A brief introduction to microgeneration, what it is and what it can do for you and the planet


An overview of different electricity and heat producing microgeneration technologies with links to further details on each


Before you look for ways to produce your own energy, it makes sense to minimise your energy needs.  An outline of some energy efficiency measures you can take.

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Solar Thermal systems produce hot water mainly used for showers, washing etc., but sometimes additionally for space heating and swimming pools.  Solar radiation falling on the (usually roof-mounted) panels typically meets 50% of a household’s domestic hot water needs.  There are three main types:

Flat plate (cheapest, but lower efficiency)

Evacuated tube (higher efficiency)

Heat pipe (highest efficiency, flexible installation)



Provides hot water with virtually no energy input
Very expensive and long paybacks (40 years +)
Not cost effective at current energy prices; an insurance policy against future price rises
In the UK, the majority of solar thermal systems are used to preheat DHW (Domestic Hot Water).  During the summer the water can be heated to very high temperatures and little or no additional heat input is required.  However, in winter, the relatively low levels of solar energy mean that additional heat input is required from the primary heating system such as gas central heating boiler or electric immersion heater.  By installing larger areas of solar panels, it is possible to produce enough heat to contribute to the space heating demands as well in new homes.  Solar thermal panels, normally cheaper, un-insulated types, are also used to heat swimming pools during the summer.

In all cases, it is essential to provide frost protection during the winter and overheat protection to prevent boiling during the summer.  The potential for damage to the home, the occupants and the products themselves resulting from the very high temperatures sometimes experienced by these systems illustrate why it is essential to use only qualified designers, installers and quality products.

As a significant proportion of the total cost is attributable to the installation, (labour, new hot water cylinder, controls etc.), it is not usually cost effective to install solar thermal in existing homes at current energy prices; this may change as systems become cheaper, installations more competitive and energy prices rise.  The payback is obviously quicker for homes where the primary fuel is expensive, as in the case of electric, LPG or oil heating.

An ever increasing proportion of the heat in homes is being consumed by DHW; this is particularly true for newer homes where the insulation standards are better and thus less heat is required for space heating.  This, combined with the relatively lower marginal capital cost for new-build, implies a favourable market in this sector, particularly if novel, integrated systems are considered.  Solar thermal technology may also be considered economically viable where the alternative means of compliance with regulations (e.g. Code for Sustainable Homes, Merton Rule) is prohibitive, and where it would therefore not be possible to otherwise develop a new-build housing scheme.


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© Jeremy Harrison 2008  Last update 20th November 2008