Nick Rosen | |

Alex Benady guides you through the maze of UK government payments to reduce your dependence on the grid.

Blair breaks eco-promise
Blair poses on solar roof , cancels policy

After promises from the Prime Minister to take climate change seriously, the UK government has ended its solar panel subsidy programme seven years early. The pot of 31m lasting until 2012 was intended to offer cheap electricity and green electricity with grants of up to 50% for building solar panels.

The decision to end the grant was intepreted by many as anti-environmental backsliding. No such thing claims the Department of Trade and Industry which administered the programme. There are still plenty of cheap loans and grants for saving energy in your home. It was a spot of much needed house-keeping designed to tidy up the higgeldy-piggledy system of grants and subsidies and that has sprung up around the areas of energy conservation and alternative energy.

The problem, as the government admits, is that dozens of eco-grants lie in a rats nest of different funds and subsidies, administered by a bewildering array of bodies and authorities, often running the same schemes under different names. One measure of just how tangled the web of grants in this area has become is that a householder looking to reduce carbon emissions in the UK could be eligible for as many as fifty different grants.

Yes that particular grant has been abolished. But the money will still be available under new more holistic schemes which don’t approach different alternative energy sources as mutually exclusive rivals, said a DTI spokesman.

The new integrated scheme will be introduced during 2006. However there are currently hundreds of millions of pounds in grants waiting to be claimed by those interested in reducing their carbon emissions.

The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) funds the Energy Savings Trust which has a simple to use grantaliser on its web site. Find out what grants are available in your area . Just type in your post code and it lists the many many grants that are available in your area, complete with names of funding bodies and contact numbers. It also runs a nationwide network of Energy Efficiency Centres which give free advice on what schemes are available locally and which you may be eligible for. They can be contacted on a central number 0800 512 012.

The UK energy-savings grantscape may seem confusing, but in reality there are only three main sources of funding says David Schewan of Creative Environmental Network. Firstly, central government provides free measures to those who need them most, through their Warm Front Scheme. Secondly, all householders can get discounts of typically 50% from any of the big energy companies, who are now committed by law to help householders save energy. Finally, there are grants from your local council though these are a bit of a postcode lottery as they vary very widely in size and eligibility criteria.

Government medium-term strategy in most countries is not to get people off-grid but to reduce their reliance on the grid. That is why the bulk of grants and subsidies are concentrated on low-glamour, ideologically uncharged measures such as roof and cavity wall insultation.

Gas and electricity companies offer subsidies of up to 200 or half the cost of roof and cavity wall insulation, both of which will pay for themsleves within three or so years. They also offer energy saving devices such as low energy lightbulbs which can cost 5 or more, but which last twelve time s longer than ordinary lightbulbs, can provide savings of up to 65 in their life time and pay for themselves in a matter of months.

Most local authorities also offer subsidies of up to 30% or several hundred pounds on new central heating boilers. From April this year all new boilers in the UK will have to be of the condensing type.
These are energy efficiency and saving measures. The government claims that in the longer term it is interested in a strategic shift in the way energy is generated. Energy minister Mike O Brien is on record as saying, “In future, energy generation will often be small-scale and local. We need to change the way we think about energy. That starts at grass roots level – in our homes and communities.
That is why, perhaps surprisingly there are far larger amounts of money available to those who really do want to go off grid and install their own domestic energy supplies. The grants are administered through the Department of Trade and Industry’s 10m Clear Skies , scheme, largely because their prime intent is not environmental but commercial -to help develop emerging industries.
The government also looks favourably on installation of domestic wind turbines. Although they tend to be costly -2,500 – 5,000 per kW installed, the government is offering 1000 per kW installed up to a maximum of 5000.
And while most of us are unlikely to have a river, even a small one running through our back garden, there are similar amounts available for the installation of hydro turbines.

Ground source heat pumps work by drawing the heat that lies a few metres below the surface of the ground, concentrating it and delivering it to the building. Although pumps use electricity for their operation, they use far less than would be used to heat the building. 1200 is available in grants, regardless of size.The typical cost of a domestic system is 5,000.

Wood burning systems, unlike other renewables, do emit carbon dioxide. However, they can claim to be carbon neutral because as the wood fuel is cultivated, it absorbs the exact same amount of carbon dioxide as is released when burnt. Eligible systems (not including Agas) cost around 2600 and attract a grant of 600, again irrespective of size.

The scheme is even more generous to wood fuelled boiler sytems that form the main heating sytem of a house. A typical set up costs 4,500 for a 15 kWth system burning logs or pellets. (A system burning wood chips might be twice this figure.) the government will contribute 1500 to the costs, again regardless of size.

Grants may come and grants may go. What is clear however is that there are likely to be substantial funds available for those interested in reducing their emissions and or reliance on the grid. You’ll just need a little determination to get hold of them.

Buy our book - OFF THE GRID - a tour of American off-grid places and people written by Nick Rosen, editor of the off-grid.net web site

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