Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Sunshine in Scotland or can we really go Solar?

For well over a year, I've been trying to get my head around greening our home in relation to energy consumption. We've done the obvious stuff to save energy - low energy lightbulbs, switching off, not leaving things on standby, wearing jumpers in winter (though we have to do that anyway as our house won't get warm), loft insulation (haha, half of the loft is not accessible, which kind of means that the impact wasn't, how should I put it, awe-inspiring). We're a pretty bad household only in relation to leaving computers on all day, ahem.

And I've explored every possible renewable energy avenue. It's not easy. My mind threatens to explode anytime I look into it. There's the Energy Saving Trust which in theory is a great one stop shop. They have helped a lot to be fair, but I still find it difficult to actually get my questions answered. First there was an online questionnaire, lots of phone calls, eventually someone came to the house and did the same questionnaire again. We got a letter back that basically said there's not much else we can do. Still no look at the roof or boiler system to see if there was an option for solar panels. The promise of free loft insulation evaporated in the 8 week waiting time - we got our energy provider to do it instead and they were quick.

So we headed the marketing card of a private company. Finally, someone had a look at the roof, and is talking business. Just that obviously, they have an agenda. They want to sell.

Our situation is tricky. We live in Glasgow, which isn't great for solar panels as you can imagine. On the plus side, our roof faces south and is mostly unobstructed. It is small and old, with a nailsick slate roof. Apparently we have space for 12 panels, and the investment should pay back in 10 years or so.

Or that's what the solar power salesperson says. They also say they can install the panels and that they can be moved if we need a new roof. At what cost, they can't say.

I'd loved to speak to someone in Glasgow who has had solar panels installed, to see if they do what they promise. If it's worthwhile, if it adds value to the house in case we need to move and don't lose our investment.

Then there's the ethical issue of the way renewables are subsidised. Because, our feed in tariff (that's the money we get back for renewable energy we use and the energy we don't use and feed into the grid) is subsidised by those who don't have renewables. It works like this: Energy companies pay me, as one with solar panels, for every solar power I use. That's how, over the space of 10 years or so, I get my investment back. They also pay me for energy created that I don't use. The money comes from energy charged to those who don't have solar panels, which usually means those without the money to invest or those who live in flats/social housing. Basically, I'm taking from people who are more likely to struggle with their energy bills. Hm. The system also encourages energy use during day time hours. While you get more for every unit fed back into the grid, you save roughly 11p extra for every unit you use (because you don't only get paid for your usage but also don't pay the unit from your normal energy provider). This means that people will be likely to use more, rather than less, energy.
Which maybe, just maybe is kind of ok if it's solar.

So here's the maths:
every solar panel can produce 205watts maximum. 12 panels will produce 2,200kw per year.
For every kwh used that comes from your panels, you receive 42.3p from your energy supplier, plus you save 14p which is the average charge for that unit if you had used it from your normal supply.
For every kwh fed back into the grid, you receive 45.3p, 3p more than if you used it for your own energy needs

12 panels, for our small 3 bedroom house (it's really a 2 bedroom house) should generate about half of our electricity needs.
Investment should be repaid in roughly 10-12 years, the scheme runs for 25 years, which means that there's a 10% return on your money (more than any other investment scheme) over 25 years.
You will need to change your energy consumption habits - you will have to try and use when it's daylight to get maximum savings.

As with everything, there's variables and no guarantee. For instance, I'm not sure if we can realistically use most of our energy during the day. I don't like to run electrical appliances when I'm out, say at work or shopping. I have no idea how rainy days or the 3 trees that may obstruct the roof in the winter months will affect the performance of the panels. Will we have enough panels to make it worthwhile? Will it increase the value of the house so that even if we moved, we'd still get our investment back?

So, after a year of research, there are still many questions. But we're getting closer to some answers at least.


The mum of all trades said...

I seriously regret not puttting the solar paels on when we built our house 2 years ago. We hope to put them on next year

Mwa said...

There was a big thing in Belgium a couple of weeks ago about how solar panels are a really ineffective way to get renewable energy. Have you heard about those stories as well?

platespinner said...

Hmm, and there are the companies who will fit the panels free of charge for you, in return for taking the feed in tariff, thus making a very nice return on their investment. They seem to be falling over themselves at the moment to offer them in my area (although I'm in the South so probably a bit sunnier than Glasgow!)

I am still about, but 'Spinning Plates' is gone for now :-(
I'm starting something new though and will let you have my new site when it's up and running very soon!

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