Why We Are More Positive About Solar Energy Than Ever Before

Solar Panels Positive Thinking

Way back in the mists of time, it was Thomas Edison who made the bold statement that we would need to harness the power of the sun if we were to successfully power the world. After a brief hiatus when we fell more in love with fossil fuels than was generally thought good for us, many people are coming back to the notion that the sun could well hold the key for our future.

Head back just twenty years and you would come across solar panels on the roof of a house every so often. There was no Feed in Tariff back in those days and installations were prohibitively expensive for most of us. A combination of the threat of global warming and some more useful legislation that makes it easier and less financially painful to install means that many of us are starting consider the possibility of having our own solar panels installed.

The detractors of renewable energy will often say that we are not fond of the idea of ugly looking constructions and expensive technology, not to mention that it’s not as effective as those green people would have us believe.

Neither is it as clean as people make out.

Most of these objections have largely been debunked in recent times. Scientists and researchers are working hard to produce cheaper and more carbon friendly solar cells and the government backs it as one of the more viable and the cheapest energy solutions for the future.

Actually, as a nation, we are pretty well informed about the pros and cons of renewable energy such as solar PV. The truth is it’s often governments and politicians that stand in the way of further development of green technologies, despite what growing public opinion says. According to the Solar Trade Association, over 150 businesses recently got together to urge Prime Minister David Cameron to back the industry which supports some 16,000 jobs in the UK alone.

Celebrity endorsements

They can often have a detrimental effect on any cause but a good celebrity endorsement here or there makes us feel better about our low carbon life choices. Whilst it can often be seen as the worst kind of opportunism, A-listers like Leonardo DiCaprio have been working on the green agenda for at least the last ten years, without too much of a nod towards self-promotion. Whether it changes our view point on the need for radical action and the uptake of green agendas or has no effect whatsoever, keeping the whole thing in the public eye is important.

Cheaper prices

And of course we love a bargain. The idea of poking the large energy companies in the eye and becoming more independent also makes technologies like solar panels far more appealing. If prices are going to continue to shoot up (despite this month’s temporary reduction in the cost of gas and electricity) then we all want to work towards a little more financial and fuel security. With the arrival of Feed in Tariffs, the world fell in love with solar just a little bit more.

Word of mouth

The one thing that you can’t really ignore is the age old power of word of mouth. If people in your street have a solar panel installed then you are bound to check it out, especially if you are habitually struggling with your energy bills and want a long term, cheaper alternative. It’s something that double glazing installers have long known. Do a good job in a street and you’ll oft times get more business from a trusted neighbour’s recommendation.

Government backing

Whatever you say about the current government’s climate change agenda, we would be nowhere if there weren’t incentives such as The Green Deal, Feed in Tariffs and Renewable Heat Incentive to make it worthwhile in changing our old, inefficient devices for newer, more carbon friendly ones.

More installers and more information

There was a time when, if you were thinking of getting solar panels installed, your sources of information were limited, normally dependent on the knowledge of the guy who was setting it up. Nowadays, people can go online and search for the pros and cons of any renewable technology and make themselves an ‘expert’ in a short period of time. That means we are less like to fall prey to unscrupulous installers who are out to make a quick profit rather than supply a system that does the job we want it to do.

The other thing to consider in the rising popularity of solar panels is that there are now governing institutions and certification bodies such as the MCS. Combine that with the growing number of companies offer the service and that means prices come down through greater competition. That’s why you begin to see the real change in the solar panel industry over the last ten years or so and why we are more likely to go for it than at any other time.

Find out more about solar panels here.

Do Solar Panels Make Your Property More Valuable?

Solar Panels

The one question that many of those new to renewable technologies ask is whether having something installed, especially popular technology like solar panels, will have an adverse effect on the value of their property. There has been much debate on this subject over the years but little in the way of research.

The general consensus is that it should add to the value of your home though there are a few caveats. For instance, what happens if you have elected to take on free solar panels by giving up your access to the Feed in Tariff and are therefore tied into a lengthy contract? Are buyers less likely to be interested or does it have no effect at all?

Back in 2012, the Daily Mail was warning that surveyors were advising against buying houses that had ‘free’ solar panels installed as you might not have been able to get a mortgage and were unlikely to benefit from the Feed in Tariff for the length of the contract which could be as long as 25 years. A few years later MP Greg Barker was in a little trouble for suggesting that installing solar panels on your roof was better than investing in a pension and would give you a more equitable return.

Despite the growth in popularity of solar energy in recent years it’s still a debatable question as to whether having panels installed will increase the asking price of your property. If you have paid for the installation yourself and can pass on the benefit of the Feed in Tariff then it may well be that many buyers will be open to spending a little more.

The age of the installation and the size of the array will obviously be taken into account. A bigger installation that is ideally placed has more potential for yielding a profit than a smaller one that perhaps doesn’t’ get enough sun. With gas and electricity prices both set to rise despite the recent cut back by energy companies, the value of having your own renewable source of electricity could well become greater in the future.

If installing solar panels does not exactly increase the saleable value of your property, at least not at the moment, then there is little evidence that it decreases it either. According to the housing website Your Right Move, an increased price often depends on whether the estate agents recognise the value of renewables or not and there seems to be a fair amount of disparity between different organisation and individuals.

Solar panels and commercial premises

One area where solar panels may well have a positive impact on property prices is with commercial premises. A recent report by Solar Century suggests that installing sizeable solar panel arrays can increase the property value by providing additional income streams. Whilst the valuation of properties is still a little sketchy, more and more companies may well be enticed into having installations because of government initiatives such as the Feed in Tariff and the move away from solar panels on farm land to those on the roofs of office and industrial buildings.

Particularly if you have a large amount of space, the initial investment is outweighed by the return for commercial premises which may well be able to benefit from a significant additional income stream that could range into the thousands after the array is paid for.

According to the CEO of Solar Century, the times are changing and many big players are starting to see solar as a big opportunity: “A new wave of leading brands are going solar – Sainsbury’s, Google, Mars, IKEA and Apple among them – and this is undoubtedly stimulating the market. And with over 80% of the British public consistently supportive of solar, consumer awareness for companies choosing solar will only increase.”

Yes, the jury may still be out about how positive solar panels are for your average domestic holding, but certainly in the commercial market there are indications that it is more advantageous than not on property prices when they are installed. The smart money says that, in the future, the same will follow if you have installed solar panels on your home and have paid for it yourself – it’s simply a matter of time. The trick is to make sure that you have the right array for your property and that it produces a decent return on investment.

Find out more about choosing your solar panel installer here.

Say Hello to Flow a Micro CHP revolution has begun!

Flow Boiler

Is Flow Leading the Microgeneration Revolution?

One of the problems with producing great renewable technology on a micro scale that has real benefits for domestic properties has always been the affordability. Now energy company Flow have combined cutting edge new technology that has been developed over the past 10 years and combined it with an imaginative set of financing options that are tied to the Feed in Tariff.

The solution?

A home boiler that actually produces electricity too which can either be fed directly into your house or sold to the National Grid. In truth boilers that produce electricity as well are not a totally new concept – the technology is fairly simple. The benefit here lies in the ability to bring the cost down enough so that consumers benefit more widely from changing to this much lower carbon approach to heating and powering the home.

Who Are Flow?

If you’ve never heard of Flow you may be set to become more aware as they launch a major advertising campaign for their boiler from the 15th January. According to CEO Tony Staff in October last year: “We have major shareholders such as Aviva, which holds 20 per cent of our stock. We have the third-largest American contract manufacturer Jabil providing working capital…if you look at our track record, you’ll see we’ve been round a long time and are already generated £40million of energy sales.”

The system works a little like a refrigeration unit with a volatile liquid in the main electricity producing part. Gas heat is produced as normal but this evapourates the liquid and feeds it through a scroll expander which is essentially a kind of dynamo. As anyone with a little knowledge of electricity production will know, movement of a coil can produce a current and that electricity can be then fed into the house. The liquid, after flowing through the scroll expander, condenses and is returned to the beginning where the whole process starts again.

Is it too good to be true?

The question that many have asked is what happens with the electricity production when the heating isn’t on? The truth is that there is currently no way to store the electricity generated and so when the heater is not on then there is no electrical power.

According to Flow this isn’t going to be as much of a problem as many think because most electricity is used at night when people are at home and are using things like hot water and having washes. Having said that, there is no doubt that the electricity production will be more of a saving in the colder months when the heating is on.

In truth, the boiler that produces electricity as well is not intended to completely rid you of dependence on the National Grid. It does, however, help you in the long run reduce the costs.

The finance deal that makes a difference

The devil is in the detail and the finance package that comes with Flow’s new boiler owes a lot to the Government’s Feed in Tariff that pays renewable energy owners for the power they generate. That means that Flow can offer something akin to the Green Deal where the cost of the boiler is redeemed through savings on fuel bills or the free installation style offer that is seen with solar panels where the Feed in Tariff is handed over to the installing company until the bill is paid off.

Without this kind of financing option, the Flow Boiler would be much less attractive. The unfettered cost is more than your average run of the mill condensing boiler. According to The Liverpool Echo in November, the savings could amount to as much as £500 a year: “It has the potential to generate around 40% of a household’s electricity, saving a customer around £200 a year – and generating around £300 a year on top in ‘Feed in Tariff’ payments.”

The future of micro energy

At the Renewable Energy Hub we believe that this could represent a real change in the way we look at energy production in the home. Whether we like it or not, we are all still dependent on a fossil fuels like gas and will be for the foreseeable future and as the flow boiler isn’t strictly a renewable energy appliance – the trick is how we help to reduce our carbon footprint and make using this source of energy far more carbon friendly.

Whilst Flow may be the first to get this technology onto the market in a way that normal everyday people find affordable, they probably won’t be the last. The rest of the industry is looking at what happens and if the number of people who take up the offer is impressive, you will no doubt see a rapid increase in the range of heating/electricity generating boilers on offer. The hope is that with greater demand, the overall price of the boilers will come down, making it more and more affordable in the future.

The future could well belong to the micro generation innovators.

Find out more about the Flow Boiler here.

Solar Panels on Every Rooftop: Is the Future Micro?

Residentail Solar Panels

According to Business Green almost half a million of us now have solar panels installed on our roof tops with more to come over the next year as domestic homes and businesses try to take advantage of the Feed in Tariff benefits of this particular renewable energy. According to Leonie Green from the Solar Trade Association: “A quiet solar revolution has been taking place led by half a million everyday households. Polls show over and over that the public back renewables and they have indeed put their hands in their pockets to prove it.”

The rise in demand may well mean that the industry could meet its ambitious target of the million installation mark by the end of 2015. And other industry insiders and renewables advocates are beginning to speculate what the UK would be like if every roof top generated its own electricity supply with solar panels.

The price of solar panels has come down over recent years with better technology being developed and ever more competition within the industry. Factor in the government’s Feed in Tariff, where home owners and businesses can earn revenue back from their installations, and you have a recipe for greater and ever faster growth.

The Future of Solar Farms

It’s not the only way we are currently getting our energy from solar panels. Just before Christmas the UK’s largest solar farm in Oxfordshire was connected to the grid, providing valuable power for some 14,000 homes. Whilst the 46MW Landmead site is built on what is termed low grade farming land, there have been recent objections to large scale solar farms precisely because they are using up valuable agricultural space. Solar farm developments have also had more than their fair share of detractors who don’t want to see huge installations built in their neck of the woods. Indeed, in recent times a growing number of projects have been refused planning permission on this basis.

The government has said that it would prefer to see more solar panel installations on roof tops rather than devoting a large number of finite subsidies to the building of more solar farms. With a reduction in subsidies and the fact that roof mounted installations are getting more from the Feed in Tariff than ground ones, over the next few years we could see an increase in the larger kinds of solar panel installations on buildings such as supermarkets and factories.

Solar Panels on Every Roof in the UK

Assuming we are going to move away from large scale solar farms, the question is if an increasingly micro approach could provide a substantial part of the energy we need from the sun. In San Francisco they are considering legislation that would see every new build obligated to have solar panels. Not only that, there are moves to get existing buildings in the city to install them too. According to David Chiu from the city’s Board of Supervisors it’s something that is eminently doable: “If you ever go to the top of a tall building in San Francisco and look down, you see the potential for sustainability on every single roof in the city.

The plan is ambitious and would require a hefty supply of government money to encourage homeowners and businesses in the city to have the panels installed but it is hoped that this will be in place in the near future with many installations could be up and running by the target date of 2020.

In Europe, Germany is undertaking a major push on solar energy and, here in the UK, the Imperial College in London has estimated that we could be producing around 40% of our electricity from solar if the rise in installations for domestic and business purposes continues to grow significantly. They believe that almost 10 million homes would need to take on panels if we are to reach this milestone by the end of the decade, and that, as with the San Francisco project, would need significant input from the government.

Installing Solar Panels

It’s becoming increasingly easy to get solar panels installed with a larger pool of providers out there which is driving the prices down. Whilst many home owners may well prefer to pay for the installation themselves and then benefit from the Feed in Tariff there are also schemes being offered where panels can be put in for free.

Compared to other renewable energy technologies, solar panels are becoming popular because it is easier to work out the return on investment. For a medium sized 2.5 kW array you could be expected to pay out around £5,000 and would probably get savings and a reduction in energy bills that amount to around £800 a year, meaning you begin seeing a profitable return on your investment within 6 or 7 years. The other beneficial part of installing solar panels is that they are also fairly low maintenance and you should expect your array to last in the region of 20-25 years.

Whilst it may be a pipe dream to think that most of us in the future will have some kind of solar panel array on our rooftop, particularly within the next 10 to 15 years, there’s no doubt that more and more of us are turning to this easy to install and valuable source of renewable energy as time goes on.

Find out more about solar panels here.

Is the Green Deal Still Struggling with the Golden Rule?

The-Green-Deal

The Green Deal was initially introduced by the Government to help people get access to renewable technologies without having to make the upfront financial investment. It worked like this: You got a green deal assessment that took a look at your property and made suggestions about what you could do to improve energy efficiency. Technically this could be anything from loft insulation to the installation of a heat pump or solar panel array.

The assessment compared the cost of installing a particular technology with the potential savings on fuel bills. The way it was supposed to work to benefit homeowners is that the cost of setting up was offset against the estimated saving and you paid back through your energy bill. In other words, you didn’t benefit from the fuel savings until you had paid off the cost of installation.

On the whole, this worked pretty well with smaller installations but there was a problem with larger, more costly ones. In 2011 the Micropower Council expressed disappointment over the Government’s new Green Deal proposal stating that it was unclear how more advanced technologies could be successfully integrated and how offers such as the Feed in Tariff and Renewable Heat Incentive would be incorporated, providing a better deal and more access for consumers.

The problem, according to some, lay in the ‘golden rule’. Essentially that meant the cost of installation had to be covered by the savings on your electricity or heating bill. That meant there needed to be enough of a saving in your bill to cover the repayments, something which was not possible with projects that could cost in excess of £5,000 to install.

There were many who believed that the Green Deal should be focussed entirely on low cost options such as insulation rather than technologies such as heat pumps, double glazing and new boilers that could take in the region of 10 to 25 years to payback through energy bill savings.

Installers had urged the government to let customers use the Feed in Tariff and Renewable Heat Incentive profits to pay back on the ‘loan’ for higher cost projects but the worry was that this would lead to the scheme being more popular – it might seem counterintuitive if you are trying to promote renewables in the home but there is a limited pot of money for paying tariffs and incentives.

According to the Chief Execuitive of Micropower Council, David Sowden at the time: “It is potentially a huge missed opportunity as incorporating microgeneration in the Green Deal could really help to drive uptake while maximising reductions in energy bills and emissions.”

So has anything changed as we head into 2015? The answer is yes and no. At the beginning of 2014 the Government was considering scrapping the golden rule altogether especially since industry insiders were complaining that the high interest rates from the The Green Deal Finance Company was making it difficult for installers to deliver under the current guidelines. The areas where the Green Deal applies have shrunk since 2011 with little mention of installations such as solar or other higher tech, higher cost projects.

According to the Telegraph, however, another problem is the low take up of the Green Deal among average householders. Only 2% of those who undertook a Green Deal Assessment actually entered into an agreement, a worrying figure if you are expecting to encourage the nation’s householders to take up green technologies on a large scale.

The other problem is that the Government keeps making pots of money available for projects (normally on a quarterly basis) but these are exhausted almost immediately, leaving many consumers waiting on more finances to be made available before anything can begin. According to Which? concerning the recent December scheme: “Originally, a maximum of £5,600 was made available per household and you could claim up to £4,000 towards solid wall insulation. But that allowance ran out just one day after the scheme went live.”

Choosing a Green Deal Assessor

There’s no doubt if you are looking to install a suitable green technology to improve the energy efficiency of your home, the Green Deal loan provides a way of offsetting all or part of that cost through payments on your fuel bills.

And there are plenty of companies hoping to help you take advantage of the scheme, though there was a recent warning from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau that scammers are taking advantage of it to make some easy money. A number of fake companies are offering Green Deal Assessments at a cost of around £100 to £500 without any intention of providing the service. To make sure you don’t fall prey to this kind of scam you can check out if the person contacting you is registered as a Green Deal provider or installer here.

For those who want to benefit from the installation of solar or heat recovery technology there are now a number of ways that finance can be raised and a chance to make a decent return on investment through initiatives such as the Feed in Tariff and Renewable Heat Incentive. Find out more here.