Monthly archives: August 2010

You may have seen recent announcements in the press regarding ‘solar panel giveaways’ from new companies offering to install photovoltaic panels on your home completely for free. Solar PV panels are known to be extremely expensive, so how on earth could a company offer them for free, and why would they do it?

The answer is relatively straightforward, the companies involved stand to make a considerable amount of money from the scheme. The key behind it is that installing photovoltaic panels under the feed-in tariff is a very good investment. Installing them on your home is especially good because the feed-in tariff pays the most money for small PV installations. Anyone deciding on where to invest their money should definitely look at getting a solar installation, it’s a tax-free, index linked investment that can be a great help to families and the environment.

Unsurprisingly for the UK economy however, where a good investment is to be found it doesn’t take long for the investment banks to come lurking. All of the free solar schemes offered are actually based on investment funds set-up by a well known UK investment bank. The fund is created to pay for solar installations on suitable UK homes, and then all the revenues from the solar panels go directly back to the bank. Some electricity savings are passed to the resident, but the big majority of returns go straight to the bank.

The second critical ingredient to this arrangement is the network of installers to design and install the installations.  In the UK there are not a huge number of these installer networks.  Behind each of these solar panel schemes is a different network such as the Mark Group and Eaga, firms which have over a thousand installers. They grew by doing boiler replacements and installation fitting for utilities such as British Gas. This arrangement means company who actually sells you the system is in fact a middle man between you, the bank and installer. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with this, but its important to understand what is going on.

The other way of looking at it is that the investment banks are providing a service. Not everyone is in the position to invest 10k in a solar PV system and the ‘free solar’ schemes allow a wider range of people to experience solar energy and benefit from it. The arrangement means that the feed-in tariff payments go to the investment bank, but the savings in electricity bills at least are retained by the resident.

Overall these financing schemes will help to quickly grow the industry in the UK, but beware of how they work and know that you would make a lot more money if you self-financed. In Germany and other more mature solar energy markets, what you find is that ‘solar loans’ are widely available. This is the cheapest way of financing a solar installation. You just get a loan for however much you need in order to buy your system and pay it off with the feed-in tariff revenue. It means you still get to own the system and receive at least a portion of the feed-in tariff.

So if you would like solar panels but can’t afford to invest 10k over 25 years then getting some sort of financing is a good idea. It might just be worth waiting for better financial products rather than lining the pockets of investment bankers however.

Announcements on earlier this month that the Spanish government was to reduce spending in another sector of the Spanish economy would hardly have made for happy reading on the pages of El Pais and El Mundo. Nevertheless the news was that huge spending cut backs would be made on solar energy with tariffs designed to attract uptake with reductions of up to 45 per cent.

Draft proposals from the Ministry of Industry announced that spending cuts would reflect those seen on feed-in tariffs in Germany and Italy where the tightening of purse strings has necessitated the removal of what are seen as non-essential expenses.

Indeed, Spain will be reducing tariff payments for roof-based systems by up to 25 per cent but for large ground based solar installations a much more eye watering 45 per cent, news not likely to impress installers or investors.

Feed-in tariffs work by offering producers of renewable energy fixed, premium rates for the energy they both use and feed back into the grid. The energy firms are obliged by legislation to purchase the renewable energy at the premium rates the costs of which are spread across Spanish energy consumers. The Spanish government has therefore been able to justify cut backs explaining that they are a means of controlling rising Spanish Energy Bills.

The problems of course is that while consumers may make some savings on their monthly electricity bills, cut backs at this period could cause serious long term harm to an area of the Spanish economy which has been booming over the last decade.

With news this week that growth of the UK solar market has finally over taken that of Spain, it highlights once again the essentiality of tariff mechanisms as a way of creating long term attractiveness for investors in the face of struggling economies.

Following their announcement that they would be giving away free solar installations to households across the UK, it is perhaps unsurprising that energy firm, Homesun have received an unprecedented level of inquiries.

The offer will include both a technical survey to ensure that the property is suitable for solar panel installation and of course the actual installation, taking away the initial start up costs which often act as a deterrent to potential renewable installers.

100,000 systems will be given away to homeowners with south-facing roofs meeting the requirements of the survey, allowing them to enjoy all of the benefits of a solar panel system without having to outlay all of the initial costs associated with solar technology.

Solar panels could save homeowners up to 40 per cent on their electricity bills with estimates that a typical 3 bedroom semi could save up to £250 a year, with the added benefit that homes with solar panels installed fetch a higher price on the market than comparative properties without. A spokeswoman for Homesun commented,

“There’s real excitement about what we are doing. This just goes to show the latent demand for solar amongst the British public, they just needed to find a way to access it. Solar now makes perfect sense. I am proud HomeSun is leading the charge to take solar mainstream.”

Homesun have already announced that since the release of their offer, they have received 7,000 calls and have had 10,000 people log onto the Homesun website. Talking about the unprecedented level of interest, Chief Executive of Homesun David Green said,

“The phones have been absolutely mental and it’s put huge pressure on our website. We were not anticipating such enormous demand. It’s clear that for the first time, we have allowed renewable energy for residents to break through.”

Homesun’s offer has been made possible by the introduction of feed-in tariffs, government legislation introduced in April 2010 devised to increase the take up of renewable energy generation. The tariff works by offering premium, guaranteed rates for both the energy used and the units of energy fed-into the national grid from the renewable systems.

Homesun will therefore be able to recoup their initial investment and subsequently make a healthy profit on each installation. Homeowners will be given the opportunity to buy the tariff contracts from Homesun in the future but it is more likely that most will simply opt to make savings on their bills.

With offers such as Homesun’s making an impact in the media and the building of consciousness about the feed-in tariff, it is very likely that before long the market will be jam packed by suppliers offering very similar solutions

Below is an article written on African P.V kindly written by one of our readers.

Renewable energy technologies (RETs) provide attractive environmentally sound technology options for Africa ’s telecom and electricity industry. 

RETs could offset a significant proportion of foreign exchange that is used for importing oil for electricity generation in most countries.

GAZTEC WEST AFRICA solar products provide highly reliable remote power for distributed telecommunication applications.

Africa ‘s renewable energy potential is well-known. The problem is that it’s mostly well-known to people living outside the continent, therefore increasing awareness of renewable energy technology among the African people is vital.

We believe strongly that Africa , which has remained at the bottom of the Human Development Index for centuries, will make a radical turn for the best when our world distinctly enters the Solar Age. The continent will be propelled into the First World by her comparative advantage in the supra-abundance of Solar Energy.

GAZTEC WEST AFRICA solutions provide a competitive alternative to pure diesel systems that are increasingly under cost pressures due to rising fossil fuel costs, frequent servicing requirements and problems associated with increasing CO2 emissions. Our solar energy systems are containerized and rapidly deployable. Most telecommunications applications involve HYBRID SYSTEMS. Depending on the application, the systems can be configured with a mix of solar, wind, battery, fuel cell, diesel and other power sources.

Our MOBILE SYSTEMS can be transported by air, sea or road and are fitted with extensive SunEnergy remote monitoring and control features. Traditional biomass energy use has serious environmental drawbacks. The
indoor air pollution from unvented biofuel cooking stoves is a major contributor to respiratory illnesses in highland areas of sub-Saharan Africa .

The renewable energy resource potential in Africa has not been fully exploited, mainly due to the limited policy interest and investment levels.

In addition, The second important development that has increased interest in renewables in the region is the recurrent crises faced by most power utilities in the region. For example, in year 2000 alone, Ethiopia Kenya, Malawi , Nigeria and Tanzania , Ivory Coast 2010 faced unprecedented power rationing which adversely affected their economies. The rapid development of renewables is often mentioned as an important response option for addressing the power problems faced by the region.

Target  Markets are:

At the community level: vaccine refrigeration, water pumping, purification and rural electrification. On the industrial scale, solar energy is used for pre-heating boiler water for industrial use and power generation,detoxification, municipal water heating, telecommunications, and, more recently, transportation (solar cars) one of the main obstacle to implementing renewable energy projects is often not the technical feasibility of these projects but the absence of low-cost, long-term financing

Governments and developments banks ,private enterprises must therefore seek creative ways of financing RETs projects. The challenge of financing projects for RETs is to develop models that can provide these technologies to consumers (including the very poor) at affordable prices while ensuring that the industry remains sustainable .

Banking institutions normally lay down strict conditions for RETs investors and this deters potential users. Conditions required included a feasibility study conducted at the applicant’s expense, due to the limited knowledge on renewables by banks. In addition, the banks required land titles as collateral, portforlios of project sponsors and managers, data on past and current operations, approximate value of existing investment, a valuation report, raw material procurement plans, and the marketing strategy for the finished product .

Priority should be given to the establishment of innovative and sustainable financing programmes for renewable energy technologies. This may range from the creation of a international Fund for renewable energy projects .

In order to increase access to loans, banks should find alternatives to stringent requirements e.g. the collateral requirements. In addition small credit institutions (micro-finance institutions) could provide financing for RETs investors and users at affordable and accessible terms. Small-credit institutions are crucial in ensuring continuity when external support ceases .

Solar energy is a kind of cheap energy source for Africa , clean, green, free, without pollution or damage to the environment.

Electrifying the rural areas poses great challenges for African governments. Remote and scattered, rural homes, which are unlike homes in the urban areas, are costly and often impractical to connect to the main electricity grid. But stand-alone sources of power, such as solar energy, wind energy and power from mini-hydro generators, can help to fill the gap of remote and scattered, rural homes. In Africa solar power, which is clean and renewable, fits the demands.The sun is free and inexhaustible.

Renewable energy technologies have an important role to play in Africa ’s energy sector. With the right approach, the renewable energy industry in

Africa can become a major player in the energy sector, and meet the energy needs of a significant proportion of the population. Renewable energy technologies can play a major role in national development in terms of job creation and income generation as well as providing an environmentally sound energy service. Aggressive lobbying for renewables at national,regional and sub-regional levels is required.

Renewables can play complementary roles to large-scale conventional energy technologies. For example, RETs can be important alternatives for power generation in many drought-prone countries, when the conventional electricity sector (largely hydro-based) experiences deficits.

The social and environmental benefits of solar power are significant and will be vital to improving Ivory coast ‘s energy security as well as teaching why it’s important to value and protect its surroundings.

Kone Mohammad