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

Its Easter now and its been a very sunny March – great for solar panels. I’ve also had our first electricity bill with the panels operating. Our bill for 3 months in the autumn was £120. You’d expect this to increase for the 3 months of winter due to longer hours of darkness. However, our bill fell to £70! Saving more than £50 – the first bit of payback on our investment.

The next payback will be our first FITS payment. I’ve received confusing information on this from our electricity supplier SSE. The letter confirming we had registered for FITS said they would need the first reading from the 31st of March. However, a recent letter said it should be for the 31st May.

The company who installed our panels has given some useful advice. I need to take reading for the 31st March as the FITS payment rates go up from the 1st April with inflation. Therefore, I need to take a further reading on 31st May, and then send in both the March and May readings by 5th June. So I am now getting 45.4p per kwh generated according to this DECC document (which didn’t get checked for plain English).

On 31st March the generation meter read 572kw. To repay the loans and investment as planned we’ll need to have generated around 2670kwh by November. That might seem like a long way to go, but the next few months offer much greater generation potential due to the longer daylight hours. Certainly a few more months like March and I think we will reach that target.

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

As the days start to lengthen we can watch the meter go higher each sunny midday peak. The system now runs at about 50% capacity on bright sunny days. Longer daylight hours, the sun higher in the sky and warmer air temperature will all increase generation over the next few months. The generation meter shows we have made over £50 through FITS payments so far.

The controversy about this subsidy continues to rumble on, which means continuing uncertainty in the sector. Friends of the Earth are at loggerheads with the Government. Their disagreement is really about the way policy has been carried out. Most people involved seem to accept that the current subsidies for the energy sector as a whole are all the country can afford, and so reducing the FITS rate seems sensible – too generous a rate leads to inefficient investment.

The Government could still have approached it in a less calamitous way for business confidence. For which high court wrangling is just about the worst process – DECC are now asking the Supreme Court to overrule their unsuccessful High Court appeal about the December 12th deadline to cut the FITS rate.

Regardless of that process a new policy deadline of 3rd March has been announced for the FITS rate to be cut. If the Government’s appeal is unsuccessful, this will create a second rush to install (as the 12th December deadline did). We are still getting flyers in the letter box advertising solar PV installation, and I can see a house over the road having them fitted – maybe the rush has started already?

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

The new PV system had one bit of teething trouble in the first few weeks, as the fuse tripped a couple of times. The installer were quick to come an sort the problem, and on the second time they replaced the relevant part. The smart meter they provided was useful as it showing’0’ was what alerted us to the problem.

This meter runs from a sensor clipped over the wires bringing the electricity generated into the main house electricity system. This transmits wirelessly to a neat white box I’ve put in the hallway, which shows what is being generated.

The system is running smoothly now, with the smart meter ticking over at low levels during the day. Oddly, the system shows a very low level of generation (6 watts) at night, which is apparently due to the electricity flowing into the system to operate the inverter and other kit. I’m looking forward to seeing the generation levels rise through the spring.

We are adjusting to having a different kind of electricity supply. The main change is to try and run large appliances like the washing machine and dishwasher during the day, to take advantage of the free electricity. On the best sunny day in December when two of us are working at home our two computers seemed to be powered mainly by solar energy during the day.

As the generation increases, we can try to transfer more energy use to the middle of the day during the summer. Maybe roasts will have to be at lunchtime and showers taken in the morning rather than late evening. As we watch our smart meters and understand more about our energy use, I’m sure we’ll discover more options.

 

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

The process of registering for FITS payment has gone smoothly, my energy company seems to have had its administration system well-organised. I’ve received confirmation that my solar PV system is registered and now am making arrangements to receive the FITS payments quarterly.

For those thinking of installing PV in the future, the process was fairly straightforward because my installer was in regular and clear communication. Following installation they provided the FIT application form and other paperwork (receipt which is proof of ownership, and MCS form – see FITS VIII), which I sent recorded delivery to the energy company (and phoned to check it had arrived).

It’s a relief to have met the 12th December deadline, which caused plenty of controversy that may not be over yet. The High Court ruled in December that the Government’s plans to cut the solar Feed-in Tariff (FiT) were unlawful, but Energy Minister Greg Barker has since said the Government will appeal this decision: http://www.greenwisebusiness.co.uk/news/minister-to-appeal-solar-fit-high-court-ruling-2917.aspx .

The future design of FITS payments is being reviewed by Government, with one option being to lower the per KW tariff as systems get larger. This would spread the subsidy available over more households, but could be less efficient in terms of maximising the renewable capacity supported per pound. Another plan is to build in adjustments in the subsidy level to take into account the costs of panels, which is the major variable in the costs of installation (with labour and scaffolding costs more stable).

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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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– 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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– 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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