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Combined heat and power systems (CHP) can dramatically increase the efficient use of energy. As the name suggests, they use the same fuel source both to generate electricity and provide usable heat, whether from fossil fuels, such as natural gas, or renewable energy sources, such as wood chips.

Conventional coal- and gas-fired power stations, which discard heat, achieve only 38% and 48% efficiency respectively; with CHP systems, which capture heat and then make use of it, this figure can rise to 70%. They can work the other way around too, generating electricity from systems designed for heating.

CHP systems operate on different scales, depending on the size of the job. Denmark, Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands use large municipal-scale systems. For example, some 275,000 homes in Copenhagen are served by a vast CHP network. Others work at a smaller neighbourhood level or for small groups of homes.

There are now micro designs on the market, for use in a single home. The first one that is comparable in size to a conventional boiler goes on sale this month through British Gas. Called the Baxi Ecogen and designed for use in average-sized houses, it provides 24kW of thermal output for space heating and hot water, generating electricity as a by-product.

It will be capable of producing 1,800 to 2,400 Kwh of electricity a year, more than half the total demand of a typical gas-heated home. British Gas will not give a fixed price for the Ecogen: it varies according to installation requirements, but free estimates are available. It has been reported that the units cost up to £5,000, about twice as much as regular boilers.

Yet not only will CHP cut your electricity bills, it could qualify you for payments under the government’s new Clean Energy Cashback scheme. In the end, Baxi estimates that users could save between £250 and £600 a year, offsetting the extra cost of the device within five or six years. After that, you will be saving money.

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