The spectre of fossil fuels running out is one that we have all lived with for many years.  And as the problem becomes increasingly imminent, renewable energy is a hot topic.  There are a number of renewable energy sources that businesses can look at to supply their energy needs and there is an increasing number of small-scale generation projects that businesses can use to become more self-sufficient.

Renewable energy sources

According to the Renewable Energy Policy Network, the current breakdown of renewable energy shows that 16% of global energy consumption already comes from renewable sources.  This includes around one-tenth from biomass and 3% from hydroelectricity.  The same amount comes from the more well-known sources such as wind, solar and geothermal as well as biofuels.

Wind energy

In the UK, wind energy s both the most financially viable and commonly used.  Free to generate, we have plenty of windy locations that are ideal for wind farms.  It is common to see wind farms used to general electricity for the National Grid but also small-scale wind turbines that power a single business or home.  There is still some controversy about the impact on the landscape which is why offshore wind farms are growing in popularity.

For businesses considering using wind energy, there is planning permission required to install a turbine and there is also the need for an Environmental Impact Assessment.  Once these are complete and accepted, winds as low as 4 metres per second can general electricity.  This makes wind power one of the most financially viable ways to create your own energy.  Return on investment for these projects is typically 4-8 years.

Solar energy

Solar energy is collected through photovoltaic (PV) panels, cladding, roof tiles and custom glazing, meaning there are lots of ways to generate this power.  You can also get hot water systems that transform the sun’s energy into heat exchangers to heat water up to 65 degrees. 

Solar panels are low maintenance, don’t need planning permission and can be a good first step towards renewable energy.  There is a cost involved initially and the cloudy weather in the UK can mean generating power isn’t always consistent.  But you can create both electricity and heat from the system.

Biomass energy

Biomass energy is a term used for the burning or fermenting of a range of organic materials to create energy including wood, straw and even crops.  Currently, this accounts for 85% of the UK’s renewable energy although some parts of the country have introduced smoke control regulations which these generation systems fall under.

Biomass systems can be used to create both heat and electricity and the return on investment is 5-12 years, less if free waste wood can be sourced.  The Clean Air Act is a factor when choosing this system so ensuring compliance is important.

Other options

These are the main ways to generate energy through renewable sources but not the only ones.  Other examples include geothermal energy and ground source heat pumps, hydroelectric power and even anaerobic digestion of biomass.  This means there are lots of ways for businesses to start generating their own power and remove themselves from the cycle of fossil fuel reliance.