I know this is hardly relevant to grow your own, but I think many growers are interested in ‘green issues’
We’ve just ordered some solar photovoltaic panels which should generate electricity and provide an income. Now I must admit, I’m not at all convinced about the green credentials of solar panels here. If we were in sunny Spain then it’s a no-brainer, solar power makes a lot of sense. But North Wales?
Basically we have panels which generate the power when the sun shines, an inverter that converts the electricity to mains voltage and frequency and a meter to measure it. I wonder if this small-scale, inefficient system actually makes sense in terms of carbon saved for money expended. There is a saving in that we’ve not got transmission losses but that is only about 2% as I understand it.
Solar Power Subsidies & Grants
Now the government is offering a subsidy since there is no way domestic solar power makes economic sense here. I’m sure that it will in 10 years or so, the cost of panels and so forth is steadily falling each year as the technology improves.
In fact I can foresee a house roof or the south wall of a skyscraper being power generating by 2025. Think of the way computers and televisions have developed over the years. Probably the Holy Grail of photovoltaics is a paint with a couple of power leads connected. You read it here first!
Back to the subsidies – Feed in Tariffs
These were running at 43p per unit of electricity but that has been reduced to 21p. However the government has been challenged in the courts and so there is a chance that installations before the 3rd March will attract the higher rate. They also intend to only allow the Feed in Tariff on properties whose energy efficiency is band D or above. Not hopeful for solid stone buildings like ours. Improving our efficiency would involve external insulation and that’s very, very expensive.
The electricity you use yourself will save you buying in so, depending on the rate you pay, that’s an extra 14p per unit or so. The power you generate above that and sell out gets you an additional 3.1p. So the more you use yourself the higher the savings – but do you use a tumble dryer or fan heater on a sunny summer’s day?
How much will you save or make?
The salesmen who come round will blind you with figures of how much money you’ll save and how quickly it will pay you back. Take no notice. Go onto the energysaving trust web site and use their calculators. We reckon we will get £845 a year back from our investment in a 4Kw system.
All the companies that sell the systems seem to predict higher rates of income and faster payback. Maybe they’re right but working off the conservative lower figures means any surprises are likely to be happy ones.
How to Buy Solar Panels
Get 3 quotes – if you can get local firms that’s great but some of the nationals are worth looking at.
- Ignore all the sales manure about how much you’ll make. That’s just to make you greedy and happy to sign up. Ensure the company is properly certified, again check out the energysaving trust web site. Not certified = no guarantee and no subsidy. They need to be Microgeneration Certified and Renewable Energy Assurance listed.
- Pump the name of the company into Google and look for reviews – if there’s a load of people moaning about them then forget it and go to your second choice. Try and check if the reviews (positive ones) feel genuine or are they written by the firm itself?
- Check what panels and inverter they propose to use. Once you know that you can use the power of Google to check on the individual components.
- What guarantee are they offering? The best are insurance backed so if the company is out of business in 5 years you still have a guarantee.
- How much are they charging? We found a spread of over £3,000.
- Do not buy on the spot. Take a day to think it over. If they pressure you then they know there’s better deals out there. You will be spending a lot of money, be strong.
- Before you finally sign up, make sure you double check you’ve got all the facts. I make notes on paper and tick things off as I ask them. That way you don’t forget.