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Solar Photovoltaic Panels & Feed in Tariffs

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.

As someone who sold kitchens, which are expensive, for many years I can tell you that the good salesman is happy to have a customer who takes reasonable time and asks searching questions, so long as he has a good deal to offer. It’s the ones with a bad deal who are scared of the clever client.

Posted in Rants and Raves
11 comments on “Solar Photovoltaic Panels & Feed in Tariffs
  1. martin says:

    Hi John, I know you live in Wales, and the sun seems like it’s not a regular stop, but the wind blows all the time have, you looked into a small wind turbine this guy lives off the grid and has more than ample power. http://www.aztext.com/ He writes books and makes videos as well. And he lives in Canada,you need very little wind to get power.And a good gail and your looking at the money coming in.

    Later Martin

  2. Bettina says:

    The new photovoltaic panels will work in daylight only, however, they are most effective with direct sunlight. So, as long as it is day, they will generate some electricity, but best results with sunlight. As long as it is not totally overcast you should have good results.

  3. Stephen Harding says:

    We have also had PV panels installed, which are producing electricity during daylight. The company who gave us the best price and the best advice, without hard sell, was British Eco. However we did not use them because they could not install before the reduction of the feed in tariff.
    As John has said forget some of the sales talk about fantastic results and increase in house prices. Do your own research on potential income. But also look at the Return on Investment as well. even with the feed in tariff at 21p per unit produced 8% to 10% ROI is a lot better than the banks/building societies are offering.

  4. Jonathan Mosse says:

    Hi John

    1) An energy rating within Band D is attainable for a solid walled stone cottage using internal wall insulation. Yes, there is upheaval and expense but with a little thought, ingenuity and sensible sourcing of materials it is an economically viable proposition for the confident DIYer.
    2) Also factor in the cost of replacing the invertor which has a 10 – 15 year life as well as the (albeit modest) reduction in panel efficiency (dropping to around 80%) over the 25 year FIT period.
    3) The consumer organisation Which? has a lot of useful help and guidance available on their website for members and non-members alike.
    4) For some of the best and most realistic advice that you are ever likely to come across on wind power visit http://www.scoraigwind.com/

    Best wishes,
    Jonathan Mosse

    • John says:

      @Jonathan Mosse: We considered internal insulation to external walls but I’m not a good DIYer – plastering is well beyond me.
      The energysaving trust factor in the degrading to 80% of the panels but on the inverter, I suspect the price will have fallen considerably in 10 years time.
      We haven’t figured for increase in value of the house (no intention of ever moving) nor for increase in electricity costs etc.

      As I said, I’m not convinced that solar PV is a truly green and appropriate technology for our climate with the current levels of cost and efficiency, Maybe in 10 years it will be. But right now, with the government subsidy, it’s a very sensible long-term investment.
      Still can’t shake the chap on Grand Designs who spent £40,000 on a wind generator that didn’t give him a watt!!

  5. Joy lyon says:

    Thanks for that information, we had been thinking about saving up for these but having no south facing roof space and no cavity walls so our house is far from energy efficient (157 year old ex farmers cottage) it may not be as viable as we had hoped.
    Have you looked at ground source heat John as again we had thought about that just to provide back ground heating?

    • John says:

      @Joy lyon: I did some research on heat pumps when writing Low Cost Living – they’re very popular in Scandinavia where I’ve been a few times. Basically if you’re on LPG or Oil they make a lot of sense but we’ve not got a bottomless money pit so the solar panels took first priority.

  6. Joy lyon says:

    Will have to dig my copy of the book out and have a read up on that, thanks.

  7. Colin menear says:

    The energy used making transporting and installing, versus total energy generated is the important green question. Incidentally, solar pv panels are not worth considering for powering propagators in greenhouses without electricity, but are well worth it for fans to distribute heat or blow air through gravel heat stores.

  8. Clare says:

    Hi, your comment on sky scrapers being power generators by 2025 may happen sooner that that. There is already a flexible transparent double sided sheet that developers of the tech can see being placed on large buildings like the coatings the windows have already to reduce the heat in the summer. these panels work from the artificial light from withing the building as well as the natural light on the outside of the building.
    Like this company!
    http://www.solarmer.com/productbipv.php

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