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Are we ready for renewable technologies?

Solar panels against blue sky

The government’s latest plan to encourage people to start generating their own heat is all very well, but how can early energy savers make sure they get the maximum benefit from the scheme?

Yesterday the government announced a new scheme called the Renewable Heat Incentive.

Before you stop reading, thinking ‘this has nothing to do with me’, taxpayers will be footing the bill… and you might even be able to benefit from it.

Renewable Heat Incentive – the good and the bad

The idea is that financial support will be given to businesses and people who want to put renewable heating technology into offices and homes. The incentive will help people who want to put solar thermal panels on their roof, and help those who want to install heat pumps or wood boilers.

Is it good news? Yes, as the incentive means that the renewable heat technology will pay itself back quicker.

The bad news? Today only saw the launch of the business scheme, so a lot of the initial support is going to renewable heating in offices and industry. We don’t yet know how much of the money will be available for homes, and the main phase of support for householders won’t be launched until October 2012.

How effective is renewable technology?

Heating our homes costs most of us around 60% of our average bill and causes nearly half of the UK’s CO2 emissions. So, of course it’s only right that we all try to make heating generate less carbon and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

But these technologies are still expensive and are we really ready for them? Which? put up hidden cameras in a house last year to test the advice companies were giving about installing solar thermal panels. Unfortunately the results were bleak, with sales advisers getting carried away with exaggerations on the savings we would make.

On top of this, other research shows that some of the technologies are just not being installed properly. For example, recent trials by the Energy Saving Trust into ground source heat pumps showed that only 13% performed well – and even more alarming is that some people actually ended up with higher bills!

How to pick the right renewable technology

The golden rule is to do your homework:

  • Put your ‘house in order’ – before spending thousands on renewable technology, make sure you’re keeping your heat in your home. You should have good loft insulation and, if appropriate, wall insulation.
  • Shop around – make sure the renewable technology you choose is right for your home and your specific needs.
  • Don’t take the first quote, and try to get a recommended company.

If you do choose to be an ‘early energy saver’ and go to the expense of installing renewable technology you deserve to get good advice, value for money and a fair deal. That’s why we’re working with industry and government to make sure that customers don’t become ‘green victims’.

If horror stories start to emerge of people spending thousands of pounds on equipment that’s either unsuitable or isn’t installed properly, then confidence in the scheme will soon fade. Is renewable technology something you’d like to have in your home?

Chris says:
11 March 2011

A great report by EPIA has a really interesting chart on page 34: It looks at the costs of PV compared to fossil fuel power. The PV gets cheaper the further out you go: Fossil fuel gets more expensive. the crossover point is ~ 2015. Stand by for a major change in how energy is generated.

Whether the local contractors are any good or not is a separate issue.

Some sound advice in the article above, especially the bit about get your own house in order before shelling out for the installation of a renewable.
Every Kwh you save through efficency, insulation, efficient appliances etc. is worth several Kwh produced through renewables once you factor in the cost to install.
As for “renewable heat incentives”, “green deals” and other government backed initiatives I’m yet to be convinced as to how effective or fair they will be. Governments don’t seem to me to be very good at this kind of thing.
However some incentive is better than none so we’ll see.

I’ve already gone a long way towards insulating my house as well as it can be. I already have a log burning stove onto which goes a lot of waste wood which might otherwise end up in land fill. I’m wondering what one of these “renewable heat energy greenometers” makes of my place if I ever get one.
Wonder if I’ll benefit from any of these government incentives?
I’d argue I should because a proportion of my home heat is from a renewable source already and it would be fair to reward those already having a go at moving in the right direction, at their own expense.
However I’ve a feeling most if not all the “incentive cash” will end up in the pocket of some “approved” renewable system installer regardless of how efficient, how cost effective or simply how good their system is.

I thought both the car scrappage and boiler scrappage schemes were flawed, not very good at reducing overall Co2 by taking safe MOT’d cars to the scrap yard while creating the substantial new carbon footprint of a new car. Or in the case of older boilers plenty of profiteering by some “approved installers”. These schemes although inherently not totally bad ideas could have been better thought out.

We’ll have to see how well thought out this Government initiative turns out to be won’t we?

I spent some time researching this a couple of years back, especially since my garage roof is in a sunny spot. Solar PV appeared to be the simplest, safest, lowest maintenance setup but the cost was uneconomic. The old grants system forced one to use a ‘registered’ (read darn expensive) company and my preferred route (90% DIY) would not be supported. It still is too expensive, and will be until Oct 2012 at the earliest. All along I’ve known that Germany has been investing in Solar PV and subsidising domestic installs – mainly because he better designs for systems are coming from there. However, the schemes over there are coming to a close, and without the fanfare of triumph one might expect. I for one am going to read this review (in English) http://repec.rwi-essen.de/files/REP_09_156.pdf before taking any steps. I wonder if our government have read it?

Use a Solar partner like Homesun, they pay all the costs, you get all the electricity
they earn a fee for generation – but the important fact is, you get the power and its FREE.

Good for home workers, “like wot I is”

I too have researched solar PV and reached much the same conclusion as you.
Use an approved (very expensive) installer and the economics are very iffy. I concluded that if you buy outright you might make a modest return over 25 years. If the sun shines, if the PV array maintains efficiency over it’s 25 year life, if the feed in tariff stays at 40p odd and if electricity prices continue to rise at at least the rate of inflation. The only one I’m certain about is the last one.
If you borrow to install or if the array is not up to scratch (any warrenty will only cover the kit not loss of generation return) I think there is a serious risk you’ll lose out.

Of course a DIY or part DIY installation would be much cheaper but not qualify for the feed in tariff. A factor I’ve never really understood the reasons for. The grid won’t know it’s DIY or if that even matters. If the DIY kit doesn’t work so what no powrer is made and only the DIY’er loses.
Perhaps Which should campaign to remove this “approved installer” obsticle to green power generation so more of us can participate,
Alas I think though there must be another agenda hidden below the surface somewhere.

I suppose it could have been the only way the Govt. could sell the idea to the business community. However, DIY makes a lot of sense – this is not rocket science for PV, and these companies stand to earn if the DIYer mucks it up. Right now the Govt. is in effect supressing the market in my personal opinion.

The only bit that would need a professional is the hookup to the grid and some form of certification (much as for other electrical works, building work and wood burning stoves).

@Chris – sounds too good to be true. But, they only pay the install if your roof complies with strict requirements. You get the electricity for free (as you say – during the day if you are in). But either I’m missing something or your electricity use is so low that the solar more than covers it? I’d expect solar to only partly cover your needs unless you have a very very large south facing shade free roof and live in Cornwall… What they are doing is trying to guarantee that the installation generates an excess that they can earn from. For most of us I think that’s unrealistic.

Yep, you are right.
For most of us on normal income levels, and who can do sums, the only way forward is a DIY installation but as I said in my other comment this means no FiT so even that doesn’t add up.
“Rent out your roof” free installation gives some benefit but the installation company is who really makes money.
Unless you invest in a large bank of batteries and an inverter. Something they understandably won’t be very keen on you doing.

Another interesting point Chris! I’d like to buy an electric car next, but _during the day_ its parked in a public car park – so I can’t exactly wire it up to the panels.
Interestingly the gorgeous but unfeasable Tesla has I think a removable battery pack (? a bit heavy though I guess), which means _in principle_ in the future you could treat a car like a power tool – have one battery in the car and the other charging in the garage!

But, and its a big but, we can’t get a grant for that.