Solar panels

Italy – ahead of us in renewables?

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This week I am away on my summer vacation in Italy, two weeks of sun and great food. We are in the hills just outside Sienna for the first week in a complex of nine units spread over a hillside with a shared pool – nothing unusual there, but what is interesting is the use of renewables.

20120807-172108.jpgOur villa is separate from the rest (which suites us well), but all of the units are linked up to a solar array on the hillside adjacent, I am assuming this feeds into the local network as well although I haven’t been able to confirm this. In addition to this all the villas have solar heating, there are large panels and tanks on each roof – not obvious unless you get at the right angle to see it.

Internally there is a water heater, but it appears to be a high efficiency one which is also linked up to the heating system – there is no air conditioning. So all in all the development appears to be fairly low impact in energy terms. Seeing this makes me realise just how far behind we are in the UK with getting renewables into our housing stock.

Yes we are moving forwards with wind farms and similar things, but our housing stock is old and inefficient, we need to address this sooner than later.

The death of small solar panels?

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The current Government like us to think that they are ‘green’ – if so why have they cut the feed in tariffs?

Not anymore

Householders who are in the process of having solar panels put on their roof have less than six weeks to complete the job or face seeing the predicted income they generate slashed after the government said it was cutting feed-in tariffs by 50%. Despite pledging to be “the greenest government ever”, the coalition have announced that only installations completed by 12 December will get the full payments they were promised. Hundreds of householders who have signed contracts to have panels fitted have now pulled out and others are expected to follow.

More worrying, is a proposal to make future feed-in tariff (Fit) payments dependent on the home meeting tough energy performance standards. Around 85% of UK homes would need to spend around £5,600 to meet the requirements. Such a move, which is subject to the consultation exercise announced by ministers, would kill the solar industry.

Under the original scheme, householders had been promised the higher Fit payments provided they installed their panels before 1 April 2012. Since the scheme’s introduction in 2010, around 100,000 householders have taken advantage of the generous terms. Last week’s cuts have already led some in the renewables sector to predict the end of the solar industry, which employs 25,000 people.

At least two legal challenges have been threatened,including one by Friends of the Earth, if the government doesn’t back down on the 12 December deadline. A protest is also set to hit Westminster on 22 November, though with the industry now working round the clock to complete ongoing installations, no one can afford to take time off to attend, even though it looks as though many one-man companies that spent thousands of pounds training to become accredited installers won’t be around in 12 months’ time.

So what do the changes mean?

• The feed-in tariff payable on installations of up to 4kW used to attract a generation rate of 43.3p per kWh. This will be reduced to a proposed 21p for all installations with an eligibility date on or after 12 December – unless the government relents voluntarily, or is forced to by a legal challenge. This slashes their viability; the financial return on the investment falls from around 12% to 5%-7%.

• If you complete your installation between 12 December and 1 April, you will get the new Fit of 21p, but won’t have to conform to any energy efficiency measures.

• Perhaps the biggest change, and the one that has attracted the least publicity, is the plan to make the payment of Fits dependent on other energy efficiency measures. Ministers have indicated they want only homes that have an energy performance certificate rating of C or better, ruling out many homes, as it will be prohibitively expensive. Most pre-1919 homes require the installation of some or all of the following measures: loft insulation, cavity wall insulation, heating controls, hot water cylinder insulation, replacement boiler and solid wall insulation – at a typical cost of £5,600.

• The proposals are also expected to put an end to free solar installations (often called “rent-a-roof” schemes) through a new multi-installation rate – where an individual or company receives Fits from more than one installation. They will get just 16.8p per kWh for systems up to 4kW, a rate which makes the business no longer worth pursuing.

A ‘proper’ photovoltaic park

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I am a big fan of renewables and hope to see a much greater use of them in the UK – if we don’t we are going to have problems in the future (even with nuclear power). It is great therefore, to see what some of our European cousins are achieving in this field.

As usual the French are not slow in adopting any form of free energy (I blogged before about their wind farms), they have now opened a huge photovoltaic park in the South of France – one of the largest in Europe.

impressive!

The park in Les Mées, lies in the southern department of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and is spread across 36 acres. It has been built by Belgian firm Enfinity, and joins several other plants built on the vast Puimichel plateau.

By the end of 2011, solar panels will cover 200 hectares and produce around 100MW, making it the biggest solar array in France. Enfinity’s €70m investment has included work to preserve the landscape with space for grazing and a system without a concrete foundation, making this a very ‘green’ development.

I am not sure we can do anything on this size (or if we have the weather for it) but it is hugely impressive!

Nottingham City Housing – solar panels

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With various forms of power production in the news at the moment it’s great to see something positive happening – and so close to home.

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A large number of homes in Aspley, Nottingham are set to be fitted with solar panels to try to reduce energy bills. Nottingham City Council is working with energy company EON to fit 600 homes with panels on council-owned properties.

The 2kW solar panels will produce an estimated 4,000kWh of electricity per year. The average household consumes between 3,500 and 4,500 kWh annually.

The city council claims the scheme will also help create jobs in the area.

Nottingham already provides 11% of its own energy and this schemes will increase the reputation of Nottingham for being an Energy City.

The council is, in effect, renting roof space to E.ON who will retain ownership of the solar panels.

Tenants will only pay for electricity used at night when the solar panels are dormant or any energy used over that which is generated during the day.

No doubt the Council will benefit financially from the deal, but this is still a great move towards more renewable energy in Nottingham.

Wind turbines next?