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Midnight Sun – Solar Energy

I’ve just seen an advert for “Midnight Sun” in the daily mail. This is from a company called AWE – nothing to do with AWE Aldermaston which makes nuclear weapons.
Along with solar panels and the rest of the eco type stuff, they are marketing a gizmo called Midnight Sun which supposedly stores energy generated through the day for use during the night, thus saving you money ! Ostensibly a good idea but what is it.
Well, it can only be a battery, a battery charger and an inverter, hopefully a bit more electronics to synchronize with the phase of any solar panel inverter (Otherwise you are simply charging from the mains) .
Further research says about 9kWh of storage and 5kWh available (think 9 and 5 units of electricity ) So in simple terms a deep cycle battery, on ebay look for deep cycle gel battery 12volt  170ah which equates to about 8.5kWh and is about £250.  Battery chargers aren’t expensive and inverters much the same, lets say £100 each for the top of the range, maybe £600 worth of kit including something to balance the phases.  The deep cycle battery has maybe 700 cycles before it needs replacing.
This £600 worth of equipment will potentially store 5kWh of unused solar energy, assuming that over the day there is any unused solar energy and that the sun is out, so it might work at near capacity during the summer , hardly at all during the winter.
So we might save at max 5 units of electricity, lets say an average of 3 units a night -I’m being very generous!  Each unit represents maybe 6p taking into account the savings in not buying it and the loss in not exporting it. Our £600 investment  saves us at best about 20p a night or maybe £60 a year!  So, ignoring battery replacement and any “money” cost associated with having £600 invested in batteries and not invested in savings, even at 1%, we have at minimum a 10 year payback.
Now have a look at their website : http://www.aweenergy.com/midnight_sun.php.
I was drawn to this by the full page advert in the daily mail for “Midnight Sun”  / “Solar PV Payback Scheme” It sounds good, no mention of batteries, lots of “Solar Energy” , “Stored energy” etc. No mention of price nor actual savings.
Now read this: http://www.navitron.org.uk/forum/index.php?PHPSESSID=c24b607093cc3df8638529bcb5fefcbb&topic=18595.15 and we get an idea of the price, not £600, not £1,000 which might allow a bit of profit.
No, to get a price, apparently (according to the Navitron subscribers) you have to have the salesman visit, salesman usually equals a lot of commission .  Well, the prices I have come across are from £5,500 upwards.
So, with a saving of £60 a year and that assumes the system really stores ONLY excess solar power! That means over 100 years to recoup your investment, but the batteries won’t last that long, maybe 5 years?
I suppose as a UPS / Battery backup it might work, but UPS’s are in the region of £100 not £1,000s

Inflate your tyres, save money

A simple free way to extend your miles per gallon is to make sure your tyres are inflated correctly.

Just because they look inflated doesn’t mean they are at the correct pressure.  Seeing our Yaris MPG slip to 48mpg  I checked the tyres, 1 was correct the others were down to 20psi.  Topping up the pressure got the mpg back up to 55mpg.  That’s  like a 10% improvement! or the equivalent of a 14p saving per litre of fuel!

The same can be true when replacing your fuel filter. But that costs money.

50% Emissions Cuts by 2027

So a cut of 50% based on 1990s emissions by 2027, that’s 16 years from now.

The graph shows the emissions reductions as we approach the 2020 target of a 20% reduction, the provisional figures for 2010 are almost certainly due to the recession which will be  replicated in 2011.

But, I do wonder how much of these emissions reductions are due to the export of industry to China and how much to increased efficiency and the use of renewable energy.

Certainly, while we have boosted the numbers of wind turbines and solar panels, these only represent perhaps 1 or 2 % of generated electricity, the headline figures of a 100MW wind farm realistically equating to maybe 20MW actually generated.  Solar panels  don’t yet make much of an impact.

Emisions are indicated as coming down, but is that because we are doing good things or simply moving our factories abroad?

What is clear is that the emissions reductions are almost certainly down to the shifting of industry to other countries, potentially with a higher level of emissions due to lowered efficiency.

Where the consumption of lets say a “tyre” for a car might have cost .2 tonnes of carbon where it was made in the UK, that tyre made in China and with the electricity generated from a coal power plant, equates to .3 tonnes, then it has to be shipped round the world (though perhaps we have saved some of the raw material shipping costs?).

So, there is more carbon in the form of CO2 generated but Britain claims a reduction!

Its the same as carbon offsetting or perhaps nearer the knuckle, getting somebody to accept a speeding fine so you can retain a clean licence?

To have any chance of showing an honest reduction in CO2, the 1st thing DECC needs to do is totally review the way Britain’s contribution to Global CO2 production is counted. Not based on what is generated in the UK, but what is gereated as a result of UK consumption of goods and services.

On the plus side this means we can remove the carbon associated with exports, but add those associated with imports. What about shipping and international travel ?

Do an honest measure and we might find that CO2 production that is attributed to the UK  has gone up since 1990. I think this is the more likely outcome.

Renewable Heat Incentive RHI

The aim of the RHI is to provide an incentive to people to generate usuable heat without consuming carbon.

This incentive is planned to be paid where a unit of heat is created that avoids the burning of carbon (oil/coal/gas) or multiplies the amount of heat rather than having a direct generation of heat. An example of this being the use of a heat pump.

The ideal technology for RHI is Solar Water Heating, once installed (apart from the pump) a totally carbon free means of heating water. With a heat pump, the heat that is accounted for on the RHI is the difference between that which would be generated by heating air or water directly using electricity and the actuall heat given out. So a heat pump that has a conversion ratio of 3 to 1 could be said to provide 2 units of carbon free heat for every 1 that uses carbon.

The unit of heat is nominally going to be measured in MWhr under the RHI.

The RHI committee are looking at the ROI (Return on Investment) and how to measure.  One of the ways of measurement will be to set a nominal effectveness for a technology and work out an annual incentive payable on an installation.

Potential for Fraud within the RHI

I can see this being wide open to abuse. Lets say I have a Heat Pump that runs for the 1st two or three years, it means I don’t have to use my boiler and I get an annual incentive for using what is a marginally cheaper system.

Once the system is beyond the warranty period, lets say it fails and repairs will cost the equivalent of 2 years worth of incentive. With a failure I will anyway switch on my boiler, I need heating, then I must arrange a repair. But the RHI continues to be paid as it is not based on a meter. Even if there is some facility for inspection, all I have to do is say it failed last week and I am arranging a repair.

The same will apply to any system that is not metered in a verifiable way.


As a solution, perhaps include a mandatory insurance policy that is paid out of the RHI. This can be open to competition as with car insurance, but the payment of RHI is dependent on the equipment being insured. This will have an additional bonus in that reliable systems will cost less to insure and therefore challenge the market to improve quality. To an extent, as with the motor insurance trade, this will represent an unofficial but effective additional  regulation of the RHI.


Now, the RHI is there to pay an incentive to reduce the use of carbon in heating. But lets say I have a house with an energy bill of £1,000 to heat it. I switch to a Heat Pump and with incentives covering my 2/3rds heating that is carbon free my heating bill comes down to about £300.

But what if I super insulate my house such that I match that reduction in energy use. Or turn my thermostat down by a notch and put on a jumper and save £500? It seems the RHI is focused on making money for people who both have money and choose a technical solution.

cavity wall with additional 2 inches of insulation and weatherboarding.

cavity wall with additional 2 inches of insulation and weatherboarding

Perhaps the granting of RHI for space heating should also be dependent upon the house being as efficiently insulated as possible. Not just the minimum loft insulation and cavity wall, but really well insulated, triple galzing, additional insulation over and above cavity wall, even more loft insulation than minimal!

I would exclude water heating from this as this kind of heating requires a proactive response rather than preservation of existing heat.

Wasted Wood

One of the websites that I maintain is www.renewables-map.co.uk. This is a log of all the major renewable energy projects in the UK, generally anything over 1Mw. One area I cover is biomass, I see projects that will result in millions of tonnes of wood being shipped to the UK to be burnt. 

While biomass is certainly renewable energy in that it has a sort of closed loop, trees grow, they get cut, burnt, more trees grow and suck the CO2 out of the air to be burnt again. I do wonder if lareg swathes of forest are being cut down and burnt to allow for fast growing plantations that disturb the soil and overall release far more CO2 than will ever be saved using the biomass ‘loop’.

While developing these huge schemes, chopping down and shipping forests across the Atlantic we are in the meantime ignoring huge volumes of biomass that is burnt as waste.

Ever seen a tree culled from the roadside? That tree is effectively the same wood as is being shipped across the Atlantic, but rather than being used as free fuel, it will be classed as a waste product and must be disposed of. Out in rural areas most likley on a semi legal bonfire, it might end up as landfill at best it is chipped and used as compost.

While we can’t power Britain by using offcusts from the hedge rows, surely we can divert the wood into the biomass fuel cycle and give it a use and value rather than treating it as a waste product  which has a cost.

Too difficult? Not at all, just a function of organisation and management. I can envisage a series of waste wood yards collecting biomass. Define what consitutes biomass and pay for it. Not so much that we have thieves stealing wood, but enough to cover the legitimate users fuel costs in getting it there.  The biomass plants can then have a single local source of fuel to augment their existing supplies.

Joined up Government? NOT!

I have commented on the Government’s kick in the teeth for the pioneers of renewable energy. Our generated electricity clearly has a far lower worth than newer renewably generated electricity – yet its the same and actually has done far more good for the industry and cost us more than energy coming on stream now!

Now, not content with undermining the renewable energy industry by kicking the pioneers in the teeth, but they are going to do their damndest to kill off some of the the most effective parts of the industry.

At the moment, anybody taking advantage of the Low Carbon Buildings Programme grant scheme can expect a grant of £400 for the installation of a solar water heating system. This can represent a worthwhile 10% rebate on the average cost of  £4,000. This money runs out in about two months! Lets say June 2010

In April 2011 there is the new scheme, the Renewable Heat Incentive which pays a rate for energy generated / CO2 saved for systems that generate heat renewably.

So, anybody who has done the minimum of research will see that it will pay them to delay any installation that might miss the LCBP until the RHI comes into effect. Potentially a 10 month gap for installers that will almost certainly drive many into bankruptcy!

Worse than that, the companies that rely on marketing, pressurized selling techniques with significantly overpriced but low quality systems will hardly feel the effect.  They will survive while the companies that are working within a tight margin to ensure a high quality fair priced system will fail!

Click here for a full explanation of what is going on and the letter that has been written to Alistair Darling can be seen here

A Note on Sales Techniques.

When I was promoting Solar systems about 5 years ago, after a mail drop I got 600 positive responses out of about 100,000. Actually that is good. Of these responses, each being visited by a technician, no hard sell just a system being promoted on its merits and low price I got 3 sales.

I spoke to a competing company that used pressurized selling. My systems sold for less than £4,000 theirs, using the exactly the same equipment (I was put in contact through the supplier) were generally sold for between £7,000 and £9,000 basically whatever they could talk the customer into paying. They were categorical that they would have converted between 30% and 50% into sales!

The supplier dropped this installer, they were unhappy with their sales methods!

Feed in Tariffs, a kick in the teeth!

Feed in tariffs will NOT apply to ANY system that has already been installed.

If you have a renewable energy system, your system, as with mine will continue to receive the same, pittance, a minimal financial return on generated and exported electricity. This will apply to all systems, all the schools, community halls, the public everybody who has put their money where their mouth is!

Only systems that have been installed under the new MCS (Microgeneration Certification Scheme) will be able to claim the much publicized 35p per unit generated. The MCS has yet to be finalized and though it replicates the IEC regulations that your system (and mine) will certainly comply with, the MCS is an additional layer of bureaucracy that seems to function only to sideline us. (Us being all the people who have created this industry, lobbied for feed in tariffs and changes in the planning law and who have (for whatever reasons) coped with the high cost of installation).

This MCS will severely curtail the number of companies able to install solar PV, retaining a very tight club of installers and almost certainly allowing for a ‘cartel’ pricing structure. Solar systems are already twice teh price in the UK as Germany! It does not add to the quality of equipment or installation as Part P and IEC (IEC is the recognised international certification scheme) already have that function.  The cost of management of MCS and the quango that will be created will almost certainly be higher than the money saved in alienating us through avoiding payment for solar generated electricity.

I would expect that the negative publicity associated with the sidelining and effective alienation of all early adopters who would otherwise be actively promoting this technology will also represent a cost in that the scheme must now be publicized at a cost to the taxpayer.

I am an early generator of solar energy with a professionally installed Solar Century system. It is grid connected and the Highest power station in Kent. I was part of the EAMA study and have and expect to continue exporting renewable electricity. My electricity and system seems to be perfectly adequate, the system will be exactly the same as new systems!

This twist to the Feed in Tariffs whereby only new systems can apply is a slap in the face to all of us who have facilitated the creation of the renewable microgeneration industry in the UK. Without us investing in this new technology, there would be no industry, no installers, nothing!

I do not understand the Governments atitude in alienating so many people. people who should have been supported as they would have been fantatsic free publicity. EVERYBODY with a system is going to be ‘hurt’ by this. There will be NOBODY with an installed system who will be out there actively promoting – we won’t be saying, get a system, we will be saying, “I’ve been utterly let down, don’t trust these people”.

Worse than this, it will be financially beneficial for me to scrap my existing system and install what will almost certainly be an identical system, just 5 years newer (with the same 25 year and more lifespan). Whoever came up with this incompetent system, well, words fail me!

This Government should hang its head in shame!

Also see: http://www.yougen.co.uk/equal/: Join our Campaign for Equal Cashback with petition.