Thursday, 10 November 2011
Our plans for planning application are virtually complete and now only lack details of solar photovoltaic/electric (PV) panels, and solar thermal (hot-water) panels on the south-southwest facing rear roof. We will definitely install solar thermal panels to provide around 60% of our annual hot-water needs. This is easier to plan as the panels are a fairly standard size. We hope to also install PV panels, but this depends on the amount that can fit on the roof and the potential output of the system balanced against the cost. As the sizing of PV panels is much less standard and the calculation of output and which panels to use in what configuration around roof-windows is much more complex, we need this information from solar installers. Two local firms have agreed to provide a quote including all the relevant information, enabling us to reach a decision and - if we decide to go ahead - to include accurate details of solar installation on our plans for planning permission.
Both firms were poised to do this when the Government announced changes to the Feed-In-Tariff/FIT (the amount people are paid for electricity their solar panels generate which gets fed-in to the national grid). The proposals halve the amount people get paid, on all installations which are not fully commissioned and registered by 12th December. This is a very sudden and dramatic reduction in the feed-in-tariff, effectively doubling the time it will take for people to cover the costs of their solar panels, or to pay for it in the first place if they need to borrow money to cover the initial cost. The December cut-off point for the existing tariff leaves solar companies very little time at all to prepare for the changes (and the cut-off deadline is bizarrely before the end of the "consultation" period for the changes which are technically only proposals until after the consultation. Not surprisingly the Government now faces multiple legal challenges because of this oddity: http://www.clickgreen.org.uk/news/national-news/122782-uk-government-faces-third-legal-challenge-to-early-feed-in-tariff-deadline.html).
The immediate practical effect is that all solar installers are now working flat out to get everything in place for existing customers to have their systems finished before the deadline so that they can receive the higher rate of feed-in-tariff. Essentially, if these new installations can't be registered/completed in time, the people who ordered them won't be able to afford them, will have to cancel the orders, and the solar firms will lose a massive amount of business. Not good.
The idea behind the reduction in the FIT is that the cost of solar installations has fallen, so the existing tariff is now higher than needed and doesn't represent good value for money. The problem is the cost has definitely not halved, so the dramatic reduction in the rate of the FIT is disproportionate. A more gradual reduction over time, to reflect the gradual reduction of solar installation costs would make much more sense. Many installers are naturally expecting to see a dramatic reduction in business once the reduced tariff is introduced. It's one of many examples of this government being extremely short-sighted and unable to look at the wider issues, especially where sustainability is concerned, and despite David Cameron's increasingly hollow pledge to be "the greenest government ever". The tariff doesn't actually cost the government anything either - it is paid for by a levy on everyone's electricity bills, equal to around £1 each a year.
But anyway, from an immediate and selfish perspective the problem for us is that the solar firms have no time to work on our proposals until they have everything in place to enable customers already on their books to receive the higher-rate FIT. One has pledged to provide the info this week, the other is too snowed-under by the unexpected deadline and resulting rush to even suggest a quote delivery time. If we don't have the info this week I think we will have to submit our planning application without the PV panels shown on it. It is not strictly necessary to include the panels on the application, as most installations are covered by permitted development rules. But it is definitely best practice to include as much info as possible, and solar panels would be a very important part of the whole project and ethos, helping to further reduce the possible carbon emissions associated with the bungalow.