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TOPIC: Is Solar Power Finished?

Is Solar Power Finished? 4 months, 2 weeks ago #1

I visited the Eco Building Your Future massive exhibition at London’s ExCel last week and it was interesting to compare it to last year’s, when I remember rows and rows of solar pv companies.

This year there was a notable absence of many solar exhibitors and I wondered if that’s a sign of things to come? This is arguably the greenest government we’ve had. However, now that the Feed in Tariffs have been reduced significantly, demand from homeowners has reduced and the uncertainty created by the way in which the government handled this has also put doubt in investors’ minds.

Yet the benefits of solar power, especially for the FE and HE sectors remain enormous.

Solar Photovoltaic (PV) panels generate electricity from daylight, allowing you to reduce your need to buy electricity from your supplier. But this free energy is only one of the benefits. Certainty for budgeting purposes and self-sufficiency are others. Solar thermal systems use the sun's energy to heat water. Even in the UK, a square metre of solar panel can heat up to 300 litres/day to a temperature of up to 60°C.

School, colleges and universities have lots of roof space. The bigger campuses also have ground space that can be used to successfully harness solar energy. Once the solar panels and thermal systems are installed, the long term energy and financial savings give you a massive return on your investment.

So, do you think solar power is finished, or is it an integral part of your renewable energy projects and carbon management plans?

Re: Is Solar Power Finished? 1 month, 1 week ago #2

Solar power is definitely not finished. While it has taken a while to recover from the confusion and rate cuts that surrounded the feed-in tariff earlier this year, installations are now on the up again according to the latest DECC figures. With a predicted rate of return of 6.3% or more still available from 1 August when the feed-in tariff rate reduces again, I believe that undefined. Others must too, as around here (Devon) there are solar fields going up at a great rate.

High feed-in tariff rates last year lead to a boom in domestic installations, and made less than perfect sites economic. Now, with a lower tariff, I think that there may be less of the bread and butter domestic solar installations and more commercial ones. The best opportunities are for onsite solar where organisations have high day time electricity demand and use most, if not all, of the electricity that they generate. This means that they make major savings on their energy bills as well as benefiting from the feed-in tariff which pays a set rate for each kWh generated over a 20 year period. From 1 August 2012, the rate will be 16p per kWh for systems up to 4kW in size.

Re: Is Solar Power Finished? 1 month ago #3

What has become obvious to us over the last 12 months working in the solar industry is that PV has become an incredibly effective part of the overall picture rather than the be-all and end-all solution. Ask many of the thousands of home and business owners that installed solar PV as a part of the Feed-in Tariff (FiT) rates of late 2011 and they will tell you as they've told us the rates were really overly generous. A standard 4kWp system on a domestic home is generating well over a thousand pounds per year from the FiT's for these early birds, and with their rates locked for 24 more years it is obvious the returns were too high. This is especially true considering the cost for a standard 4kWp since back then was above 12k, whereas now the same systems go for around 6-7k.

Nowadays we see much lower FiT rates and these much lower installation costs making the market more stable and weeding out the short-term based companies providing PV services. PV cannot be the one answer to a home or businesses energy needs, just as efficient lighting, energy management, insulation, solar hot water, combined heat and power plants (CHP) and biomass isn't.

What we have now is an aligning of these aspects to form an effective, affordable, multi-layered approach that can make tangible and immediate differences to the buildings and structures we work and live in. The solar FiT's and Renewable Heat Incentives (RHI) are in place to ensure these two technologies (renewable energy from PV and renewable heat) form the two largest pieces of the puzzle for our domestic and commercial buildings; but without the other upgrades they alone will rarely be the best solution.

We currently offer funded approaches that implement as appropriate all of these considerations and more. Starting with simple and immediate LED Lighting upgrades that can save large structures tens of thousands of pounds a year, we analyse the whole building and make it more efficient.

So long as the sun shines, turning unused and appropriate roof space into clean energy is going to be a viable and integral consideration in the renewable mix. The FiT's are the linking steps before PV technology equals grid parity in the UK (projected to occur around 2020) and is economic on it's own feet. Until then, it will be used in combination with the other renewable and energy efficiency upgrades to fantastic effect for those with the foresight to explore it.

Re: Is Solar Power Finished? 1 month ago #4

I agree with the comments posted thus far. Solar power is not finished, but the evidence from the exhibition merely suggests that it is no longer top of the "best investment" league tables for home owners looking for a large %age return on their money. The reduction in FiTs grabs the political headlines, but the overall economic evaluation has to consider the capital investment cost, which, as has already been stated, have fallen considerably.

Part of the problem of solar and other technologies supported by FiTs is that they divert the attention from another part of the energy solution - conservation. This is a much harder aspect to tackle as it involves changing behaviours (think of all those office lights left on at night!) - plus there is less opportunity for entrepreneurs to earn revenue if they are merely selling an energy efficiency message, rather than installing solar panels (or similar).

So, as others have said, solar needs to be part of the solution, along with many other technolgies and along with energy conservation, building design, location, etc

Re: Is Solar Power Finished? 1 month ago #5

I agree with your thoughts Steven - it is as much up to the community of property development and design to bring about changes to our new structures that implement such considerations. Equally important are behaviours and attitudes towards conservation.

It is fine for a business like ours to go from property to property suggesting the installation of solar panels, biomass boilers, LED lighting and the like; making our margins on the installations costs and negating the impact of simple attitudinal changes that must happen in parallel. The reality is that conservation is as you say a very important aspect of this, but it does not come easily turning around years of behavioral conditioning for staff and homeowners.

To this end, energy management software can be of special interest when we analyse a building or organisation's energy awareness. These systems automatically detects lack of activity in areas, dimming and switching off unnecessary displays, lighting and electrical equipment. They can be geared to monitor a whole range of environmental controls and redirections to bring a constant, active and automated approach to conservation in a property. They have a profound impact not only on the bills themselves, but bring to the immediate attention of staff and residents the notions of saving energy wherever and whenever possible. Not only do they flick the switch for them, they serve as constant reminder to the possibilities of conservation that exist in our daily lives.

It is simple to rebut such energy management efficiency upgrades as making us even 'lazier' through their very presence; but the lobbying and attitudinal changes, conditioning and training can and should continue regardless. If we can utilise the advancements of technology we have available during this all it means is we could collectively save millions while we adjust.

We would be happy to hear directly from anyone interested in speaking more about this.

Re: Is Solar Power Finished? 4 weeks, 1 day ago #6

I don’t believe that Solar Power is certainly not finished. Here in Cornwall it may be that Solar PV is going to have to regroup and move away from the investment tax free market and focus on long term cost savings particularly for business/statutory organisations. Solar Thermal should continue to be the Solar priority - provided the rain stops or should we all move to hydro power!

Re: Is Solar Power Finished? 3 weeks, 5 days ago #7

Definately not. I was interested in Solar Power for a long time but the high cost and long investment return put me right off until last year. In January 2011 I had a 1.8Kw (10 Panel) system fitted with an estimated return of around £700 a year from the Feed in Tariffs. I can happily say that in the 1st year I had a return of just under £1000 not to mention the free electricity during the day. So based on these facts I recommend them fully especially if one has a south facing roof.

What I am not a supporter of, are these company's that are offering the installation of Solar Panels free of charge, promising free electricity but they make all the profit from the Feed in Tariffs. Although this scheme sounds good on paper, it's schemes like these that probably pushed the goverment to change the Feed in Tariffs.

Re: Is Solar Power Finished? 3 weeks, 4 days ago #8

On the contrary, Solar remains on the up in the UK, not least because it is the technology of choice among several renewable, sustainable methods available for burgeoning UK energy co-operatives. (Though a passionate, rational enthusiast for solar in northern climes, I take no money from the solar industry.)

Despite the credibility sadly given by British readers to the repeated poisonous, ideological, unscientific hatreds voiced by the Daily Mail & Telegraph - , solar continues to be popular in the UK. After three defeats in English courts over its own legal powers, DECC has come back with a more stable Feed-in Tariff regime. With solar panels dropping in price by 30% year on year to a global glut, the new FiTs - details at http://www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/ne...12_066/pn12_066.aspx - promise at least 6 per cent return on an ever lighter investment. With that 6% investment rate now effectively fixed, there's no point in waiting. Ease & speed of solar installation, plus the simplicity & reliability of the solar technology, combine to make it no accident that over 95% of all renewable installations are solar.
Last Edit: 3 weeks, 3 days ago by Neil Radcliffe. Reason: broken link

Re: Is Solar Power Finished? 3 weeks, 3 days ago #9

Just a quick note to say we believe that minimum 6% returns are less than can be expected. We are looking at returns on the post-August 1st rates of over 10% for domestic installations in the 4kWp and below range.

Even up at 50kWp commercial systems for schools and colleges; return on investment is at least 10%.

We establish these figures using today's pricing from over 50 accredited and long-term established solar installation partners and the new feed-in tariff rates.

Re: Is Solar Power Finished? 1 week, 2 days ago #10

I’ve just had a 12kWp system fitted to the offices and in the first 4 days it’s generated 239 kWh. That’s good enough to tell me that solar power can not be finished. As for financial sustainability with continuing cuts in FITs – that’s another matter!

Re: Is Solar Power Finished? 1 week, 2 days ago #11

Some great output figures there Andrew of nearly 5kWh per 1kWp per day - usual for this time of year and better than the average in Australia would you believe! I'd love to know how much money your offices save when that first cheque arrives Andrew, feel free to share that as well please.

The only point I'd make is that everyone must remember the feed-in tariffs are locked in once you install. Whilst we have seen a reduction from 25 years to 20 years for all installations after August 1st 2012, all installations completed before then have secured their rate as a minimum for 25 years and from now on it is for 20 years. The government cannot retrospectively change these terms as indicated by their double court appeal loss earlier in the year.

The rates lock in when you install, and with a gradual and set degression model in operation now until 2015 there are no more surprises to the reductions. They happen like clockwork every three months and once you're in, you've locked that tariff rate for 20 years no questions asked.

Re: Is Solar Power Finished? 4 days, 13 hours ago #12

Our experience from installing 133kWp in Brighton in the last 2 months is that it all depends on negotiating the right installation deal. We worked out that we needed an installed price of £1350 per kWp or less to make our scheme viable so we put that price to a number of solar installers to see who was able to acheive it. We will be doing the same once we have secured more sites for PV of the next couple of montsh and modelled the new FiT income.

Re: Is Solar Power Finished? 2 days, 15 hours ago #13

In response to Alban’s comments, he is spot on, the call for solar panels did significantly reduce in the UK
when Government announced feed-in tariff cuts. That’s a fact. While at one time installers’ phones were ringing off the hook while they worked seven-day weeks, now, many are struggling to fill their days. Industry has come up with several reasons for this dip in demand, yet the most frequent culprit appears to be negative press. Mainstream publications have the luxury of reaching out to thousands of UK consumers on a daily basis. Almost everyone of the age to pay energy bills now has access to news of some description and many take what they read at face value. Unfortunately, most of the journalists reporting for these newspapers are not specialists in the field they are writing about and, in some cases, they get things wrong. This is a recurring problem for the solar industry.

Re: Is Solar Power Finished? 1 day, 15 hours ago #14

Government has announced that feed-in tariff levels for solar PV installations are to be reduced again effective from the August 1.
Residential tariffs will decrease from 21p/kWh to 16p, and typical commercial tariffs at the 50kW scale will reduce from 15.9p/kWh to 13.5p. At first sight, this would appear to make installation of a solar roof unviable. But that isn’t the case, for two key reasons. First, as the tariffs are coming down, so is the price of a fully installed solar PV system.
Over the last three years we have seen the price of PV modules reduce by a factor of 4. Additional components are also reducing in price – inverters and solar mounting systems have benefitted from manufacturing improvements and a more competitive wholesale market in the UK. On top of that, the installation companies themselves are much more experienced and streamlined at delivering projects than a couple of years back. Add this all together and installed costs have come down by more than half.
Which is pretty much what the feed-in tariff has done as well.
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