supports households with the upfront cost of renewable heating systems, in addition to other measures. Households can simultaneously take advantage of both the Green Homes Grant and the RHI schemes, but please note that RHI payments may be reduced in accordance with the value of the voucher issued through the Green Homes Grant.

Industry Support for Renewable Energy

Many energy suppliers across the UK now offer renewable energy tariffs, which have recently risen in popularity with customers. In signing up to such a tariff, a portion of your energy (typically electricity) is delivered by renewable sources. Because of the way the National Grid works, unless you produce your own renewable heat and electricity and use it, the supply to your home will inevitably have some energy delivered by fossil fuel sources.

Still, energy suppliers can support renewable energy generators in several ways to increase the availability and viability of renewable energy. For example, suppliers buying from renewable generators through a Power Purchase Agreement make renewable generators more financially viable and therefore promote the expansion of renewable generators. Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origins (REGO) certificates, which are issued for every megawatt hour (MWh) of renewable power that generators export to the grid, also increase the transparency to consumers of the share of renewable energy being sold by their energy supplier.

Renewable tariffs can often be more expensive. This, however is a reflection of the support that suppliers give to generators. To get an idea of how green your energy tariff may be, Which produced a comparison table to show just that. (Please note that the article was published in 2019 and several of the suppliers listed have now ceased trading.)

What Next

Your actions can limit the CO2 emissions from energy generation. Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Conserve energy. The lower the demand on the grid for energy, the fewer resources are used to supply energy. Learn how to heat sensibly and keep the heat or stop persistent drains.
  • Compare energy tariffs. Ofgem-accredited price comparison sites can help you choose an energy supplier and tariff that is most suitable for your needs, including filtering for green tariffs.
  • Read more about the various grant schemes that can help fund low carbon heating and other energy efficiency measures.
  • Join a group-buying scheme. Buying in bulk can often save money. That’s the principle behind iChoosr Solar, which helps its customers access solar panels at affordable prices.
  • Become a member of a community energy group. If you can’t put solar PV on your roof, join a local project that builds community-owned solar farms. Hampshire County Council are working with Community Energy South to develop these local community energy groups.