Thursday, 18 March 2010

Feet In Tariffs, problems and solutions

Solar Roof

After years of campaigning feed in tariffs finally arrive, coming here on April fools day. So the electricity you generate from wind turbines gets 34p, and solar panels 41p.

Unfortunately those who installed their system and were accredited under the Renewables Obligation before 15 July 2009 will automatically be transferred to the feed-in tariff at a generation rate of 9p per kWh, regardless of technology. This will be paid until 31 March 2027.
Microgenerators who installed pre 15 July 2009 and are not accredited under the RO will not be eligible for feed-in tariffs. So those who pioneered this technology without a grant are penalised. Labour are unfair, they should all get a decent rate, at least more than the electricity would cost.

Britain has only 25,000 solar roofs. Freiburg, a town of 200,000 people (similar to Reading), has almost as much solar photovoltaic (PV) power as the whole of Britain. Anyone generating electricity from solar PV, wind or hydro gets a guaranteed payment of four times the market rate - about 35p pence a unit - for 20 years in Germany. Germany had the Green Party in coalition for years, now thats over and so is the subsidy. At least they have a head start.

"If you put solar panels on your roof the government will pay you 36p - or 36.5p is the number out for consultation and what we expect it to be." "They will pay that level for each kilowatt you generate whether you use it or not. And that is a substantial return given you pay 12-13p in the market at the moment." This reduces the pay-back time on your investment to nearer 10 years.

But how effective is solar? Robert Barrow and his family live off solar power, and has a generator for back-up in the house they rent near Borth, Ceredigion, Wales. "Even on a cloudy day, it can generate over 50%," he says. "We do have doldrums. When we have heavy clouds, they cease to produce anything to let you run the washing machine and so on."But most days, on an average kind of day, there's enough juice to keep our HDTV, surround sound stereo and other creature comforts running. No problem."

In every election that Labour has fought since 1997 there has been a renewed commitment to renewable energy, but today renewables still only produce 5% of our power. The European average is 14%. This performance means that the UK comes 25th out of 27 EU countries in the proportion of its energy supplied from renewable sources – behind Malta and Luxembourg.

Renewables could produce 38% of present energy needs.

George Monbiot in The Guardian describes Solar Photovoltaic panels as ‘comically inefficient’. This is an uncharacteristically simplistic and wrong view of the technology from him. An average 2kWp PV system will produce around 1600 kWh of electricity per year which is around a half or a third of a households annual electricity use. In the south of England this could increase to 2000kWh/year. Hardly insignificant and not a cause for amusement.

Costs of solar panels are directly related to the current small size of the market. The aim of the feed in tariff/clean energy cashback policy is to develop a mass market for solar panels which will reduce the unit cost and therefore the cost of saving carbon.

George refers to Solar PV contributing only 0.4% to Germany’s electricity supply but this rather misses the application of the technology at the micro level. At the domestic and small scale level microgeneration technologies such as PV are not feeding into the grid but are being used within the buildings they serve and displacing the need for grid generated dirty electricity. So the impact for the householder installing may be a reduction in 30 to 50% of their electricity use. PV on this scale should be regarded as demand reduction technology as opposed to a mass generation option.

Another point he makes is that it is a technology option is only one that the rich will be able to take advantage of. However this is simply not the case. In Kirklees we now have hundreds of council tenants, many of who are pensioners on low incomes taking advantage of solar PV. Because the Clean Energy Cashback can be ‘assigned’ to the installer or social landlord who is installing the solar panels, the capital costs for installation could be met in their entirety by the revenue gained. The tenant/householder will still get the benefit of the electricity generated in their own home. With many people on low incomes being retired, or unable to work due to illness, their peak demand will more reflect the peak generation times of the solar panels during the day. So it is arguably a technology best applied to low/fixed income households. Having said that, with more affluent households working from home these days it is increasingly likely that people with solar panels will make use of the electricity generated on site rather than exporting it to the grid.

What George Monbiot completely fails to realise is the wider potential of microgeneration to change the way people regard themselves. They are no longer simply consumers of energy they can be generators and producers of their own heat and power. While that is literally ‘empowering’ it also means that householders have more of incentive to reduce their own consumption, to be more efficient in their use of energy, because now there is a ‘balance sheet’ of incoming and outgoing energy. If they are sufficiently responsible in their energy consumption they might even come out ‘in profit’ on their fuel bills. We have needed some real tangible incentives for saving energy in the home for a long time beyond the usual exhortations. Microgeneration provides that incentive.

We have the possibility of an ‘energy generating democracy’ in the UK with benefits to society and the environment inmeasurably greater than the narrow ‘property owning democracy’ that drove policy in the eighties. I find it bizarre to say this to someone with such well established green credentials but George Monbiot really should see the bigger picture here!

1 comment:

Adrian Windisch said...
Porritt Vs Monbiot