Electricity isn’t the only form of energy

The planned RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive) scheme is almost with us, but seems to be seriously watered down when it comes to solar water heating on domestic properties.

Where is most of domestic energy consumed? In heating!

How is most of that heat generated? By using gas or oil or coal, rarely electricity!

What do the government want us to cut down on?  Our consumption of gas and oil and coal.

Looking at hot water alone and lets say I have a choice of heating it using solar hot water or electricity. Throughout the summer I can have all my hot water heated by a solar water heater which comprises a contraption made up of glass, copper and insulating material, all relatively low tech but varying in efficiency depending on the way it is formed, perhaps solar flat plate or vacuum tube.

This solar water heater will cover between 4 and 6 square metres of my roof and provide all my hot water from , late spring to early autumn. The whole system will cost in the region of  £4,000, is reliable and relatively maintenance free.  Very little electricity is involved.

 Conversely, I could do the same job with £10,000 to £20,000 worth of solar PV, which while I might have to pay a great deal to  install, I will get paid Feed in Tariffs which will pay back the full costs in 10 years and give me a profit for another 15.  These solar PV panels are very costly to make, invariably imported from China, consume vast amounts of rare metals and are very costly in energy to manufacture.  

If the Government really wants to cut down on the use of energy, they should proactively support the installation of solar water heating, in my opinion to a greater extent than solar PV as there is a far greater carbon saving return per £ invested whether through grants or when considering the cost of the installation. 

More information on the  Renewable Heat Incentive and how it relates to Solar Water Heating can be seen here within a press release from the Solar Trades Association placed on the solaruk website. http://www.solaruk.net/news/solarenergy.asp?item=2170

The Government seem to have got hung up on electricity rather than energy.


A Solar Storm in a teacup.

Apparently my website www.SolarKent.co.uk is being taken to the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) for .. well I’m not really sure as I don’t actually sell anything. 

While the whole, very strange comment from Barry at SolarTwin is here: http://bit.ly/gNcg3P  what it seems to be saying is that anybody who isn’t SolarTwin is misleading the public when they claim to offer free hot water from the sun, the premise being that as solartwin has a small photovoltaic panel that drives a circulating pump, then only they can claim to offer free solar hot water.

Oh dear! 

But if Solartwin is saying that their solar hot water is free while most other’s isn’t, perhaps Solartwin might identify what they actually mean?

I have solar hotwater and am very happy with it.  I prefer to

 regard it as paid for in advance, basically I have paid for a job lot of solar hot water when I had my panels installed, as with all installations it cost some thousands of pounds and certainly wasn’t free. But that’s the case with all solar systems. Once I have received my job lot of hot water its then free!

Other ways of looking at it are to simply wipe of the cost of the installation and then for parts of the year treat it as free or consider the savings on the alternative to using solar.  Personally I have no problem with the promotion of solar hot water as free, isn’t it?

As to SolarTwin’s statement that because there is a mains powered pump that uses paid for electricity the hot water is no longer free,  again, oh dear, should the Solar Industry collectively hold its head in shame?   Can ST solely claim this accolade of free hot water?

I have to wonder whether users of SolarTwin’s systems have some special dispensation from the water utility? Perhaps they have missed something here, water isn’t free, therefore hot water isn’t free!

Then using my approach of considering the payment for the solar system as an advance payment for hot water, if I was to buy a SolarTwin system then I would be purchasing a small solar PV unit instead of mains electricity, so also by their argument, not just the fact that water is charged for, their hot water is equally not free!

Is solar hot water free? Of course it is! Arguing about whether to include the cost of pumping, all or part of the solar hot water system, whatever, is so silly that it is a waste of anybody’s time. 

In my opinion – apart from selling the systems – there is only one matter that legitimate solar businesses should get concerned about within the industry and that is solar energy systems that are sold by aggressive high pressure sales-staff at prices far in excess of their worth to vulnerable people!

An example of solar PV embedded in a panel alargely for solar water heating can be seen below, this is taken from the www.solaruk.com website and shows a large scale system.

Solar water heating with embeded solar PV

The image shows a tracking array of solar vacuum tubes with the addition of a Solar Photovoltaic panel covering the solar thermal system's manifold, otherwise unused for direct energy collection.

Solar systems can be compared on this page: http://www.solarkent.co.uk/solar-water-heating/comparison.asp I don’t have direct access to current pricing so this might be out of date, however I expect the differential to be similar.  It looks like you pay a lot more for “freer” hot water from Solartwin than from others that they say are less free.

Free Solar Panels

I’m paying to have a new set of solar panels, its happening while I write this, the installers are on the roof drilling holes and so far not having cups of tea, though coffeee was offered.

The installation is being paid out of my hard earned savings and in my view a more effective alternative to either keeping the money in the bank or ‘investments’. I’m expecting an 8% to 9% return on my capital outlay over the course of the next 20 years or so, that return dropping at the point my Feed in Tariff contract finishes though I would expect to keep generating electricity for some years after that.

Overall my £12,000 investment will repay a bit more than £20,000 at current rates. The FITs are inflation linked so my return will not be eroded by inflation. Keeping my money in the bank at say 0.5% will see a degradation of about 1.5% per year allowing for 2% inflation.   Solar, with the Feed in Tariff is clearly a good bet.

Prior to going ahead with a paid for system I had looked very carefully at the option of a free system, I expect that my roof is South enough to comply with any ‘free’ requirements, however going through all the pros and cons it was clear that a paid for system was a better bet.

My concerns were:

  • Its my roof, getting free electricity based on a fairly standard install of 2kW would save me about £100 a year.
  • For the next 20 years, I cannot install my own system!
  • Nor can any prospective buyer of my house
  • That bit of roof is no longer mine to do with as I wish
  • Insurance / Damage

While I am sure that much of this has been carefully looked at by the free installers and there is a lot of small print protecting each party, it wasn’t at all for me.

I also looked at a company offering leased systems, effectively a solar installtion that after 20 years you might own. Wow, all the downside of a free system and you pay for it!  I covered this is greater detail here:
Solar PV leasing along with numbers, don’t go there!

While all the free and leased systems that I have looked at seem to have a reasonable business ethic behind them, just a bit too in favour of the installer, I am waiting for the real scammers to jump on this and how they will fleece people who usually tend to be older and trusting.

The Sunday Times 10/10/10 page 27  identified a clear scam. Free solar panels, but you have to pay for a survey to see if you are eligible. I doubt that there is any chance of any free solar panels being installed, especially when the ‘survey’ costs £2,500!

I can see more of these free solar scams coming on stream, perhaps a fixed annual rental, maybe an upfront bond re-payable over the years – but not when the company goes bust and re-starts with a new name and same scam.

My standard advice when considering solar thermal and PV.

Solar thermal will only heat your hot water, it won’t heat your house. At best it will provide 70% of your hot water, it shouldn’t cost more than £4,000 and you should use an MCS accredited installer in order to get the RHI when and if it is introduced.

Solar PV will cost about £12,000 or less for a medium sized system of 2kW, less than £19,000 for a 4kW system. The return should be in the order of 8%

(2012, prices have fallen and you should be looking at less than £10K for a 4kw system, the returns remain the same or better even with lower FITs)

You will never have to pay for a survey from a legitimate supplier

Never use a supplier / installer who will not discuss prices prior to a visit.

Installers who insist on sending a salesman prior to even talking about a price will be looking more at what you can afford, less at what the system costs.

As to who is installing my system – solarUK

Solar Scammers still going strong

I’ve just read the Which? report on Solar Water heating and overcharging and rotten service on the fringes of the Solar Industry is still going strong.

Which? has done an exposé which includes Everest Double Glazing’s sales techniques and prices, Which? state that Everest came close to breaking the law if not actually breaking it.

While so many Solar installers are quoting around £4,000 and providing an excellent service, Everest was quoting £11,000 with a special discount down to £8,500 for an immediate sign up.

Solar panels or vacuum tube systems bought from a reputable company should cost in the region of £4,000 for an average house! If you are asked for any more than this without a solid reason, you are being ripped off!

There is a summary of the report here: http://www.solar-and-renewable-energy.co.uk/solar%20water%20heating/solarscams.asp which has a link to the full article.

A video of the sales techniques can be seen here: http://www.solar-and-renewable-energy.co.uk/solar%20water%20heating/solarscams.asp

On the Everest website there is the statement:

are built to strict European standards and our exclusive specifications

In fact, if within 7 days of ordering from us, you find a lower price for solar panels designed, made and installed to the same specifications and with the same guarantees, we’ll refund the difference.”

Note: “designed, made and installed to the same specifications and with the same guarantees” So, they say the specifications are exclusive to them, then ask you to find the same system as a comparison ….  do you really think you will be able to find exactly the same system?  To my mind this so called guarantee is meaningless, it also assumes the customer is stupid!

These are the same techniques that have been seen from SmartEnergy and Solar Technic, both told by the Trading Standards Authority to tidy up their act.  

If you have had a price quoted for a solar installation, both good or bad, please tell me. Any experiences such as Name of company, initial price, discounted sign up now price  would be great.

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!

Roof colour and solar water heating

I have just read a very interesting comment on the Solaruk website detailing research on the effect of roof colour on solar water heating, in particular vacuum tubes.

Its pretty obvious when you think about it, wish I had! But basically, a white or reflective roofing which has solar vacuum tubes mounted on it will of course reflect a portion of the energy back on to the solar collector.

The amount of energy reported  being 9% was certainly higher than I would have expected but makes the consideration of roof colour very relevant, in particular where considering a new build.  I would wonder about the cost benefit of re-roofing, but perhaps a small area with a secondary covering of a reflective roofing surface would make sense.

This does of course apply to flat roofs and only vacuum tube systems, tough perhaps a rack mounted flat panel with the rear suitably coated might have some of these benefits.

The article is here: Improved solar gain with reflective flat roof colouring

Continued Decline – In consumption!

My electricity consumption continues to go down!

My Energy Tracker
My Energy Tracker

The earlier decline in energy consumption is largely due to general conservation measures, switching off lights and not using standby. The red realistically shows no change and fits in with the trend from last year, our extra effort in energy saving having started in April 2008.

With what appeared to be a limited impact on our net energy consumption by our wind turbines I approached FutureEnergy who very kindly called in and made some changes to settings. The mains electricity here is 250 and more volts, far from the European target of 230! Their visit was in late June and we appear to be showing an immediate 20% electricity saving from our Turbines and its during the summer when there is far less wind!

Ongoing changes are replacing failed light bulbs with LED lights (not CFLs). My bathroom will have 9 LEDs with a total consumption of about 11 Watts!

Overall a target of more than 10% by 2010, having had a 20% reduction in 2009 and similar in 2008.

See: Guardian article on Politicians plans to reduce consumption. You would think they would be leading, it all seems to be political hot air!