Sunny side up with so­lar en­ergy savings Iva Po­cock

In­stalling so­lar pan­els is straight­for­ward, qual­i­fies for Rev­enue’s home ren­o­va­tion in­cen­tive scheme and gen­er­ates sig­nif­i­cant re­turns in short or­der

The Irish Times - - Property Features -

Last spring nine house­holds in my neigh­bour­hood, our­selves in­cluded, de­cided to in­vest in rooftop pho­to­voltaic (PV) pan­els in an ef­fort to re­duce our elec­tric­ity costs and our car­bon foot­print.

We dis­cov­ered that less than 12 sq m of PV pan­els is plan­ning ex­empt and that they can be in­stalled on all sorts of roofs such as slate, tiles (both ce­ment and re­cy­cled rub­ber), stand­ing seam and flat roofs. While a south-fac­ing ori­en­ta­tion is best they will pro­duce elec­tric­ity fac­ing east and west but they won’t work if they are over­shad­owed. They pro­duce elec­tric­ity silently.

On the bright July day that our house­hold’s pan­els were put in place the whole process was as easy as the in­stall­ers Con­struc­tion PV had promised in their prior as­sess­ment and quo­ta­tion.

They at­tached the pan­els to our roof, ran metal duct­ing down the back of the house, drilled a hole through the wall and hooked the pan­els up to an in­verter, a neat white box with a read-out panel that they at­tached to our util­ity room wall.

By then it had started to driz­zle. Much to my amaze­ment, our pan­els were gen­er­at­ing 450W of elec­tric­ity.

The re­al­i­sa­tion that our fam­ily home had in one short morn­ing be­come a mi­cro-power plant caused a rip­ple of ex­cite­ment – our seven-year-old burst in the of­fice door the next day ex­claim­ing: “Mummy, we gen­er­ated 2072 watts!”

We be­came ob­sessed with how much elec­tric­ity we use and how to use as much of our so­lar elec­tric­ity as pos­si­ble when it’s be­ing gen­er­ated.

Eco pro­grammes

We dug out elec­tri­cal ap­pli­ance man­u­als and searched on­line to dis­cover that eco pro­grammes re­ally do save elec­tric­ity, that one ce­ramic hob ring on our old cooker de­mands 1700W and that my com­puter uses 106W or a lit­tle less when idle.

The big­gest rev­e­la­tion was that even on the sun­ni­est sum­mer’s day our south-fac­ing PV pan­els would not gen­er­ate enough elec­tric­ity to boil our ket­tle. Why? Be­cause they pro­duce a max­i­mum of 2200W and our ket­tle needed 2600W.

We promptly or­dered a 650W ket­tle! We also started run­ning washes and charg­ing up ap­pli­ances in bright day­light hours, rather than at night.

Our de­ter­mi­na­tion to max­imise the use of our so­lar elec­tric­ity is driven by the fact that we have no way of stor­ing our ex­cess ca­pac­ity (cur­rently bat­ter­ies cost more than the pan­els) and we don’t get paid for the elec­tric­ity that we send to the grid. It’s a case of use it or lose it.

The re­cent cit­i­zens’ as­sem­bly that con­sid­ered cli­mate change over­whelm­ingly rec­om­mended leg­isla­tive sup­port for do­mes­tic mi­cro-gen­er­a­tors to sell back into the grid with a so-called feed-in tar­iff.

The Min­is­ter for Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Cli­mate Change and the En­vi­ron­ment, De­nis Naugh­ten, says he is “com­mit­ted to find­ing a cor­rect mech­a­nism for de­vel­op­ing small and mi­cro-scale gen­er­a­tion in Ire­land” but has ex­cluded sup­port for mi­cro and small-scale re­new­able gen­er­a­tion from his new re­new­able elec­tric­ity sup­port scheme.

Op­ti­mistic

De­spite the lack of a feed-in tar­iff Robert Goss, di­rec­tor of So­lar Elec­tric Ire­land, is op­ti­mistic about do­mes­tic PV in­stal­la­tion. “Com­pared to keep­ing €5000in the bank, in­vest­ing ¤5,000 on your roof is very ben­e­fi­cial. If you do the cal­cu­la­tion on pay­back of PV and in­clude 5per cent elec­tric­ity price in­fla­tion the pay­back comes down very rapidly.”

There are cur­rently two Sus­tain­able En­ergy Author­ity of Ire­land schemes un­der which PV can be grant-aided al­though nei­ther is open to in­di­vid­ual house­hold­ers and both pri­ori­tise en­ergy ef­fi­ciency rather than pro­duc­tion. There’s the deep retro­fit pi­lot scheme and the bet­ter en­ergy com­mu­ni­ties scheme that my neigh­bours and I went for, with up to 50 per cent grant aid.

Sup­port for PV can also fall un­der the su­per­homes scheme run by Tip­per­ary En­ergy Agency in which in­di­vid­u­als can retro­fit their homes to an A1 build­ing en­ergy rat­ing (BER). Do­mes­tic PV pan­els im­prove your BER and may push your home up a grade.

PV in­stal­la­tion qual­i­fies for the Rev­enue’s home ren­o­va­tion in­cen­tive scheme as ad­ver­tised by Elec­tric Ire­land as part of its so­lar PV package. Qual­i­fy­ing cus­tomers can in­stall a six-panel 1750W sys­tem for ¤3,980 in­clud­ing VAT and can save around ¤240 an­nu­ally de­pend­ing on lo­ca­tion, roof an­gle and ori­en­ta­tion, ac­cord­ing to the com­pany.

To­tal cost be­fore grant aid

It was par­tic­u­larly easy to in­cor­po­rate a PV sys­tem into our house so our to­tal cost be­fore grant aid, which has yet to be re­im­bursed, was ¤2,800 in­clud­ing VAT. Soon after in­stal­la­tion our SSE Air­tric­ity monthly bud­get plan was re­cal­cu­lated from ¤72 to ¤55, so a sav­ing was im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent.

Our on­line mon­i­tor­ing gismo tells me we’ve re­duced our emis­sions by over 300kg of CO2 equiv­a­lent com­pared to us­ing pre­dom­i­nantly fos­sil fuel-gen­er­ated elec­tric­ity from the grid.

While we now pay less at­ten­tion to our PV pan­els than dur­ing those first heady weeks, we hope to keep im­prov­ing us­age of our so­lar elec­tric­ity. Top of the list is a low wattage slow cooker. Then come stor­age bat­ter­ies and an elec­tric car.

In the mean­time the ket­tle takes longer to boil but on a bright day it’s worth the wait.

‘‘ The re­al­i­sa­tion that our fam­ily home had in one short morn­ing be­come a mi­cro power-plant caused a rip­ple of ex­cite­ment

PHO­TO­GRAPHS: CON­STRUCT IRE­LAND, IVA PO­COCK

Power to the peo­ple: rooftop “pho­to­voltaic” pan­els can be in­stalled on all sorts of roofs – in­clud­ing slate, tiles, stand­ing seam and flat roofs – and then hooked up to an in­verter (such as the one be­low be­side Iva Po­cock) which con­verts the cur­rent for house­hold use.

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