Solar PV – 1 Year On

Our first full year of solar panels and Feed-in Tariff is now complete so how has it gone?

Well nothing has gone wrong so far, they’ve not blown the fuses or stopped working or made the roof leak or attracted unwanted attention from unmanned US droids or anything. Getting them registered was a bit of a faff but the delay of the electricity supplier in replacing our old meter (the one that turned backwards) when requested resulted in a £200 rebate windfall so that’s their incompetent loss. SSE Microgen have improved their FiT admin systems a lot over the year and now I get a reminder and can enter the generation meter reading on-line which results in a cheque for the correct amount arriving after a month or so. On reflection I guess I should maybe have made a fuss that the panels weren’t installed perfectly level but I don’t really care about slight cosmetic deficiencies so didn’t.

The amount of power generated exceeded the area adjusted estimate we were given by the installer by about 120kWh, it seems to have been quite a sunny year so I won’t rely on it overproducing every year but still it’s been reassuring to see the estimate become reality.

We have received a total of £987 for the first 49 weeks. The system cost just under £11,750 so we should be on for a 12 year payback time. Nationally the FiT scheme was obviously working well as a means to bring about a reduction in price via ecconomies of scale, a similar system to ours costs a bit over half the price now. FiT payments needed to be gradually reduced in-line with this but that was no excuse for the government making such a ridiculous, and seemingly illegal, hash up of introducing the changes.

The new tariff for April 2012 had already been provisionally set at the reduced level of 38p per kWh which the industry could only be expected to regard as final so suddenly puling the rug out out from under their feet in the middle of a consultation was stupid and has cost both confidence and jobs. Following the courts finding against the government hopefully the 43p tariff will now remain in place till March when the new 21p tariff comes in.

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Solar PV Payment

A short post to say that we’ve received our FiT payment from Scottish & Southern Electric at last. Last week I emailed them to ask what was happening and got a reply saying it was just being dealt with that day. Then yesterday we got a cheque in the post for roughly, but not exactly, what I’d calculated they owed us.

So if you’re getting frustrated waiting out there don’t give up, they do actually pay out in the end!

Click to enlarge

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Solar PV – 6 Months On

Well actually it’s nearer 7 months as I wanted to announce that we’ve actually had a cheque from SSE Microgen but now I read the small print it seems they allow themselves up to 65 days between receiving our meter reading and paying out the money so I’ll stop holding my breath. Funny how when we pay them for electricity they expect to get their money in advance by direct debit from our bank account or we have to pay an extra 6%!

Anyway I really shouldn’t complain because we are still pretty pleased with our PV installation. Following an exceptionally sunny spring we had a few gloomy weeks, though nowhere near enough rain for the vegetables, and now seem to be having lots of sunshine again as is proper for August. I tweaked my graph a little so the estimated figures better reflect those given by the installers and it seems our total wattage generated to date is a fair bit more than was predicted.

Maybe this surplus is to be expected at first as I suspect the annual estimate is averaged over the lifetime of the installation and the panel output is predicted to slowly decrease by an estimated 0.8% per year. All the same, in a society where commercial interests regularly inflate expectations to get a sale it’s sometimes very pleasing just to know you are getting what you were told to expect instead of the usual disappointment.

Early in July the electricity supplier eventually replaced our old type consumer meter* with one that doesn’t go backwards when the sun shines, over 3 months after we made them aware of the problem. To be fair they didn’t attempt to claw back the money they lost through their tardiness and promptly send us a rebate cheque for the £220 they had taken in debits for power they expected us to use over the first 6 months of the year that failed to register on their meter. The old meter ended up recording us as using only about 25 kWh between January and the start of July.

So how big is this Feed-in Tariff cheque we are waiting for? Well the generation meter* reading I submitted for period to end June was 1194.5 and the reading when installed in January was 1.7 so I think that is about 1193 kWh x 43.3p = £516.57 plus about £17.90 for the estimated power exported to the grid (half the power generated at 3p per kWh unit). £534 – a good start in paying back the £11,000 the system cost us but a long way to go yet.

 

* Having PV solar installed means you end up with at least 2 electric meters. The consumer meter, which we all have, provides the reading for power used which you get billed for. The generation meter records the power your solar panels generate which you hopefully get your Feed-in Tariff for. In some cases, usually by request, you also have an export meter which records the surplus power your solar panels generate which is sold on via the grid. So you export power generated minus power used at the actual time of generation (ie. you have to boil the kettle when the sun is actually out, not a moment later when it clouds over, as unused power is not stored but immediately sent to the grid for someone else to use). If you don’t have an export meter you are deemed to supply half the power you generate to the grid which is not unreasonable.

 

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Solar PV – 3 Months On

It is 3 months since our solar photovoltaic arrays were commissioned so, while it’s much too soon to say whether they were a good idea in the long run, I thought I’d write a review of how they were doing so far.

Firstly it’s worth mentioning that they’ve been no trouble – no blowing fuses or bits falling off or leaking roof or anything. I used the fact that we’d had to clear out the meter cupboard as incentive to get rid of the old and useless spare loo in there and put up some shelves instead so we are in slightly less of a mess than before if anything.

Getting registered for the feed-in tariff has been a bit of a faff though. I decided the simplest thing was to register with Scottish Southern Electric in Jane’s name as they are our current supplier and Jane’s name is on the bill. I downloaded the simple form from their website, filled it in and emailed it to the  address given with the MCS certificates etc. Meanwhile Solar PVE, the installation company, informed Southern Electric DNO as they are required to do. Despite having requested acknowledgement of my email we’d heard nothing after 2 weeks so I printed out hard copies and posted them off with a covering note to make sure they recieved it.

A couple of weeks later I got the forms sent back to me with a letter claiming that the figures on the certificate didn’t agree with those on the application form and also claiming the date of application I’d given was wrong. The figures appeared identical to me and it was obvious they had mistakenly treated the day they received the hard copy as the day of application rather than the date of the preceding email. Anyway I phoned up and talked to a helpful chap who agreed someone had got it wrong, explained that they were having to train up several new staff, and said he’d sort it out his end but I should also post the forms back with an explanatory note to cover all angles which I did.

Meanwhile, after a few dull and rather unproductive weeks, the sun came out. Early afternoon on a sunny day early in March and we seemed to be generating about 1.7 kW, two thirds of the quoted maximum, which seemed about right what with the sun still low and distant. We weren’t using that much electric a lot of the time though and I was rather surprised to find that our old style ‘spinning wheel’ consumer meter was regularly spinning backwards and lowering the reading on which we are billed.

This was an unexpected bonus but, not wanting to be accused of theft of electric, I thought I best let the suppliers know. I phoned and a helpful lady said she’d pass on the message to the appropriate dept and I would be contacted in 3 to 5 days. A week later, hearing nothing, I phoned again, the microgeneration dept this time, and was told yes they had a record of my previous call and yes they’d need to change my meter for a digital one and I would hear from them in 3 to 5 days. That was 3 weeks ago, we’ve written and emailed since but in the end it’s their problem, not ours, that we appear to have used absolutely no electric since March!

Anyway, after a bit more fuss where SSE requested a pretty irrelevant amendment to the MCS Cert direct from our installers, we have just last week received the letter of confirmation that our system is now on the national FiT register and also our contract to sign which is almost ok except they’ve spelt Jane’s surname wrong so we’ve pointed out that they better get it right before sending us a cheque. The date they owe us from is correct and we’re hopeful of a payment soon.

But is the system actually making electric? Yes it is – and lots. We’ve been having many nice sunny days and despite a bit of a slow start I now reckon we have generated very slightly more in total than the PVGIS web thingy predicted. The chart below compares our actual generation figures (blue) to a curve based on the PVGIS monthly total predictions adjusted for location, aspect etc (red). About 420kWh so far and the next few months should be a lot higher before generation drops right off next winter. So far so good!

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Out of Focus

Copy of what I wrote for Vegpatch

I’ve enjoyed putting together this edition of Vegpatch – reading about Jo and Paul ’s multisport and swimming plans, Andy’s build up to the London Marathon, Steve getting in big off-road miles as he prepares for the Votwo Oner. It does rather remind me though that I’ve not really nailed down a definite target for this year.

What with just gone 96,000 miles cycled to date I do mean to clock that magic 100,000 this year. My return to the simplicity of fixed gear audax should last the year out (though relationships are strained at present since I stripped the threads out of my bottom bracket shell).

I intend to complete another Super Randonneur series. The Dean 300 later in March will be tough but very familiar, the Brevet Cymru 400 at the end of April will be a real challenge – some hard riders may regard the Welsh gradients, mostly legacies of the drove roads, as ideal for fixed but as far as I’m concerned they are mountains. Maybe then the Beast from the East 600 but there again I may ride the new local Lincs Leadout 600 instead. Goring-Scunthorpe-Goring  I believe.

There ought to be a BIG ride though. Paris Brest Paris 1200 is what I’m avoiding commiting to. Days of sleep deprivation while pushing the time limits and trying to eat vegan in rural France when I don’t speak the language sounds daunting. I’ve not ruled it out though – if I do ride I’ll try and finish in time unlike in 2007.

Maybe an audax pace LEJoG instead, I enjoyed the 8 day version a few years, it’d be interesting without gears, long way solo though. Or maybe I’ll just ride round in circles, dreaming not planning, till the speedo clicks over them zeros!

And a picture of the Barracks Lane Frog Orgy

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