Posts tagged with: solar installation

The government has lost its high court appeal over its plan to cut subsidies for solar panels on homes.

The appeal was against a High Court ruling blocking government plans to make large reductions to payments made to households with solar panels.

It would have hit customers who installed panels after 12 December.

Under the feed-in tariffs programme, people in Britain with solar panels are paid for the electricity they generate. The government tried to reduce them prior to the results of the consultation being released. The High Court agreed with opponents that this was legally flawed.

The new tariff of 21p per kilowatt-hour, down from the current 43p, had been expected to come into effect from 1 April, but in October the government said it would be paid to anyone who installed their solar panels after 12 December.

Upholding that ruling, the Supreme Court said the government’s appeal “does not raise an arguable point of law of general public importance which ought to be considered by the Supreme Court at this time”.

The government said the court’s decision drew a line under the case.

“We will now focus all our efforts on ensuring the future stability and cost effectiveness of solar and other microgeneration technologies for the many, not the few,” said Energy and Climate Change Secretary.

Here at we applaud the High Courts judgment and hope it encourages fairer and better planned legislation from the government In the future when amending renewable energy policy.

On a rooftop in Suffolk there now sits a vast 500KW solar panel project which, much to the pleasure of the solar installation firm involved Going Solar and client, Debach Enterprises has been completed in advance of the August cut-off date for the current feed-in tariff rates. For projects completed after that date, tariff rates will be reduced as part of controversial reductions in the money paid out as part of the scheme. The £1.2m project would have fallen foul of the cutbacks in the tariff as it is over the 50KW threshold putting it in the large scale project bracket.

The 2,200 solar panel project completed by Going Solar will generate up to 440,000kw hours of electricity every year, enough to power the warehouse and provide a surplus to the national grid which as well as being enough energy to power 100 homes, will generate a healthy revenue stream via the tariff pay outs. The government’s cuts in the feed-in tariff come as they try to move the emphasis away from large scale solar farms and into smaller scale roof mounted solar projects. Going Solar Director Charles Houston believes that not all rooftop schemes should face the cuts and that size should not necessarily be a factor in precluding them from the tariff scheme.

“The consultation has only just been completed and we are arguing there is a case for treating rooftop installations differently. The government has a valid point trying to address large solar farms, but with rooftop installations the energy is often used on site and you are only using dead space that is up on a roof. If a business wants to cut its carbon by using that space then it should be encouraged to do so.”

Going Solar has announced that they will be focusing on solar thermal projects in the future with Houston going onto explain that,

“The Renewable Heat Incentive is about to make solar thermal collectors very attractive to schools, hotels and other sites with high water demand, while there is a real window of opportunity for 50kW solar installations. The feed-in tariff went up in April as it is linked to inflation and at the same time solar panel prices have come down. There is now an opportunity for businesses installing mid-sized projects to complete installations before the long track review of feed-in tariff likely recommends further cuts to come into effect from 31 March next year”.

Solar panels are by far the most expensive item in a solar panel installation. Understanding the features that differentiate a good solar panel from a bad one is not so straightforward. In several instalments I’d like to give a guide to each of the key criteria to look out for. I will try keep it as simple as possible but it is something that many people ask me about so I think it isn’t a bad idea to discuss these issues in some depth.

First of all I’d like to discuss solar panel efficiency. This defines how effective a solar panel is in converting sunlight into electricity for a given surface area. The advantage of having a higher efficiency solar panel is that you can get more power out of a small available area. For this reason, high efficiency solar panels are normally priced at a premium and targeted at the domestic market where space is most constrained. High efficiency does not necessarily mean better quality or reliability however – these issues are covered later. Nor does higher efficiency mean better value; in many cases lower efficiency panels are used because they are more cost-effective in places where space utilisation is not so critical.

First of all, how do you find out the efficiency of a solar panel? It’s easy to find out this out for yourself. Remember that the power of a solar panel is given by the power you get out under ‘standard test conditions.’ This means the output is measure when the panel is exposed to a very bright light with an intensity of 1000 Watts per square meter (1000W/m2) at a temperature of 25oC. This is normally expressed in Watts (e.g. 185W or 230W etc) and is the power you will get when the sun is very strong. You can then multiply the module length and width (which is shown on the datasheet) to get the module area. By taking the module power in Watts and the standard test conditions of 1000W/m2 you can determine the module efficiency as follows;

Efficiency = power out / power in = module power / (width x length x 1000W/m2)

When evaluating solar panel efficiency its important to be aware that each solar cell has an efficiency higher than that of the whole solar panel (or module) due to empty space. Therefore make sure to find out which value you are looking at.

In general solar panels you will come across in the UK will be made of silicon (I have discussed thin film panels previously) so the discussion here will focus on these. The highest efficiency silicon solar panels on the market today are between 17% and 18% efficient. The efficiency of silicon solar panels is increasing due to R&D, but improvements are incremental and slow because there are a number of fundamental limitations to the efficiency of silicon solar cells which mean that any drastic improvements in the near future are unlikely. Perhaps I will describe those limitations in another article.

The main factor you will come across that affects module efficiency is whether the module is mono or multi-crystalline. In English this means that the solar cells can easy be made from mono or multi-crystalline silicon. Mono crystalline solar cells consist of a slice of a single, very pure silicon crystal and hence are very efficient due to few defects. Multi-crystalline solar cells, which comprise multiple crystals, are around 1-2% less efficient but are generally more cost-effective to produce. Personally I think it generally makes sense to use mono-crystalline cells for domestic installations where space is at a premium and multi-crystalline cells for larger installations.

Another factor that can affect efficiency is anti-reflective coatings. These are becoming more and more common. Nearly all solar cells have texturing directly on top of them that reduces reflection and now many solar panels come with anti-reflective glass. This generally consists of a textured glass that can be seen as a speckled pattern if you look closely. The improvement of anti-reflective coatings is hard to determine, although some manufacturers claim energy yield enhancements of over 5 percent.

When installing a solar panel system your ultimate goal should always be to get the best return on your investment, which means getting the most power for the lowest price without risking reliability and is dependent on many factors besides efficiency. Whilst there are a number of other technologies on the horizon that can be used to improve efficiency by small amounts, nothing will create a drastic change overnight. Prices of solar panels will continue to fall rapidly as production volume increases (in the same way as many other technology products such as computer memory) but these price falls will be matched by reductions in the feed-in tariff. Therefore don’t worry that installing today’s technology risks being superseded by a miracle solar panel tomorrow. Working in the industry gives you pretty good insight as to what is coming down the line.

In recent weeks I have seen several proposals for ‘buying groups’ for residential solar energy installations in the UK. The principle is that rather than individuals from the same area each seeking an installer for their solar panels, a buying group involves a number of home-owners clubbing together and seeking a single installer to do all the installations in one go.

There are several benefits to this. The main reason is that it leverages economies of scale, meaning that you should be able to get an overall lower price because the installer is able to source equipment in larger quantities and utilise their staff better by working in a concentrated area. The second big benefit is in administration time. Choosing an installer for your solar installation is time-consuming. You need to get quotes from several firms, who should each give a site-visit before giving their final price. In a buying group, this process is minimised because you have one tender process for the whole group.

A nice thing about buying groups is the community organisation aspect. Installing solar panels is now very profitable, both financially and environmentally so working as a local group is a great way to bring the community together to do something real that makes a difference. So how do you go about setting up a buying group? The best way is to find a group of people that already have some sort of local connection. This could be something like a residents association, a sports club, a church group or even pub regulars. The important thing is to ensure that the process is clearly explained to potential participants. It is also possible to advertise locally, but make sure you are open about whether you plan to make money from doing the organising or not.

Once a reasonable number of people have expressed an interest (I would say 5 or more counts as reasonable but this is not fixed), the group organisers can start to contact installation firms. Make sure to get full quotes and make these available to all participants to make the process as open as possible. It may even be worthwhile inviting the installer to a group meeting in order to give their ‘pitch’ so that everyone can compare the offers.

Something to be aware of is that there are a growing number of people already organising local buying groups.  Some of these groups are people doing it out of their own time because of their passion for the community and renewable energy. Other groups however, are trying to make significant amounts of money from being a middle man.

I have seen more than one proposal from buying groups looking to take ten percent of the cost of an installation as commission. This strikes me as a bit unfair since the idea of the buying group is to lower costs for the members.

Organizing a buying group takes a considerable amount of time, and so taking some money is acceptable. Personally, what I don’t like is people pretending to be doing the community a service but actually using it as an easy way to make some quick cash. Ten percent is also a bit steep. The idea of the buying group is to lower costs for everyone, this clearly doesn’t work if all the saved costs are going straight to the organisers of the buying group.

So genuine buying groups are a great idea, just beware the profiteers. If someone approaches you as a buying group be sure to find out how much money they stand to make.