The Power of the Sun

The subject of this update was due to be the title of the previous update (and the one previous to that), indeed I was hoping to have written this way back in March but as with many things in the Bagnall household, plans do not follow the path that you had mapped out.  Nevertheless we are here and this is it.  It is also part of the reason why the updates have been a little sporadic of late although in order to make amends to you dear readers, this is write up number two of three that will happen this week.  Let’s hope that not only do things get better from now on, they stay that way for the rest of the year!

When we saw our new home we fell in love with it as it gave us nearly all what we wanted and more importantly a home that we wouldn’t quickly outgrow.  When we moved in Lucinda was on maternity leave and thus we only had my income to live on.  Although it is tough we are fortunate, or perhaps savvy enough to ensure that we are not reliant on Lucinda’s salary (although it is a nice bonus and allows for all the niceties like holidays), and with the events of the last few months that has been very wise nonetheless a bigger house means bigger bills.  Again we were prepared for this but at the same time there is no harm is seeing what you can do to limit the impact of them on your wallet.  Therefore we are currently looking at a variety of ways to reduce these bills.

Last week saw the first of our initiatives (I wonder how many we will get done this year.  You will have to keep popping to by to see whether any of the others come to fruition) an installation of Solar Panels or more strictly Photovoltaic cells.  Solar energy is the third biggest renewal energy source (after hydro and wind power) and is the most accessible for a home installation.  The price of solar systems have fallen such that they are economically viable (even in the UK) and so with energy prices only set to increase and our domestic consumption of electricity (both as a country and as the Bagnall household) also set to increase it seemed a good time to jump in.

We have opted to buy our system outright (via a loan from RBS – RBS’s hand has been forced by the government to provide such loans as we, the tax payers of the UK, own 80% of RBS).  This means that it will probably take around 5 years for the system to pay for itself, but as of Friday every penny of every quantum of energy that we produce is ours.  This means we are not tied into any third party, and the space above our roof remains ours, thus in theory the panels can only really be considered an asset to the house (unless for some reason you don’t like the look of them) as they contribute to reducing our energy bills in three (possibly four) ways:

  • As our system was installed by an accredited installer we are eligible for the UK’s FiT (Feed-in Tariff) of 14.9p/kWh payable on the electricity we generate.
  • Since the electricity we generate is fed into our consumer board we then use this electricity before drawing electricity from the grid, saving us money per unit of electricity consumed.  If our generation of electricity is above our consumption of electricity we are paid an extra 5p/kWh.
  • Any surplus electricity generated is used to power an immersion heater in our hot water cylinder, thus reducing the amount of energy required to heat our hot water and thus reducing our gas bill in the process.
  • The fourth possible way is more of a tenuous reason to install photovoltaic cells.  In a 2011 study using thermal imaging it was shown that photovoltaic panels, provided there is an open gap in which air can circulate between them and the roof, provide a passive cooling effect on buildings during the day and also keep accumulated heat in at night.  Not really a reason to install photovoltaic cells (better off nipping to Screwfix (other DIY stores are available) and buying some loft insulation) but a nice side effect.

From a green point of view, the energy required to build a photovoltaic cell is repaid by the energy generated by the cell in about 2.5 years, in the UK (as little as a year in more tropical climes).  Although I don’t subscribe entirely to the notion of Anthropogenic Climate Change the fact that we are poisoning our environment is not in doubt and if we can make changes in one’s own home to reduce the burden that modern life is placing on mother Earth then surely that is only a positive.  If by doing so, we can actually save ourselves some money then it is win-win.

Now this isn’t really the forum for a detailed analysis of the saga that was our install, suffice to say that installs are usually much smoother than the one we experienced.  A combination of factors all colluded to cause us delay after delay after delay.  Could these factors have been forecast:  perhaps not.  Could they have been handled by the install company better:  most certainly.  It is extremely frustrating to be on the wrong side of poor customer service, even if that poor customer service is delivered by nice people trying to be nice.  In some ways it was worse than being on the wrong side of poor customer service by a company that didn’t even have a pretense of trying to solve the issues.

I genuinely think that the install company were purely going through a busy period with no mechanism in place to look after a customer for whom things are not going as planned.  It was almost as if the original plan wasn’t working they didn’t have an alternative and no one was going to take responsibility for our case.

I was driven by frustration so much that after many an email exchange I ended up speaking to the CEO and telling him my thoughts.  Compensation has been agreed and we shall say no more on the matter and thus it is only fair that the install company will remain nameless.

The big question however is whether the savings are truly worth it; you may have to pop back in 2020 for a full report, although we are seeing an income already.  Would I recommend solar panels, in my limited experience, if you can afford it:  Yes.

A small selection of photos of some of the people for whom the idea that renewable energy sources are a rare thing will be hard to comprehend when they reach 40.

Peace and Love