Posts Tagged ‘electricity’

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 VIII 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.

I have now chosen a company to install solar panels! Once I was happy with their credentials – Micro-generation Certification Schemes (MSC) accredited, they have an office address (virtual companies have a higher risk of being cowboys) – the decision came down to the panels they sourced, which being re-conditioned, are both more environmentally friendly and cheaper (see FITS VI).

I had thought earlier about installing both solar PV and solar thermal (water heating). None of the companies seemed to be particularly clued-up about doing this, saying that they had other contractors they work with, but not presenting a particularly integrated service.

This is understandable in some ways, as the products (electricians for PV, plumbing for thermal) are different, and the additional cost of doing both means a lower profitability. However, a large part of the costs of installing each of them is scaffolding/roofing work and installing both could be a good way of managing energy price risks. With systems designed to last 25 years and hopefully longer, the financial attraction is not just the lower energy costs now, but the protection against much higher grid-electricity and gas costs in future.

Installing both solar thermal and PV would give some protection against each of these, and so while giving lower returns, gives greater protection against future risks. Whether the risk-reduction justifies the lower returns is down to the risk-aversion of the individual, but it was something I would have looked into further if a more integrated service had been on offer.

Of course, future energy prices are unpredictable, and most discussion recently is of how far and fast they can rise. However, recent discoveries have suggested UK Shale Gas is set to upset the status quo in the gas market. The UK is said to have discovered vast reserves in Lancashire [1]. Shale Gas will have environmental consequences, so these should be factored into its exploitation through appropriate taxation. Some might argue that cheap energy is what the UK economy needs to kick-start it right now. Its true that the economy needs a boost, but an unsustainable one isn’t in our best interests.

Extracting new fossil fuel supplies as cheaply as possible will encourage less-efficient exploitation of them, meaning that the UK economy doesn’t gain the greatest value from them. For example, if gas prices are suppressed then including solar-thermal in the design of new buildings will become less attractive. However, we should expect these buildings to last a century, over which time gas is unlikely to remain abundant, necessitating expensive retro-fitting. I’m assessing investments in my house over a shorter timescale (the 20 or so years I expect to live there), so new gas supplies that stop prices rising too fast over the coming decades would be good news for me, and mean the decision not to install solar thermal isn’t one I regret.

[1] BBC News – Shale gas firm finds ‘vast’ gas resources in Lancashire

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In investigating FITS I’ve discussed the certification of solar PV installers, and received some useful advice from NAP. Operational since 1992, the NAPIT Group of companies holds and maintains Government approved registers of competent contractors within the electrical, ventilation, plumbing and heating industries inEnglandandWales, so they obviously have a role to play in the standards and skills needed to make theUKa greener place…

Guest moo from NAPIT. 21/10/2011

The forthcoming Governmental Green Deal intends to steer the UK towards a more sustainable energy-driven future and whilst pre-Green Deal research is something of an expected development in the ongoing ‘green’ battle of Britain, some results prove to be nothing short of extraordinary.

The concept for Green Deal is that householders could have an energy-efficiency improvement provided by a Green Deal Provider without directly paying for it. The Green Deal Provider would be paid by a surcharge added to the householders electricity bill, provided that the surcharge was at least offset by the savings made by the improvement (in other words, the overall household utility bill should be no more than before the improvement was made). Proposed measures include replacing heating equipment or controls, using renewable energy, and improving insulation levels.

*Recent research has revealed that when it comes to insulating their homes, UK householders are less attracted toward annual savings of around £400 as they might be to lifestyle-enhancing ‘sweeteners’ such as bus passes or fruitful  incentives towards their 5-a-day.  Whilst that may seem shocking, the actual percentages are even more eye-opening…

  • 10% “can’t be bothered” to install cavity wall and loft insulation
  • 17% couldn’t afford to further insulate their home.
  • 15% are unsure about cavity wall and loft insulation
  • 9% have too much clutter in their loft
  • 3% don’t have a ladder

An array of incentive schemes are now being introduced across the country, and given the above results, it’s difficult to say which incentives will attract most; savings or suggested sweeteners such as these…

  • Government Green Deal– offset initial insulation costs via energy bill increments from the government’s flagship energy-saving plan to transform the country’s building stock and to improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions.
  • DECC/B&Q/Sutton Council– the loft clearing service is subsidised and aims to determine how detrimental the ‘hassle’ element is to the uptake of renewable energy technologies such as solar paneling.
  • Homebase/Carillion/Local Authorities- the popularity of incentives such as council tax holidays and in-store vouchers will be gauged to assess the appeal of Green Deal and to identify how its future can be furthered.

NAPIT Director of Inspection Services Richard Gould commented on the research…

In order to successfully progress into a greener country, it’s important to understand the everyday needs of the average householder, as it is to identify potential incentives which appeal to them.  Whilst initially startling, these recent findings might make perfect sense for householders who appreciate the value of green power but shy away from schemes the deem to be involved, awkward or demanding”

NAPIT have been selected onto the Green Deal pilot scheme to act as a Certification Body with the role of ensuring that advisors and installers are competent to carry out safe, effective and compliant work under the Scheme. With over 8000 companies already approved by NAPIT, it will be inviting existing and future members alike to help deliver this key government initiative.

*research individually conducted by EON and The National Resilient Homes Project

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– experiences of fitting household solar energy – Getting FITS VII 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.

I checked the suppliers I am talking to are MCS accredited. They are.

I also did a bit more background research to the calculations in FITS VI. This confirmed that a solar irradiation level of 1150 is right for Bristol. However, the data published by Europeto work out values seems to be targeted at experts in the sector rather than the layman: http://re.jrc.ec.europa.eu/pvgis/apps4/pvest.php# . Some more user-friendly explanations of the technical terms and data would be appreciated.

A further source of potential advice I checked out was this Energy Saving Trust tool for assessing suitable alternative energy technologies for your home: http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/renewableselector/start/ . It starts by asking some sensible suggestions that help you think about the potential of your home. However, the figures produced show how little return most renewable energy technologies generate (without an incentive like FITS).

Investing £1,000’s for £10’s of annual returns could well be off-putting, to the extent that I wonder what this tool is going to achieve. I would think that a more important line of argument is that the costs of installing many of these technologies will be lower when done as part of the building/re-building/re-furbishment process. Talking of building work, we have a small flat roof on a corner extension that the builders fitting the solar panels will be able to see… we are dreading what they will find and the potential expense of putting it right!

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– experiences of fitting household solar energy – Getting FITS V 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.

I’ve had three quotes for solar panels now. For a 4Kw system the prices are £12-14k. They all give a calculation of the payback I should receive, but looking at these in detail, the numbers are puzzling. I ended up emailing one provider for more details, and they helpfully sent me their calculation.

Two providers both claim to use the Government’s standard assessment procedure (SAP) for energy rating of buildings. Confusingly, one quote said a 4Kw system would give 400Kwh less energy than another for a 3.91Kw system! This is quite a substantial difference (10% of output) so would affect annual payments and financial payback time.

It turns out the differences are complex. The 4Kw system calculation is based on the averageUKannual solar radiation (which is based onSheffield!). It also makes adjustment for the pitch and orientation of the roof (i.e. that its not at the optimal angle to receive solar rays).

The other quote used a figure for solar radiation inBristol, which is more accurate, but doesn’t adjust for pitch and orientation, which is less accurate. So its predicted yield is around 10% higher. To compare the quotes on an equal footing, I’ll transfer the more conservative assumptions into the 3.91Kw system quote…

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– experiences of fitting household solar energy – Getting FITS III 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.

Despite the UK’s historically low interest rates it doesn’t seem that my mortgage lender is keen to lend out money to existing customers – quoting me exorbitant rates (over 6%). This is the problem that has been highlighted in the media about the availability of bank lending holding back investment. I want to employ local tradesman for a week’s work, and have a good credit rating, but without the lending the economic activity will remain a hope. George Osborne take note.

Given the financial payback from Government for FITS, an interest-only mortgage would seem like a good option. This requires confidence that we’ll have more money in the future, a big assumption requiring good reasons. The main ones for us are that the state is starting to pay for educating and therefore caring for our children. That means we won’t have to, and that having moved house, my wife isn’t in work, but has excellent skills so will be sooner or later.

There are other financial models that would work in this situation. A company could lend me the money in return for receiving the FITS subsidy payments until they had recouped their capital and some interest on it. Another option would be for me to rent the roof space to a third party. Either case would require a contract where I was responsible for keeping the energy generation going, and therefore the FITS payments flowing. But that could just involve allowing access to a maintenance company, so should be possible.

The UK’s ‘strength in financial services’ is much lauded in the press. I often wonder if it isn’t part self-justification for bankers earning super-normal profits. In this case it isn’t providing the solutions to broker a deal that should be profitable on all sides – an example of opportunities in the green economy not being taken.

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– experiences of fitting household solar energy – Getting FITS III 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.

I need to choose between solar PV (Photovoltaic that generate electricity) and solar thermal (that heat water pumped through tubes) or both. I’d like to do both, it would seem to spread the payback and risk. Thermal because our hot water comes straight from a gas boiler, and I think the risk of future gas price rises is greater than for electricity prices (because in the long term electricity has more substitutes). However, thermal won’t fill the roof space, so PV will increase the financial payback.

The payback on thermal may improve significantly. Apparently government is considering a similar subsidy scheme for thermal as the current FITS for PV. And they’ve said it will be back-dated to cover systems installed now (otherwise investment might stall while people await the policy change).

I’ve had 3 visits from assessors. I’m getting very good at helping them measure the house, and have taken a closer look at the loft. Quite a difference in prices between the first two quotes (one is 25% more, partly because they don’t view certain bits of kit as reliable). They each try to emphasise the quality of the panels they would install – makes me suspect that there is some variation in the quality of panels available –  a reflection of global manufacturing variations I guess.

One quote is from an ‘ethical’ firm – interesting to see such product differentiation in this market. These claimed credentials are based on their use of solar PV panels either manufactured using hydro-electricity in Scandinavia, or re-furbished (using rejects from the initial manufacturing process). They also run their vans on bio-ethanol apparently. In part IV, I’ll have to decide how to borrow the money and choose between quotes.

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– experiences of fitting household solar energy – Getting FITS II 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.

We have a good sized area of south-facing roof, largely shade free (which is important obviously) except for a chimney from one of the old fire-places. This chimney is symbolic, it represents the old technologies – burning solid fuels – that we can now replace, so I’m inclined to get the top meter of chimney pot taken down for that reason alone. Shouldn’t be too difficult for the roofers once they are up there.

Roofers are the key people. While there are plenty of new companies offering to organise solar energy installations for homeowners (and the ones I’ve contacted seem professional and genuine) its apparently the roofers that do the important work. Getting up on the scaffolding and fixing the things to your roof. The scaffolding represents a big part of the cost, plus the panels and labour. The services of the energy companies seem more of a sales front-end, plus installing some clever bits of electrical kit downstairs.

I’ve been in touch with a few solar energy companies to get quotes. They recommend some different approaches – some suggest I can get 2.5kw of PV panels on the roof, others 4kw. I’m going to look into both solar thermal and solar PV. Part III will update with my experiences of getting quotes for this work.

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– experiences of fitting household solar energy – Getting FITS I is the first 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.

I’m sure all the possible puns about FITS (the Government’s Feed In Tariff Scheme, that pays homes over 25 years that install solar Photovoltaic (PV) panels) have been used up already. I have moved into a new home, and want to use solar energy, both for the long term financial gain and because it’s the right thing for the planet.

Everyone knows it’s a good deal. Apparently a 2.5kw system should actually generate 2kw, which will get me £900/yr is payments from government (which will go up with inflation over 25 years) and save me electricity costs of £100/yr or more – especially if we get clever to running appliances like washing machines during the day.  Whats more it seems to me like a one-way bet. Energy prices are only going to go up over the next few decades, and the more they go up, the more we’ll save.

But there are lots of energy efficiency measures that homeowners would do if they were the rational agents that economists hope they are. And these things don’t get done, for all sorts of reasons, not least the need for up-front spending for paybacks that are longer-term and poorly understood. We may need to borrow more on the mortgage to meet the cost, so I’ll have to calculate the profitability of the deal taking into account interest rate risks. Part II will think about what our new home is suitable for.

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