Renewable calculator-coming soon

Hello everyone,

I am currently updating my website and I am very keen to respond to one of the criticisms that people have. Folk are generally very complimentary on the design of the website and particularly the online calculators (for this I have to thank my website designer Jon, who has done an excellent job-his details are at the foot of each page).

What people have often said about the calculators though is that they are great if you know exactly what you are looking for, but not so good if you don’t really know what a Ground Source Heat Pump (for example) is. I probably should have realised that, because, coming into renewables from an oil and gas background, a lot of the technology was very new to me too!

There are a lot of people out there who are keen on the idea of renewable energy but aren’t really quite sure how they could benefit and what micro-generation system their home might be suitable for.

So, I will be updating my website with a renewables calculator on the homepage. This will ask people for some basic details about their home and what they hope to gain from a renewable energy installation (e.g. hot water, electricity). From there, all the information will be emailed to me and I will reply with a recommendation about what would be suitable (if anything).

I have a pretty good idea in my mind about how to go about this, but I want to make sure its as user-friendly as possible. If you have any ideas or suggestions, I’d be very interested. Please post in the usual way!

Insulation-is it worth it?

Having insulated a few lofts, I am going to dip my toes into the debate-to insulate or not to insulate?

First of all, you need to differentiate between the two most common forms of home insulation-loft and cavity wall. Loft insulation is a fairly straightforward process and can really be installed by pretty much anyone. What’s more, the government are very keen to encourage this and have heavily subsidised loft insulation which can be bought by anyone at a DIY store. There is really no reason why you shouldn’t install loft insulation if you can. It will help stop drafts and keep your heating bills down.

The types of loft insulation jobs that I have been called into do have been lofts with very little wiggle space and the owners have no desire to spend two days in there. After completing the job, and a very achey back, I can’t say I blame them!

A bit more complicated is wall insulation. There are different types but the most common are tiny beads pumped into the wall cavity between the bricks and breeze blocks of relatively modern homes. For some homes, this works great and it does a lot to reduce the domestic heating bills. However, there is a downside.

These cavities often perform a vital function in allowing the building to ‘breathe’. This is a airy-fairy way of saying that it allows the moisture that the building produces to dissipate. This is really important as without this, damp affects the walls and you can be left with a major repair job.

Another problem with wall insulation is that the houses that have stood the test of time in this country are almost without exception solid-wall stone. Clearly, there is no cavity to pump into here so the only option is to build a facing either internally or externally and then insulate that. This is really expensive and will probably make the property much less attractive. This is not going to encourage people who are looking to cut their bills. Do we really want to just rule out all these well-built homes which will be there for generations to come from becoming energy efficient? There must be another option out there. Comments welcome…

Another problem which I had until recently seen no solution to is under-floor cavity insulation. I have one under my own home and it is really drafty. However, you need to keep the cavity or you DEFINITELY will have damp problems. As I said, though, that was until recently. I was at a customer’s house fitting solar panels and we were chatting about energy efficiency in the home, discussing this very problem and he showed me his solution. He made up a wire mesh and installed insulation ABOVE the wire mesh immediately below the floor. This way, he keeps the cavity, allowing the building to ‘breathe’ but also cutting out the drafts! So simple, so effective…genius!


The Green Deal

After dissing the government in my last blog, I am going to commend them on a far-sighted policy which will come into play in October-it’s called the ‘Green Deal’.

One of the great things about micro-generational renewable energy is that it will save you an absolute packet. It is like paying your next ten year’s energy bills up front with an 80% discount. There is one major drawback though, and that’s the initial cost. We all know that it will save you loads in the long-term but the fact is that its only people with some quite significant savings in the bank who can afford to do it.

This is where the ‘Green Deal’ steps in. The ‘Green Deal’ is a finance mechanism whereby money is made available to you, the customer to pay for your renewable installation. This could be solar panels, a heat pump, a biomass boiler or a whole host of other things. The money comes through the energy company that you use and it goes straight to the installer.

Now here’s the clever bit. It is calculated how much your installation will cut your energy bills every quarter. This amount is then added on to your energy bill until the installation has paid for itself. So let’s say you get a heat pump at £12,000 initial outlay but it saves you £500 a quarter. Your energy bill goes down £500 a quarter and then the repayment is added on to your bill-£500 a quarter. There is effectively no difference, except after 6 years your energy bill goes down £500 a quarter and there’s no more money to be paid back! Brilliant!

What’s more, you’ve got a swanky heat pump giving you clean energy which has got a good 20 years effective life in it. If you decide to move on then the pay-back just passes on to the next owner of the home and they will continue to reap the benefit of the heat pump.

It’s a great way to make renewable energy affordable to the majority of the population. Keep your eyes peeled for developments on this one. As an MCS accredited installer, you can be assured that BEC will be straight in there once accreditation becomes available and will be ready to provide for your renewable energy needs.

Watch this space…

Feed-in-Tariff mayhem

As a new renewable energy systems installation business, one of the hard things to deal with in the last few months has been the government’s tinkering with the Feed-in-Tariff (FiT).

If, like most people, you don’t really know what the FiT is, but you can vaguely remember hearing a bit of controversy about it in the news, then you’re in the majority. Basically, the FiT is a system to get micro-generation technologies, particularly solar photovoltaic panels, up and running as an industry. The government force the energy companies to pay a tariff to their customers who are generating electricity-this is the case whether the electricity is being consumed by the customer or fed onto the national grid. In fact, the FiT rate is slightly higher if its fed onto the grid-it really should be called the generation tariff.

Anyway, up to last year the FiT was 43.3p/kWhour. This may not mean a lot to you but a kWhour (kilowatt hour) is the standard unit of electricity consumption. You will buy a kWhour from your energy provider for about 12p. You can see then that 43.3p is incredibly generous-and not long-term sustainable.

Everybody knew that and the planned programme was to reduce the rate on 1st April 2012, to probably around half-still a generous rate. The whole solar pv industry was set up for that and prepared. Then, at the start of November last year, came the bombshell that the government would in fact reduce the rate to 21p/kWhour on 12th December and not the 1st April. This, bizarrely, while carrying out a consultancy which would last until 24th December!

At this stage, there was panic amongst  solar installers to get hold of the required equipment. Pv panels and inverters particularly, became hot property across the land. As you can imagine, the bigger installers flexed their financial muscle and stocked up their warehouses leaving very little for the little guys like me who cannot afford to purchase big stocks in advance. I had my first job starting on 15th November on which I was to be audited. I must have made hundreds of phone calls to suppliers and other installers across Scotland and beyond to see if anything could be spared. Eventually I managed to cobble everything together, the installation went well and I passed my audit. Phew!

As you may know, the change in tariff rate was challenged by Friends of the Earth and it is currently being dragged through the Supreme Court. The thing which is frustrating isn’t the drop in tariff rate-we all knew that was going to happen and that it had to happen. It is the fact that the government does not seem to realise that businesses need to be able to plan to a reliable timetable. We need to resource labour and supplied. This is true for me as a small business so you can multiply that by a thousand for a business employing lots of people.

The other thing which is annoying is that it undermines the impression of the government’s commitment to micro-generation renewable energy. The FiT is promised for 25 years, but people understandably think, “well, if they can just change it like that, how do I know that in ten years they won’t just pull the plug altogether?” Chopping and changing an agreed timetable undermines confidence.

Just so you know, solar pv is still a great investment and will continue to be for many years to come. Don’t listen to the doom-mongers! PV is here to stay!