How solar savvy are you?

I was planning to write this post before the devastation of Japan’s nuclear power plant which has now focused people’s minds on the value of renewable energy.

My question is, how solar savvy are you? I’ve learnt quite a bit about solar power recently following a meeting with a potential client.  He is an eco builder who has invested considerably in solar panels in the hope of providing them to a company  which is planning to build a number of solar farms in East Anglia. This new industry looked very promising, thanks to the present lucrative feed in tariffs paid to producers of green energy. This, in effect, is a reward for generating your own green power and the scheme was launched by the government last April. It also pays home owners for each unit of “home grown” electricity they produce.

With payments of up to 41.3p per kilowatt-hour (kWh), feed-in-tarrifs have made domestic wind turbines and solar panels look like good investments. People installing these eligible green-energy systems receive a payment for every kWh of electritiy they produce – whether they use it or not. Payments vary depending on the size of the systems installed, with small domestic systems earning more per unit than larger installations, and power fed back into the grid earns an extra 3p per KhW. Payments are not made by the government, but funded by a levy on electricity bills. More than 22,000 households have so far signed up for feed-in-tariffss; 95% of them using PV panels. It has also been popular with farmers who have used them on agricultural buildings.

However, as a number of investors  have bought land to cover with photovoltaic panels and benefit from the tariffs, this has made the generous payment unsustainable. Last year’s spending review placed a cap of £360 million a year on feed-in-tariffs by 20-14-15. As a result, earlier this year  Chris Huhne, the energy secretary,  announced a review of tariffs for large scale solar PV schemes producing more than 50kW of power. Meanwhile, those in the solar business are anxiously holding their breath , but, according to The Guardian, early indications are  that only small domestic installations, of less than 50kW capacity – enough to cover 15 average house roofs but not a large barn roof – will be eligible for the feed-in tariffs at current rates.

They say that under the revised proposals, anything bigger than 50kW– from a farmer’s barn roof to a school building or a supermarket’s covered car park – will receive much smaller subsidies, allowing a rate of return of about 5% rather than the 12% envisaged for smaller projects. This is clearly not welcome news for them.

Those who have joined the scheme are able to continue receiving payments at the agreed rate, with adjustments for inflation, for the duration of the scheme (25 years for PV). Green energy enthusiasts are being urged to go solar sooner rather than later to benefit from the present scheme. There are grave concerns, however, that the investment, energy and new jobs which resulted from the launch of feed-in-tariffs could now be in jeopardy and confidence in the scheme is waning.

In the meantime, solar farms have been given the go-ahead in Cornwall and support is evident north of the border where the Scottish Government has set a target for 80 per cent of Scottish electricity consumption to come from renewables by 2020. A series of workshops are planned in schools to help promote the benefits of renewable energy sources, such as solar panels.

A show of government support is desperately needed by our government too. Who remembers David Cameron urging the electorate to “vote blue, go green’?




  1. Coming from Australia, we have plenty of sunshine and a subsidized system, which is quite limited. Basically the Govt subsidizes about half the original purchase price of panels, but only up to about 1.5 KW. But the real payback is always in the energy rebate. Unfortunately this will end or change by June this year and unlike the German system, ours is only paid on the surplus that you input to the system above your consumption. Fine if you don’t work from home.

    The other thing is some retailers were recently caught giving rebates during the day, and charging residences up to three times the energy cost at night!

    This is currently a band aid system, due to the opposition party (Liberal) connections with big business. Without getting too political, coal is a big export in Australia and makes up the vast majority of energy supplied. When the govt originally tried to create a carbon tax, the energy making companies demanded several billion each in compensation.

    Well that carbon tax scheme was stopped and only recently is it back up for debate. What this business power and compensation means is that real money into R&D for solar or large scale solar farms just wont happen. And as people are seeing the solar rebate tricks, with a strong chance that rebates may stop all together one day, the ‘pay back’ period for individuals purchasing solar goes on into infinity.

    I am a strong supporter of solar and its just a shame that the Govts don’t have the conviction to provide solid incentives for individuals to help the planet.

  2. That’s the problem with investing in subsidised indutries: the political risk is too high

  3. I’ve just been reading Cambridgeshire County Council’s magazine for residents and one householder describes his solar experience:

    “The panels were fixed to the rear of the garage roof because of being south facing and for us, the advantage of not being seen from the front of the house.

    “We are expecting to save around 50% on our electricity bills. But more important is the government tax free feed-in-tariff scheme that should yield an estimated £1.200-£1.400 per year for the next 25 years.”

    The electricity sourced by the solar panels, if not consumed by the home, is fed back into the national grid, hence the feed-in-tariff.

    It requires an initial investment by the householder. An average house installation is between £10,000-£12,000. However, from these figures, the £1,200 per year which is recouped over 25 years from the FIT scheme makes it a sound investment.

  4. Kevin, it’s still early days to know the real outcomes of this catastrophe. I agree we need a measured approach and a mix of different technologies, and that they will each carry their own risks. For now, read this, how I feel for those poor people, now struggling against harsh weather conditions too:

    • electro-kevin

      I can’t seem to scan across that link, Ellee.

      I feel sorry for them too. The combination of events doesn’t get any worse.

      I note the lack of tears and the dignity. Contrast this to the blubbing on Masterchef, The X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent …

      Having studied their martial arts for seven years I understand how
      they’ve built up such resilience.

      We are most definitely not Japan. And not just in where we decide to build our power plants and store our fuel rods.

      • If you just click on the link, it should open. It’s a Daily Telegraph story.

      • I understand what you say about the resilience. Western people find that difficult to comprehend.

        I also understand what you say about the lack of tears and dignity compared trivialities of show business.

        There is much to be learned.

  5. I don’t know much about it but people are quite savvy here. Well, they get enough sunshine to make it worth their while as I understand Enel pays them quite well. The local church has solar panels in its roof.

  6. electro-kevin

    A 41 year old nuclear reactor gets hit by a 9 magnitude earthquake, then slammed with a 20ft tall swell, followed by an explosion due to the buildup of hydrogen gas that blows off the roof of the building, and the core is intact and contained. and your telling us nuclear power isn’t safe?

    • electro-kevin

      We British do not build our reactors along a geological fault lines. Nor can we realistically expect them to be subjected to anything like the simultaneous stresses of the Japanese plants which have held so far even though the outlook is grim.

      Not even a nuclear terrorist act – by which time the nuclear problem would be out of control anyway – could do so much damage.

  7. electro-kevin

    I’m sure the solutions to our problems are many and varied.

    However we look at it we’re going to continue to need independant, large scale, reliable and constant power generation or else we’re going to become desperately poor.

    I wouldn’t mind, but our commitment to cutting CO2 by a set date doesn’t even allow us the time to make the transition.

    (Terribly sad news from my boys’ school. I’m sure you’ll hear it on the news. Don’t want to talk about it but typing this seems to make me feel a bit better.)

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