News

Local leadership needed to transform UK energy

The independent and not-for-profit energy think tank Regen has reinforced the case for community energy initiatives, such as Norwich Community Solar. In a recent report it warns that without “active engagement” of the people and organisations living and working in the UK’s nations, cities and regions, the net zero target will not be reached.

Local leadership to transform our energy system states that, without national government action, local government will not be able to reach the full potential of what it can do on energy. With the pandemic having wiped out budgets and stealing resources that could have been invested in climate and energy this year, local authorities will have to use all their “creativity and innovation” to create income streams and share resources to unlock energy projects.

It sets out a series of recommendations for government to ensure that localities are able to drive action to transform the UK’s energy system and identified 10 “top asks”, including a new statutory duty for local authorities on net zero energy, with appropriate funding, resources and reporting to deliver against it, to release local leadership across the country.

It also calls for local authorities’ role in energy network planning and investment to be unlocked, suggesting the establishment of a formal governance role for UK regions as a way to do this; for guidance to be issued on how to set up new Power Purchase Agreements to help local authorities support community energy projects; and for local government to be handed control of retrofit funding, enabling local rollout of energy efficiency measures. Elsewhere, it recommends the ambition of the Future Homes Standard should be raised to be net zero compliant, with local authorities given the freedom to be more ambitious than the national decarbonisation timetable in setting their local plan policies for new homes and commercial developments.

Regen

News

New carbon footprinting tool for parish councils

The Government’s continuing lack of urgency dealing with the climate emergency places even greater importance on local action and community energy initiatives. However, the lack of data about CO2 emissions at a local level has held back awareness of what our communities need to do to meet their obligations.

A new carbon footprinting tool in development now by the Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE) will make it much easier for local councils to assess the scale of the task in their areas of responsibility and set meaningful reduction targets. Over the next six months, and in partnership with Midlands Energy Hub, CSE will develop a tool that will enable parish councils and local communities to estimate baseline carbon emissions for their area. This will be calculated using information about energy use, travel behaviours and the consumption of goods and services modelled at household level and scaled up to better reflect individual communities.

The tool will enable the development of meaningful and locally appropriate carbon reduction strategies by parish councils that allow them to support their district and county councils with well-targeted activity that focuses on big-emissions sectors rather than spending time on well-meaning but low-impact activities. It will allow users to test out a number of scenarios designed to demonstrate the potential impact of different projects on their overall carbon footprint.

CSE is seeking out parish councillors or clerks wanting to get involved with developing and testing the tool. You don’t need any specific skills or experience as CSE is keen to create something that is easy to use for everyone. If you would like to be involved, please contact catherine.sage@cse.org.uk.

CSE’s Annette Lamley said, “To tackle the climate emergency, we need the involvement of all levels of government, from the commanding heights of Westminster down to parish councils. The latter have a critical role to play being uniquely placed to inspire grassroots movements, set a leadership example and deliver practical local action.”

News

Online tool aims to boost community energy

Via New Anglia Energy

SP Energy Networks has unveiled a free-to-use platform with the aim of helping communities across the UK realise their net zero emissions ambitions.

It has launched its Zero Carbon Communities hub, an open source tool which will act as a free, centralised source of information to bring together shared knowledge of local community energy projects. Created with support from Community Energy Scotland, Dumfries and Galloway College, and the Energy Skills Partnership, it is part of efforts to boost investment in the growth of the community energy sector and wider economy.

The hub is intended for community groups, such as NCS, that are planning and developing renewable energy projects, helping them to decide on technology, location, scale, governance and management processes. It will offer guidance and signposting of how to approach each area to overcome potential problems at an early stage and shorten project lead times.

As part of the tool’s launch, it was good to hear Guy Jefferson, SP Energy Networks Customer Service Director, acknowledging the important role of community energy. “Community energy projects have the potential to transform the UK’s energy sector”, he said, “with the introduction of renewable technology specific to the needs of the local area. Our new Zero Carbon Communities tool will help organisations through the planning and development process, allowing them to overcome potential pitfalls and get the right investment in place quicker than ever before. Bespoke local energy solutions are required if the UK is going to meet its net zero emissions targets.”

SP Energy Networks

News

Government told to give local energy multi-billion-pound backing

Via New Anglia Energy

UK100, a network of UK local authorities focused on climate and clean energy policy, and Siemens UK have called on the government to pledge £5bn toward local energy in its upcoming stimulus package, stating it could unlock £100bn worth of schemes.

On 30 June, the pair published a summary of a forthcoming report into investment in local energy projects. Having analysed five regional energy hubs set up by the government in 2018, it found a pipeline of 183 projects valued at £850mn, though 90% are at an early stage of development and relatively small scale. Multi-billion-pound government support would grow the current pipeline more than 100 times, to reach that £100bn figure.

Broken down, it includes £40bn for energy efficiency, £30bn for low carbon heating, £10bn for renewables, £10bn for smart energy systems and £10bn for low emissions transport.

The most effective way of delivering government support would be through establishing a Net Zero Development Bank, the report said. Working in partnership with local authorities, the Bank would be a centre for excellence for developing, procuring and delivering net zero project investment, scale up investment opportunities to make them more attractive to institutional investors, and engage with regulators and central government to ensure necessary support for market development.

Carl Ennis, UK CEO of Siemens, said: “There is an urgent need to scale up local, sustainable, energy if the UK is to have any chance of meeting net zero by 2050. This requires a collective national effort with government, business and the public all playing our part. Local energy should be at the heart of the National Infrastructure Strategy creating a more consistent policy landscape that will give investors the confidence to invest earlier.”

News

COVID-19 can be “historic turning point” in fight against climate change

Via: New Anglia Energy

Further pressure on the Government to address the climate emergency has come from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which has urged ministers to “seize the opportunity” and ensure COVID-19 becomes a defining moment in tackling the climate crisis.

The CCC is an independent, statutory body established under the Climate Change Act 2008. Its purpose is to advise the UK and devolved governments on emissions targets and to report to Parliament on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for and adapting to the impacts of climate change.

On 25 June, it published its latest annual progress report to Parliament, outlining how overall UK emissions dropped 3-4% in 2018-19, meaning they have now fallen by 30% since 2008. This progress has been driven by strong progress in the electricity sector, with the CCC calling on government to replicate that success story in all sectors of the economy. It highlighted examples of where progress is lagging, such as buildings and heating policy, where almost 2mn homes likely to be in need of expensive zero carbon retrofits have been built since the Climate Change Act was passed.

While COVID-19 will see global emissions fall a record 5-10% in 2020, and potentially by even more in the UK, the effect will be temporary. This makes the months ahead hugely significant, with the CCC identifying five clear investment priorities for government: low carbon retrofits and buildings fit for the future, tree planting, peatland restoration and green infrastructure; strengthening energy networks; infrastructure to make it easy for people to walk, cycle and work remotely; and moving towards a circular economy.

CCC Chairman, Lord Deben, said: “We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to address these urgent challenges together; it’s there for the taking. The steps that the UK takes to rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic can accelerate the transition to a successful and low-carbon economy and improve our climate resilience. Choices that lock in emissions or climate risks are unacceptable.”

News

Community Energy Fortnight highlights need for a new community energy strategy

Community Energy Fortnight began last Monday (15 June 2020), structured this time around the theme of Building Strength and Resilience. Support activities have already kicked off with the launch of the State of the Sector report for 2020 and a new 2030 Vision last Friday by Community Energy England (CEE) and Community Energy Wales (CEW).  

In this article, Norwich Solar Community Board Member Nigel Cornwall identifies some of the main headlines impacting community energy from the past 12 months or so, searching for positives, and looks ahead to what is likely to prove another very difficult year. He sets out the case for a coherent new strategysupported by targeted measures to stabilise the sector, allowing it to make up lost ground and an appropriate, potentially significant, contribution to support delivery of net zero

In the doldrums 

PV installers in Brixton, London
PV installers in Brixton, London
Community Energy - the state of the sector 2020
Community Energy - the state of the sector 2020

The community energy sector has struggled to reach critical mass in England and Wales and has experienced turbulent times of late. Sure, there have been some positives, such as an uptick over the last two years in local heat and transport projects, and good work has been initiated around a handful of pilot smart local energy system demonstratorsSome local groups including councils are beginning to test the new waters of energy storage and flexibility trading.  

But these positive steps are from a very, very low base, and the general tenor in the sector continues to be one of increasing uncertainty. The more optimistic days of 2014-15 when BEIS’ predecessor DECC produced its first and only Community Energy Strategy1 and First Year Update2 seem long gone. This is not just because of the loss of subsidy for any generation below 5MW with the close out of the Feed-iTariff (FiTregime in March 2019. There has also been systematic withdrawal of virtually all avoided cost benefits and imposition of higher VAT rates on PV systems. Crucially, there is now no minimum price guarantee or a commitment to purchase beyond the very short-term, and most new projects cannot cover their costs. Energy suppliers, who should be exploring niche markets, have tended to steer well clear of local supply offerings.  

The outlook was already poor and deteriorating before the pandemic. Indeed, the previous State of the Sector report from Community Energy England reflected the worst year on record with less than 8MW of new generation capacity installed in 2018Community projects represented less than a quarter of build the previous year and less than a tenth of all FiT accreditations in an already sluggish market. As a result, the community energy sector has been able to achieve only 10% of the potential build out envisaged in 2014’s strategy3. 

This time last year we were acclimatising to a world without FiTs for new projects, although it has taken a while for the shape of the new Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) to emerge with implementation from 1 January 2020. BEIS has positioned this as a significant intervention, which it isn’tAnd despite adoption of the net zero target, there has been no communications strategy from the centre to support community involvement. Compare this with the tens of millions being spent on adoption of smart meters and next day switching. An overseas observer (or even one from Scotland, where policy support has been much more consistent) would be perplexed by what must look like deliberate policy neglect.  

The latest 2020 State of the Sector survey covers 2019 and reflects these real challenges and changes. Highlights are shown in the figure opposite. While it shows almost twice the 2018 level of new projects at over 15MW achieving total capacity of 265MWthe large majority are an over-hang from the FiT regime as pre-accredited projects came to fruition or have benefited from the extended wind-down period for certain types of schemes.  

Since then, of course, we have seen the onset of COVID-19and power prices have tumbled. The only real positive looking ahead seems to be the emergence of a wide-ranging debate on the merits of a green recovery. Within this there is also discussion around Building Back Better, including supporting local resilience and engagement with communities as insurance against existential uncertainties, so there is something to build on 

Remarkably given the huge setbacks, we embark on this new daunting challenge with the appetite and enthusiasm of community groups undiminished.  

Having it both ways

Politicians and regulators continue to talk up the merits of community energy and local markets and their potential role in the transition to smart, flexible energy systemWe have seen the development of local industrial strategies and energy plans at the regional level through the Local Enterprise Partnerships and the establishment of a new breed of local energy hubs 

But development of local energy strategies and action plans habeen scatter-shot and deterred by electricity industry complexity and fragmentationAlthough the majority of councils have now declared climate emergencies, these do not generally connect through to stimulus packages to support lowcarbon technologies and demand-side programmesAt the same time funding streams have dried up with little confirmed as yet to replace EU monies around regional development.  What activity there is seems largely to bypass community energy groups. 

Wawait some sign or positive move from BEIS that allows us to better understand how local projects can play their part in the delivery of the net zero target. There has been a consultation on clean heat, which has just closed but stakeholder feedback has not been positiveFurthermore, as a result of the pandemic, government initiatives such as the longpromised energy white paper and various implementing strategies flagged by the Clean Growth Strategy have been consistently pushed back.  

A rapidly shifting market

The SEG has only been live for less than six months and is to be subject to reviewBut it is not a guarantee as suppliers can set whatever purchase rate they choose for exports. An excellent analysis of the impact on scheme economics was published by Tim Braunholtz-Speight et al from Manchester and Strathclyde Universities in February.4 They estimated that over 90% of schemes based on a sample of 145 projects were in surplus under the FiT regime, but this figure fell to only 20% without it. The comparison is even more unfavourable as it does not take into account the long-term price guarantee that came with FiT accreditation, which also plays a significant role in de-risking projects and attracting finance. 

So far, there are 15 suppliers that must offer the SEG, but only four offering rates at 4p/kWh or more. Interestingly one supplier, Social Energy, is offering terms voluntarily and tops the table at 5.6p/kWh, a shade off the legacy FiT export rate. But this type of activity is very much an outlier in a commercial market-place where electricity is mainly traded at a national level with little regional differentiation.  

Since the withdrawal of FiT subsidies, the real value of on-site generation remains from being able to consume the power onsite. But to be viable in the new environment an investor must do one of two things. First it can undersize an array, which in a world of net zero is perverse. Alternatively, it can install batteries, although the storage market is in its infancy and energy suppliers to date have been slow to include these in offerings because of uncertainty around the economics and the market rules. 

The value of exported energy to the system is also changingbut that is likely to further undermine the commercial value of local purchases to the supplier. The FiT export price, which is not a true energy cost but a subsidy paid by consumers, was already looking generous a year ago compared with the average price of traded electricity, which has fallen 20% over the past 12 monthsAnd system “spill” prices have also fallen dramatically over the intervening period with increasing competition to stay on the system and the current excess of generation over low demand for sustained periods 

So it is possible that SEG prices offered by suppliers, which anyway tend to be low, could be further reduced reflecting the avoided cost of buying from a system that is typically long. Perversely a real contributor of this price collapse are the subsidies paid to FiT schemes and other legacy renewable energy schemes that allow operators to offer low (or even negative) prices so they can continue to run and claim subsidy payments. 

No one could have foreseen this level of turbulence in the market when FiTs were withdrawn with no commercial safety net introduced to replace it. Its impact on the track of wholesale prices, and how this is further undermining community energy, was simply not factored into the policy process.  

Against this background, many generation installers have already scaled back or gone out of business. Those that remain have refocused on the larger, business market where consumption levels as a proportion of production tend to be much higher and installation accounts for a lower share of total costs. But even here, the market changes are impacting on incentives to invest in self-generation and demand-side prog

Have we reached the bottom?

The answer to this question is “probably yes”.  

It is hard to see wholesale prices falling further on a sustained basis, especially with a phased return to work. We also know that non-energy costs will steadily rise over the coming years. There will be some indication of further rises when the latest costs of legacy FiT costs that suppliers must pay are invoiced in July, which will reflect record sunshine levels, clear skies and a smaller charging base. The Contract for Differences (CfD) fund will also be short given the need to fund a bigger gap between contract strike prices and realised wholesale prices during the lockdown. And, the costs of balancing the system are showing sustained increases by well in excess of £100mn a month. So, the avoided costs of investment in generation behind the meter all other things being equal are set to increase again implying it is the best business case for community energy to offer its customers. 

Equipment costs continue to fall, but what the impact of COVID-19 is on the supply chain and installation costs into the medium term is anyone’s guess. 

Have we reached the bottom?
Have we reached the bottom?

Another positive factor is the increased availability and lower costs of citizen finance. New innovative funding structures are emerging (for instanceWest Berkshire Community Bond scheme with Abundance Investment) and these enjoy a positive cost differential (perhaps upward of 1-2 percentage points) over traditional lending.  

It is also evident that some communities are diversifying away from pure power generation models as they seek new sources of value and different stakeholder benefits. This means some are tending to gravitate further down the supply chain, in-so-doing delivering more complex service-oriented offerings beyond the customers meter. These include “pay as you save” (Brighton and Hove Energy Services Company), electrical storage along with EV charging and smart heating (Gwent Energy) and load shifting (clearly incentivised by the Agile tariff of Octopus).  

Another discernible trend is a migration into alternative energy sectors, such as heat from biomass, and we have already noted the move into EV charging by some community groups. Over the longer term this diversification can only increase the resilience of schemes, though delivery will undoubtedly be more complex. But for now we remain a long way from demonstrating that such projects are viable under today’s rulebook, and local government entities enabled by more supportive policy frameworks need to find a way of joining up and tailoring energy (generation, storage and demand-side), heat and transport schemes for their communities. 

The scale of the task to reach the 2030 Vision is daunting. But, given the appropriate policy and financial support, CEE and CEW believe the sector could become 12 to 20 times larger by 2030. Community energy could contribute over 5GW of capacity, power 2.2mn homes, support 8700 jobs, save 2.5mn tonnes of CO2 emissions and add over £1.8bn to the economy each year. But critically there is as yet no consensus on what measures are required to enable the vision to become reality. 

What needs to be done?

We need to revive urgently the concept of a community energy strategy, updated for today’s market conditions and primed to optimising its contribution to delivery of net zero. This needs to establish an enabling framework that can support disparate local actions and establish staging posts to measure progress to an agreed 2030 target. This strategy needs to link up and be consistent with local energy strategies and plans established by LEPs supported by local stakeholder bodies, as well as SCATTER cities carbon budgetsSome of the options that need to be considered are set out below.  

The first is for government to scope and deliver a single communication and engagement plan aligned with the strategy but highlighting the scope for individual and community action with regard to both production of energy and its consumption. This needs to focus on the behavioural changes needed, and the need for much more extensive local participation 

The Committee on Climate Change acknowledged this imperative and the linkage with regional stakeholders back in 2018 in its advice to government on net zero,sup>5: clear leadership is needed right across government, with delivery in partnership with businesses and communities. Emissions reduction cannot be left to the energy and environment departments or to the Treasury. It continues: Some of the difficult decisions that will be required […] will only be possible if people are engaged in a societal effort to reach net zero emissions and understand the choices and constraints.” This engagement must be achieved as a collaborative, participative endeavour which needs much more than engagement. It needs citizens to consent and want to participate.  

Community Energy England (and the sibling groups in Wales and Scotland) would provide a natural partner to work with local groups and stakeholders. 

The second is to fix the SEGIt is critical that the reviere-examines key elements of the mechanism and options for reform against the backdrop of today’s market, including: 

  • some form of price stabilisation mechanism, perhaps a price floor, and a longerterm guarantee of purchase to de-risk community investment models in renewables, and 
  • a requirement on suppliers to offer a market-related, time differentiated tariff (which might be tied to average spill prices). 

Third public sector bodies should be encouraged to purchase community energy on long-term contracts. These might also reflect the contribution such arrangements make to delivery of CO2 reductions. There also needs to be proactive consideration of how local partnerships more generally can be facilitated. Mandating local authorities and other public agencies to deliver social, environmental and economic benefits possibly as part of a just transition could provide a major incentive for them to partner with community organisations. 

Where the Local Electricity Bill fits in all this is presently hard to determine given the absence of detail provided by its proponents. The Bill was initially introduced last year as a Private Members Bill but “fell” with the December 2019 General Election. It has been reinforced under a Ten-Minute Private Members Motion and was presented to Parliament last week. 

In principle a right to local supply could be an important mechanism in unlocking community energy. But what we need to see here is a clear structure that reassures consumers more generally that this is not simply a device for exempting costs that would be pushed onto other bill payers. Perhaps development of some form of short-haul tariff might help, as would proper accounting for thermal loss reduction. Also, further development of local markets for flexibility and incentivisation for load shifting could be used to incentivise smarter, local energy usage.  

This is a complex area, and one that requires urgent, focussed attention from BEIS and Ofgem.  

A fourth option is to level the playing field with commercial technology developersBEIS is currently consulting on proposed amendments to the CfD scheme. Formally this is a follow-up to the five-year review mandated in the enabling legislation, with changes to be implemented in the fourth allocation round due in 2021. The proposals are welcome in several respects, not least because they contemplate reintroduction of CfD support to onshore renewables, but not below 5MW. 

Clearly this threshold is arbitrary and discriminates against community energy. As part of the changes for this round, BEIS should: 

  • specify a minimum level of community ownership as a condition of participation in the CfD auction process, and 
  • pre-allocate a specified share of the “pot 1” monies in each allocation round to sub-5MW projects (preferred) or alternatively permitting aggregation of separate projects into a regional portfolio that exceeds the current participation threshold and which would have its own administrative strike price. 

Not all these levers need to be pulled, but we do need an objective assessment of these and other available measures so that there can be sensible modelling of what community energy targets should be adopted on the road to net zero, along with the associated costs and benefits. 

Tough but achievable

As we are seeing in Europe, there is no one solution to the advancement of community energy, and solutions need to address regulatory and governance circumstances found on the ground. It is clear that we can do significantly better in engaging customers and boosting innovative local supply. This should be seen as an important strand in Building Back Better as we move forward from the pandemic.    

If community energy is to achieve its potential and support the recovery and delivery of net zero, there needs to be a shift in how policymakers and regulators see community energy, and this must start with active recognition of the wide-ranging benefits low-carbon schemes can bring to local households and businesses.  It is essential that we head towards the delayed COP26 conference in late 2021 with a clear goal of seeking consensus on the strategy for community energy and what is expected of it. There needs to be explicit consideration in the Energy White Paper or alongside it. If we can do this, a rebalancing of local energy systems and achievement of the 2030 Vision may well still be possible. 

Notes

1 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/275163/20140126Community_Energy_Strategy.pdf

2 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/414446/CESU_FINAL.pdf

3 The 2020 State of the Sector report shows 265MW of generation compared with the 2014 strategy document that targeted up to 3GW.

4 https://www.nature.com/articles/s41560-020-0556-2?draft=marketing

5 https://www.theccc.org.uk/2019/06/11/response-to-government-plan-to-legislate-for-net-zero-emissions-target/

News

A solar power journey from a non-technical perspective!

Two NCS members describe how they selected a domestic Solar System for their new home that was then installed in March 2020. 

Some pointers and lessons learned

  • Despite the end of the Feed-in Tariff and the low export rates available with the Smart Export Guarantee, we still estimate an annual return on investment of 3% (5% if you exclude the optional EV charger and Tesla battery) – well above current cash savings rates.
  • The latest systems now function on East- and West-facing roofs and a South-facing roof is not a critical requirement.
  • New monocrystalline panels are expensive but they are more efficient and many people find them more aesthetically pleasing.
  • UK Power Networks has to approve your proposal for micro generation and often limits how much you can export to the grid.
South and east facing panels

Background

Having purchased a new home in Norfolk in late 2019 with a large South-facing roof plus East- and West-facing pitches, we looked into buying solar PV. We invited two local companies to survey the property and provide quotes. Having moved from a small mid-terrace in Norwich with low energy requirements to a larger detached property near the coast, we had no data on our annual energy consumption. Our request was to maximise the use of our roof space, generate as much as possible and to include the option of heating the existing Heatrae Sadia hot water tank by bypassing the gas boiler. We needed enough power to charge our Nissan Leaf EV as well. 

South facing panels plus one west facing

Initial research and quotes

We discovered that the technology had advanced since we last looked at options in 2013. At that time, we were informed that having an East-West facing roof would minimise the efficiency of PV panels. Any shade on one panel would reduce the power generated from all. 

In January 2020, we found out about new inverter technology which makes it possible to have PV panels on East- and West- as well as South-facing roof spaces to maximise the power produced. The shady panels are switched off while those in the light carry on generating at maximum output. So, each panel produces the maximum energy and power losses are eliminated.  

We were told that the colder sunnier days we get on the East coast are more productive than in hotter temperatures enjoyed in the South of England. PV panels are, ironically, less productive in very hot climates. We knew that the Feed-In-Tariff (FiT) was no longer an option but were not aware that micro-generators still get paid for any excess exported to the grid thanks to the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG). Then we discovered that, although the SEG became law in January 2020, only the big energy providers are being forced to pay for exported energy. We were using Good Energy (the original campaigners for FiT back in the day), and they had not got around to complying to the SEG. Changing providers during the pandemic has meant that we cannot get a smart meter installed and our excess is going back into the grid for no return. On the other hand, working from home during the pandemic means we are using a lot more of our solar electricity during the day than we would otherwise. 

It took nearly two months to get a quote from one company (indicating that they were too busy to prioritise our small project) and a single day to get an initial quote from the second; suggesting that they were keen! We used their recommended system and initial quote to inform further research. We looked at alternative manufacturers, more powerful panels, differing warranty periods and reviews. We realised that the initial quote was based on the assumption that we wanted to install panels as a financial investment rather than prioritising environmental returns. 

The initial quote was for a 7.5KWp system using 25 x JA Solar panels which were polycrystalline. We finally opted for a 9.75 KWp system (to maximise winter generation) using 25 x Sunpower 390 panels which were monocrystalline. We researched the differences between monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels. Monocrystalline panels are expensive, but they are aesthetically more pleasing (an opinion) and more efficient (a fact). Sunpower 390 panels also came with a longer extended warranty than the JA Solar panels. There are many reviews on the internet that can be found with a quick search on Ecosia or Google. This is a quote from one: “Monocrystalline panels have a long lifespan. Most solar panel manufacturers put a 25-year warranty on their monocrystalline solar panels. Because both types of crystalline solar panels are made from crystalline silicon, a stable material, it is very likely that these solar panels will last much longer than their 25-year warranty life.”  

We had lengthy discussions with our installer (who has been in the business since 2008) before making the final decision. We consulted our neighbours who suggested that the large wood pigeon population would necessitate the installation of bird guards. 

We also decided to install an EV charger for our Nissan Leaf, factoring in a government grant of £500. It is vital to use an installer approved by the UK Government OLEV (Office for Low Emission Vehicles) scheme to obtain this grant. 

Installation

We opted for the following package:  

  • 9.75KWp system using 25 x Sunpower 390 panels
  • Tesla Powerwall 13.5KWp battery for storage of unused energy  
  • SolarEdge SE10K inverter
  • I boost power diverter (for the hot water tank)
  • EO smart home EV charger 
  • Bird guards 

Early data March 23rd – June 5th 2020

System commissioned: 23/3/2020

Today’s date: 5/6/2020

System production to date:           2.8 MWh

CO2 Emission Saved to date:       714.99 kg

Dark cold rainy day 5/06/2020: 27.38kWh

Full sunshiny day 31/05/2020       63.44 kWh 

Comparative data illustrating spring 2020 weather variances: 

31/03/2020:                                      45.27 kWh

25/04/2020:                                      39.62kWh

30/04/2020:                                      18.16 kWh

Estimated financial and CO2 savings: (yet to be verified – we think it may be better than this) 

Size of PV System: 9.75 kWp

Annual Generation: kWh CO2 Emissions Avoided: 3,111.5136 kg (actual to date is 714.99 kg for 71 days)

Export = £ 0.0500 per kWh

Money saved by Diverter (avoiding gas water heating) = £150

Money earned from Export 20% of income = £144

Electricity bill savings 59% of income = £431

Total Year 1 benefit = £724

Investment for installed system = £14,700 (£23,600 with the EV charger and Tesla storage)

ANNUAL TOTAL RETURN ON INVESTMENT = 3% on complete system (5% excluding EV charger and Tesla storage).

Installer: Green Home Energy Solutions based in Upton, Norfolk – Excellent customer service, fuss-free installation. 

Other things you need to know

UK Power Networks has to approve your proposal for micro generation and often limits how much you can export to the grid (unless you pay for a network upgrade in your area – I was told this was quite expensive but cannot find out exactly how much) We were limited to 3.68 kWh – but in the height of summer on sunny days we are exporting up to 30 kWh per day after filling the Tesla Powerwall.

Going forward

On Nigel Hargreave’s advice, we looked into V2G (Vehicle to Grid). But found that our system was considered too large to be put forward for trials with Ovo Energy. They were collaborating with Nissan Leaf (our car model).  

We will keep an eye on all the different trials going on where energy providers pay the customer to import or export electricity to or from your battery during peaks and troughs in the supply. See footnote 2 on “demand side response (DSR)”. 

What is needed now is a concerted programme from UK Power Networks and the other regional electricity distributors to update the grid to accept more microgeneration and therefore reduce the national reliance on fossil fuels or nuclear energy.

The Tesla and the SolarEdge apps make for compulsive viewing – we enjoy looking at how much we are producing, consuming, storing and exporting at any one time! 

We are also keeping an eye on how domestic wind power technology develops to cover the drop in PV energy production during the winter months when the days are shorter. To date, we have not found any wind turbines that are suitable for domestic microgeneration. They need consistent wind power and direction.  

Footnotes

1. https://www.solarreviews.com/blog/pros-and-cons-of-monocrystalline-vs-polycrystalline-solar-panels

2. V2G enables energy stored in electric vehicles to be fed back into the national electricity network (or ‘grid’) to help supply energy at times of peak demand or take back energy during periods of low demand. It could play an important part in helping to ‘balance’ the national electricity network. It is one part of a national initiative called demand side response (DSR): a programme that aims to rebalance our energy needs around the country by changing how we produce, supply and use energy. https://www.ovoenergy.com/guides/electric-cars/vehicle-to-grid-technology.html

Case study

Here comes the sun – a small-scale domestic solar installation case study

The case for solar

This article by NCS supporter Ian Runeckles is based on his experience of having solar photo-voltaic (PV) in a domestic setting for ten years. In 2010 he had a 2.1kWp system installed which was followed in 2017 with an additional 1.7kWp system. 

Some pointers and lessons learned:

  • Buy local. If possible find nearby installers with proven track records. Ask for references, see if they’ll put you in touch with a satisfied customer.
  • Expect a site survey. If the installer won’t visit the site prior to quoting then I’d avoid.
  • You might need planning permission and, if you’re going to install over 4kWp, you’ll need Distribution Network Operator (DNO) approval. The installer should be able to help.
  • Check the quotes. Any good installer will estimate an expected kWh output/annum, provide a fixed price and specify the equipment, warranties etc
  • Check online for reviews of the equipment.
  • Monitor and record your output. I found that my first system over-performs the expected output by about 10% and the second system under-performs by 10%.
  • It will probably take longer than you think to payback. I’d anticipated about 10 years: it’s actually going to be around 14.
  • Try to use the electricity as it’s produced. Sounds daft, but if you are out at work all day then the majority of the power will be exported to the grid which you’ll be paid for through the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) scheme. But using it will save you more by avoiding importing grid electricity. A battery can store it and then use it when needed but is expensive.
  • PV is pretty much fit and forget. My inverters are in the loft and I’ve not looked at them once. Cleaning panels is generally not required, rainwater does the job in the UK. Panels are estimated to have a 25 year lifespan although will probably last longer without much degradation. Inverters are normally expected to last at least 10 years.

Background

Being long-time supporters of green causes and wanting to reduce our environmental impact where possible, having the ability to generate some of our own power through installing PV was appealing. In late 2009, after some basic research, I contacted the Heat Project http://heatproject.co.uk who were at that time still administering government grants towards PV system installs. I obtained a couple of quotes following site surveys by companies local to us just east of Norwich.. By the skin of my teeth I managed to successfully apply on the deadline day for a £2,500 grant before they were discontinued. At the start of March 2010 a 2.1kWp system was supplied and installed by Green Home Energy Solutions https://www.greenhomeenergysolutions.co.uk – and has been working ever since.

In 2017, as costs had significantly dropped and I wanted to increase our generation, I decided to add a 1.7kWp system which has a separate inverter. The installer was Green Solar Footprint https://www.greensolarfootprint.co.uk of Postwick.

Geography and site conditions

The panels are on a standard pitched tiled roof and face approximately south east. Two large beech trees shade the panels first thing in the morning reducing the ability of the PV to generate. Cloudy mornings are better for generation than clear skies as the shadows on the panels are lighter. Micro inverters would help in this regard as any shading affects the whole of the installation (system 2 is less affected) which micro inverters counter. One criticism I have of the original installation is that it would have been better sited on the left side of the roof (where the second system is now) as this is clear of the shading earlier in the day.

Specifications

System 1 – Ten Sanyo 215 watt panels, SMA Sunny Boy SB2500 inverter and Sunny Beam generation monitoring unit.

System 2 – Six SolarWorld 285 watt panels, Solis mini 1.5kw inverter. Wireless logging to Solis, remotely accessible through website and smartphone app..

Generation output

For system 1 the generation is steady at about 1,500kWh per annum which is around 10% higher than was estimated at site survey. System 2 generates around 1,400kWh per annum, so total production is about 2,900kWh/annum. A good day will produce about 17kWh; June is the best month with the combined system producing an average of 12.5kWh/day and December is the worst producing 2.3kWh/day. Over the year, the average daily production is around 7.1kWh.

Economics

The cost of the first system was, after the grant payment, £10,562. I qualified for the Feed In Tariff (FIT) which paid for every kWh produced – currently I receive 54.17p/kWh plus an export payment of 3.82/kWh for 50% of the total generation. After 10 years, I have received £7411 in quarterly payments from npower who I registered with – they were supplying my energy at the time. If you assume that 50% of electricity produced by the panels has been consumed thereby effectively replacing grid energy then the saving has been about £1,125. I estimate after another four years, it will have paid for itself. By the end of the 20 year FIT, assuming some slight panel degradation, I should be about £5,000 in profit.

System 2 cost £2,600 in March 2017. Assuming that I use 700kWh per annum from the system then it will take around 25 years to payback as I receive no FIT or export payments.

 Maintenance

I have had virtually no problems with the systems – system 1 stopped generating for a few hours shortly after installation, I suspect some kind of inverter issue, but recovered without intervention. Views differ on whether cleaning is necessary, generally rainwater does the job but in 2019 I had all the panels cleaned (by MRH https://www.mrhwindowcleaningltd.com ) for the first time as two panels in system 1 were spotted with lichen. However, I don’t think it has made much difference to the generation. I haven’t seen any real evidence of panel degradation; output has remained fairly stable despite a large ever growing beech tree which shades first thing in the morning. The Sunny Boy inverter is now out of its expected 10 year lifespan so may need replacing but so far has shown no sign of failing. The replacement cost of this would be significantly lower than in 2010.

A small Sunny Beam unit showing daily output

Logging and reporting

System 1 logs to a small Sunny Beam unit which shows daily and monthly outputs and a graphical representation of the day’s generation. This slightly over records so that the total generation on the gen meter is lower than that shown on the Sunny Beam. I use these figures to compare from month to month and year to year so they are a little over the actual output figures. System 2 logs to the Solis app or website via the internet but can be a bit flaky.

I record monthly figures for generation and payments on a spreadsheet since the system(s) were installed so I can calculate annual figures, average monthlies, identify highs and lows. 

Energy consumption

Currently we consume around 2600kWh per annum from the grid supplied by So Energy https://www.so.energy using 100% renewable electricity. This is for a two-person household and includes the usual household appliances (electric oven but no dishwasher or tumble drier) and also a Renault electric car (purchased 2017) which does around 4,500 miles/annum.

We have a gas combi boiler for heating and hot water, using about 15,000kWh per annum. A woodburner in a single-storey dining area at the end of the house also supplies some heat in colder months. The car is charged as much as possible when the sun shines to take advantage of the solar energy, but we do not have a charge point which can prioritise this such as a MyEnergi Zappi https://myenergi.com .

Future developments – batteries and smart chargers

I have considered for some time the pros and cons of battery storage but the costs make little sense, even though prices have started to fall. Whilst it can seem galling that the systems are generating more than we are consuming and then having to draw from the grid when the panels aren’t active or we’re using more than they can supply, I figure that the electricity is being consumed by someone on the grid. If battery prices dropped considerably then it could be worthwhile but I don’t see it as a priority. Of course an argument could be that if you have a spare £5000 sitting in a savings account earning next to nothing (effectively depreciating) something that reduces your energy bill slightly could be a good thing. But I estimate that it would take me 30 odd years to pay back and the batteries are usually only guaranteed for 10 years (but may last much longer). I’m watching vehicle to grid (V2G) technologies with interest – the car’s battery works with the house and also helps to balance the local grid  – but V2G is currently only supported for Nissan cars (although Renault have been trialling it in France).

In addition I have thought about replacing my current car charge (PodPoint) with a smart charger such as a Zappi which can be set in various ways one of which is only to draw from the PV which would make more of the solar energy. But again the costs don’t make much sense, it would cost around £1000 to replace my 3 year old PodPoint (there is no OLEV grant available for replacement units) and it would take many years to reap the benefits.

Would I do it now?

I’m advised by Green Solar Footprint that a basic 4kWp system today costs around £4000 (although I could now probably get a higher output from the latest panels which are rated at 310 – 360 watts). On my roof a 4kWp system would produce about the same as I’m getting now, so say 3,000kWh per annum. Currently the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG ) pays around 5p/kWh. Assuming I’m exporting 1,500kWh that’s £75/annum. The remaining 1,500kWh is being used and therefore offsetting grid electricity which at my current rate of 13p/kWh is a further £195/annum. Which gives a payback period of 14 years, which is pretty well exactly the same as for my initial system. So, yes, I would!

Why support community solar initiatives?

Even on the windiest and sunniest days in the UK there is still a significant amount of gas (and occasionally coal) being burnt to generate electricity. To my mind, the more renewable infrastructure there is, the better. There are thousands of roofs in the UK – be they houses, warehouse, schools, public buildings – which could be producing energy and reducing the amount of electricity required from fossil fuel sources. As an advocate of renewable energy – and small scale investor – I welcome and support initiatives such as NCS. My hope is where suitable sites can be found – and negotiations concluded successfully! – that owners, landlords, investors, suppliers and installers can be brought together to enable the UK to move forward to a cleaner greener future for energy.

Ian Runeckles, May 2020

News

We all have a story to tell about community building

Happy New Year to all our readers! As the country braces itself for Storm Brendan and we brace ourselves for this crucial decade to come in the future of climate change, one member, Jonathan Lambert, has a proverbial story to share with us…

In order to bring people onside in our efforts to combat runaway climate change, winning technical arguments is not enough. We also need to win hearts and minds. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the winning of hearts and minds is more important. Once people are onside, they become motivated to ‘be the change’. Causing people to feel ignorant, unappreciated or misunderstood will only make them antagonistic. There can be no enemies.

When I first was told that we need stories now more than ever I dismissed it as some airy-fairy, hippie notion. Stories are just entertainment, aren’t they?

My position has shifted. As a storyteller I have come to realise that myth and story provide both mirror and road map for our life and times. They speak to the human condition in ways that facts and logic simply don’t.  So, I’ll let a story speak for itself:

The Sun and the Wind could not agree which of them was the stronger.  Then the Wind saw a man walking down below.

“I’ll show you how strong I am,” it said. “I can take that man’s jacket clean off with just my breath.”

The Wind blew and blew, but the harder it blew the more tightly the man held his jacket around himself and in the end the Wind gave up.

Now it was the Sun’s turn.  The Sun shone down upon the man who became steadily warmer.  The more the Sun shone, the warmer the man got until he was so warm that he removed his jacket of his own accord.

This is not a pronouncement on the relative merits of solar arrays versus wind turbines.  I’m happy to leave that to others, although I am a member of Norwich Community Solar because I believe in a direction of travel which takes us away from fossil fuels.

This story speaks to me because it illustrates the futility of trying to win over people by haranguing them or rubbishing their point of view.  Far better to find out how they came to have the opinions they have, what their priorities are, how much they know about the issues under discussion, how much they might know that I don’t.  Let them do the talking.  Walk a mile in their shoes, as it were.  Meet them on their own familiar ground, spend some time there, build some mutual trust and understanding.  Once I have seen the world through their eyes, I may know better how to get them to look at it through mine.

Why does the Wind fail but the Sun succeed? The Wind understands the problem and thinks it has a solution whereas the Sun understands the man.  The Sun creates the conditions, knowing the man will remove his jacket when he is ready, recognising for himself the wisdom in doing so.

I’ve just given one explanation of this story.  Others might offer another.  How much more effective would it have been if I’d just told it and left you to draw your own conclusions?

Jonathan Lambert

News

Share your thoughts on energy democracy ~ survey

In this update on Luisa’s research, she is seeking your views on energy democracy – please take a few minutes to fill in her survey at the end of this update – 

The importance of Community Energy Groups aiming to achieve Energy Democracy

Remaining under-defined and more of a political ‘buzzword’ the term energy democracy represents a shift from the corporate, centralized fossil fuel-based energy system to one that is governed by communities, designed on the principle of no harm to the environment and aims to supporting local economies. As of yet it has struggled to break through as a real-life concept, however, inevitable challenges in the energy sector are opening the opportunity for change. The decarbonisation of the energy system and increased deployment of renewable energy sources have been made possible through continuously decreasing costs of renewable technology over the past three decades. This has led to a range of possibilities for locally produced and consumed energy. By bringing demand and supply geographically closer, distributed renewables embedded in the energy system not only offer the potential to change the organisation of the energy sector but to create foundations for a democratic electricity system.

Democracy rests upon the principle that fundamentally humans are equal and ought to be allowed to managed their collective affairs in an egalitarian fashion. Relating this to our current energy landscape societal actors should make the decisions which shape their lives. Such choices should be established jointly without regards solely to the principle of profit. The UK is beginning a transition to a soft energy path based on renewable energy generation, this has huge potential for some individuals to generate and produce their own energy in a form and scale most appropriate to meet their needs. As a result, community energy groups are rapidly emerging in the energy landscape, this not only benefits communities and individuals it also opens the opportunity for the UK energy sector to begin to meet key principles that contribute to energy democracy.

Epitomizing the possibilities of a movement away from current energy systems, energy democracy draws upon four main principles.

  • Ensuring society has access to sufficient and affordable energy, making the energy mix as renewable as possible
  • putting the needs of society first by encouraging public and social ownership
  • guaranteeing fair pay and
  • the generation of green jobs.

The importance for society to embrace the key elements of energy democracy is paramount to ensuring a sustainable and secure future for energy systems within the UK.

As the momentum behind the energy democracy concept continues to grow, studies across the globe are increasingly providing an understanding of how community energy groups are able to impact their members and local community. This enables researchers to assess if community energy groups have the capability to lead a transition to a democratic energy system and whether this phenomenon can be applied in the ‘real-world’ or is simply a theoretical concept.

Thank you, Norwich Community Solar followers, for reading my article. I am in the process of researching for my dissertation which aims to answer the following; ‘In practice or just theory; investigate if community energy groups in the UK can meet all the key principles of energy democracy’. I would really appreciate it you could take 10 minutes to fill out this survey as the results will help me to complete my dissertation. Thank you in advance for your participation.

Luisa, Company Secretary.

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