Monday, 5 March 2012

Taking a Gamble

We here at Pleamore House have spent most of the last decade working to reduce the carbon footprint of what is an old Victorian farmhouse which was built with no regard for such things. The insulation we've installed has brought most of the house up to around the current standard of a new-build which has reduced our consumption of heating oil by at least a third. Further savings can be made by installing a modern condensing boiler but that is something for the future.

Having never really seriously considered the possibility of installing an array of photovoltaic solar panels due to the fact that we have no large areas of south facing roof, I recently reconsidered having seen several of our neighbors install panels and I did a bit of research on the potential of an east or west facing array. A reduction of 10-15% efficiency when compared to south facing would still make PV solar a very viable prospect, provided that it could be installed before March 3 which was the cut-off date for getting on the government sponsored 43p feed in tariff. We are huge fans of renewable energy and this suddenly seemed like a very exciting prospect.

We had a few quotes and only one company said they were able to install before March 3 so after a bit of a family conference, we signed a contract. From then on it was a very stressful saga of neanderthal scaffolders failing to complete their job on time, installers turning up without scaffolding to work on and things slipping ever and alarmingly closer to the deadline. Had we not submitted our paperwork to the electric company by 2 March, we would have been on a 21p tariff which would take twice as long to pay us back. There is still a chance this will happen as the government have asked the Supreme Court for permission to lodge a third appeal (they have lost 2 already) to allow them to retrospectively reduce the feed in tarrif (where domestic generators are paid 43p for every unit of electricity they produce) thus doubling the time this big investment takes to pay off for investors in renewable energy who had already bought in. If they get permission to appeal again and the win the appeal, then we're facing 12-15 years before our investment pays back the cost of the panels and installation, so that's the gamble we've taken. It is my belief that even if they are granted leave for another appeal, they will lose, and that this was more a cynical move to create uncertainty and dampen down deamand.

Thursday March 1st the scaffolding is up and the installation team is on site.

All but one of the panels are installed, waiting for the final panel to be driven down from Cardiff as one panel of the wrong type was accidentally supplied. The company issued our completion certificate and it was posted the day before the deadline.

This array of 21 PV panels produces up to 3.99kw of power. Anything over 4kw is classed as commercial production and we're not allowed to do that.

The PV panels produce direct current which this box called an inverter (situated in the loft) converts to alternating current suitable to use in the house and export back into the national grid. In addition to the 43p we'll (hopefully) get for each unit we generate, we also get 3p a unit for what we export back to the grid. Also, of course, we'll run the dishwasher and washing machine etc during the day so that we're using free electricity!

As I write this the time is 10.45 am, the sun has been in and out all day and we've already made 4.4 units of electricity today. Since it was switched on last Friday, we've made just over 20. Whatever happens with the tariff, it gives me great pleasure to reduce our consumption of non-renewable energy and we've surely made the house more salable and desirable in the long term.

1 comment:

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