Archive for November, 2011

The panels are now installed on our roof, just as the gloom of winter has set in and sunshine seems a distant prospect. It wasn’t a straightforward process. One of the dimensions of the roof hadn’t been taken correctly, which means that the planned arrangement of panels didn’t fit.

This meant a rapid re-arrangement of the instalment plans. Instead of 17 230W Innotech panels, we have 13 230W Siliken panels that are smaller but generate more per area. So the panels we have are 3.25kw instead of 3.91kw. The price has been reduced by the installer accordingly, leaving me with the same rate of return – they agreed to this as it was their error in specifying the system initially. In fact, the price I’ve paid is nearly the same as the quote another company gave me for a 2.25kw system, so it’s possible I’ve got a bargain.

Whether that is actually the case will depend on the quality of panels over their lifetime. An industry magazine, PHOTON, undertake annual independent tests in Germany of 16 manufacturers’ panels under controlled conditions. In 2010, Siliken panels produced the highest power output (as a ratio of installed power), coming top of the test. I hope their longevity is equally top-class.

I had wanted to use the Innotech panels because of their production through re-using components (see FITS III). I’ve lost out on this due to the need to adjust the fit of the system to the actual measurements of the roof. But overall, I’m happy that a PV system has been installed successfully and on time. Now I have to register for the FITS payments before December 12th.

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– experiences of fitting household solar energy – Getting FITS X is part of a series of blog posts by Limu on the attempt to install solar power at home with the help of the UK Feed in Tariff.

It’s happening now. Scaffolding has gone up and the chimney has been lowered. A few of the bricks from the chimney are now propping up a new playhouse in the garden (thanks to my brother in law for his help putting that up). Awaiting installation of the panels next week. I’m on course to beat the cut in subsidy, which has brought plenty of reaction from the sector.

I’m not entirely immune to the policy change. Approval for connecting my system is needed from the electricity company for it to operate at full capacity. This hasn’t been received yet, so the system installed will be adjusted slightly with the use of a different inverter that reduces the maximum generated output slightly – by around 5%. The system will operate at 95% capacity or more rarely (only under ideal conditions of sunlight and temperature). So the total electricity generated will reduce by much less than this, and the payback of the system will only change fractionally.

This issue reveals the core of the objection to the sudden change in FITS – that it is implemented on a timescale that is shorter that those over which relevant work is undertaken. This is why industry feels Government is riding over it roughshod, with few concerns for the consequences.

Installation next week!

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Last week saw daily outbursts of indignation at the proposals by Westminster council to extend parking charges and restrictions into the night in Central London. I’m amazed that because people are famous as actors or for running strip clubs they think their opinions on transport planning should carry more weight.

The ‘outrage’ at those facing a challenge to their cosy cars reminds me of similar opinions expressed before the congestions charge was introduced by Ken Livingstone. It was predicted to decimate the retail economy in various ways. Although the congestions charge may have changed shopping patterns, these gloomy predictions of its effects haven’t materialised, but air quality in central London has improved.

Air pollution remains a problem, costing us in terms of health treatment and quality of life (see, for example this page from Client Earth on the health impacts of air pollution or, for quantitative figures, this table from Defra on the damage costs per tonne of pollutant). So those opposing the current proposals should remember how the majority of pedestrians will benefit from restrictions on the minority who drive.

There is one argument currently put forward against the parking restrictions which I sympathise with. Many travelling late at night, particularly women, don’t feel safe on London’s streets. Those able to drive can protect themselves somewhat from this, others can’t. Again we can learn from Ken’s congestion charge: its political acceptability was helped by the reinvestment of revenues in public transport. Part of the revenues from the proposed parking restrictions should be spent increasing police (or community officer) presence on the streets. This would help the whole of London, including the polluters displaced from their cars.

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– experiences of fitting household solar energy – Getting FITS IX is part of a series of blog posts by Limu on the attempt to install solar power at home with the help of the UK Feed in Tariff.

A date has been set to install our solar PV panels! The scaffolding will go up next week, and after lowering a chimney to remove its shading (see FITS II), the panels will go on the following week.

All these arrangements are just in time, as the Government has announced earlier this month that the subsidy for solar PV installation will be slashed in half on 12th December (Link) . Although not an unexpected change, the timing of this policy development is a shock. The subsidies available are now generous (partly because solar panel costs have fallen), and so a cut in the subsidy rate was widely expected. The timing of this was expected to be at the end of the financial year – in the Spring 2012 budget.

The policy change has been brought forward to save money, pushed through on a ‘fast-track’ process, which allows Government to by-pass the usual rules of public consultation. This may seem fair enough if the subsidy is not cost-effective spending, but the short notice given brings problems. Firstly, it undermines a new industry in solar PV installation, which has been generating employment. A period of months rather than weeks would allow the businesses involved in the industry more time to adjust to the changes.

Secondly, and more importantly, such rapid changes to a market-driving subsidy undermines confidence in the Government’s green agenda. Efficient policy solutions to many environmental problems involve correcting externalities by establishing markets for them. These markets (like the EU’s carbon emissions trading scheme) are heavily dependent on the quality of the Government policies on which they are based. If Government is inclined to make surprise short-term changes to those policies, then this can only undermine confidence in all environmental markets.

Therefore, the rapid alteration to FITS policy is not just damaging to the solar PV market, but undermines and contradicts the intention in the Natural Environment White Paper to encourage environmental markets.

Finally, the short-notice of the change may leave some households stranded in the middle of the process to install panels. My process should be complete well-before 12th December. Others earlier in the process may face an awkward choice, and may question whether a company they employ will still exist under the new subsidy regime. Reassuringly my system comes with a 10 year CPA (consumer protection association) backed insurance.

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Last Thursday I attended a recording of the new (as yet unaired) BBC Radio 4 show ‘Dilemma’, hosted by Sue Perkins. The format of the show involved Sue posing hypothetical moral dilemmas to her four panellists who generally went off on tangents about their own-life experiences or thoughts on the dilemmas, but eventually had to make a decision on what they would do. Interestingly, on the night I attended it seemed like the show decided to focus a bit on environmental morals. One dilemma focused on a climate change tax on airfare and the entire last section of the show featured a NIMBY-ist “choose your own adventure” type series of dilemmas that had each panellist deciding on a dilemma that arose due to the previous panellist’s choices.

As someone who frequently feels like banging my head on the desk every time I read a tabloid (wrongly) screaming that environmental policies price the poor out of heating or eating or travelling, I was aghast to hear Perkins pose the carbon tax dilemma to her panellists as something along the lines of “If you could add the entire cost of the effect of airline carbon to the cost of airfares and save us all from climate change, would you do it if it meant that it would only make flying available for the very rich?”

I was also rather perturbed to hear one of the panellists (I assume he was moderately famous to be a panellist but I didn’t know who he was and can’t remember his name) when posed with a dilemma of placing a recycling plant within his neighbourhood reply with, amongst other comments something along the lines of “China and India would produce more waste in a day than we could ever hope to recycle in our lifetime”. Even IF this was true, this is a ridiculous argument for justifying a ‘do nothing’ reaction from developed countries – we should be attempting to recycle our own waste which saves energy and resources. Whether we should do this or not is not affected by what other countries do.  If his argument had instead been that the recycling plant should have been moved to India or China, this would have been perfectly valid argument; the money that would have been spent on a plant here could perhaps build a larger plant there, therefore increasing recycling.  But of course that wasn’t the argument he was making – he was simply trotting out the same kind of populist (I imagine the panellist thought he was ‘cool’ by having views contrary to logic, just like teen smokers) blather you read on comments to news articles which reinforces the views of others who have the vague notion in their mind – a “blind leading the blind” situation. Imagine how much more influential it would sound coming out of the reputable BBC!

I therefore had my own dilemmoo for the night: Do I sigh, accept that that’s the way people are going to think and that the Beeb have the freedom to broadcast whatever they want? Or do I stand up in the middle of the show and shout “You’re wrong!” and continue to have a discussion with the writers and panellists during the show?

Well, I did neither of those. Rather, in the hopes that I would be able to influence the editing of the show and change future content, I dropped the following into the ‘other comments’ part of the feedback form sent out by the Beeb following the show:

… I thought one of the dilemmas posed in this show did not reflect facts. This is dangerous going out on a public service because it would fan misinformation further and make people more likely to think that tackling environmental issues is too expensive/highly inequitable or not for them. 

In other words, YOU could be responsible for dangerous climate change.  The dilemma I’m referring to is the one that refers to raising flying costs to include the carbon cost.

Internalising the full cost of flying into the airfare would NOT make flying only affordable to the rich. An average fare increase of 25 euros (http://www.eraa.org/issues/environment/164-internalisation-of-external-costs) is not really breaking the bank. It may result in LESS vacations for poorer people, but not none whatsoever given a baseline that they would normally go on a vacation involving air travel.

(It would also, as one of the panelists pointed out, shift people onto alternative forms of transport such as trains or ferries for instance to Europe or other parts of the UK.)

So I guess in addition to the dilemma posed being just wrong, the panelists just weren’t knowledgeable enough about the area to make a good argument. This includes one of the panelist’s inane comment that China and India cause more problems in a day than we could ever hope to fix in a lifetime. So maybe you should just steer clear of policy-type dilemmas. Or just get smart panelists.

Sorry about the rant, and I know this is meant to be good light-hearted entertainment, but I think it is important that when it comes to climate change, misinformation isn’t spread (as it is dangerous to implementing good policy to mitigate climate change), especially through an organisation with such a high reputation such as your good selves. 

To be fair to the show and the other participants, I enjoyed it apart from those two points, and Sue Perkins and the lovely Scottish woman who had a thing for Gillian Anderson also seemed quite disturbed by the NIMBY/populist reactions of the other participants.

Now in the format of the show, it’s over to you readers. Do you agree/disagree with what I did? What would you have done?

Related past moos:

In “Are you low-carbon today?” Daisy talks about recycling in Beijing

In “Booing domestic flight bans” I wrote about taxing airfares rather than banning domestic flights

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