I have been interested in renewable energy projects for some time, inspired by a trip to the Centre for Alternative Technology in North Wales. Have experimented with building a soft drink can solar heater for a greenhouse.
Whilst the output was quite good (in excess of 54c) my north facing back garden doesn’t allow it to sit in any sunshine long enough, to make a difference to the greenhouse temperature during the winter months, for which it was intended.
For a more reliable green project, I investigated having solar panels fitted to the house roof. At the time lead in tariff payments were on offer to minimise the cost of installation. As we moved to quote stage the government withdrew from the scheme and possible sellers disappeared too.
Early last year, a letter arrived containing details of a Mayor of London group purchase scheme, offering cost effective installation of solar panels. I went ahead and received a quote that looked promising. Following an on site survey, the projected installation was significantly scaled back which I considered too small to proceed with.
At the same time, a relative had been approaching solar panel providers to instal a package on their roof. Resident in the North west of England and normally less sunny than the south east of England. After a delayed start, 13 panels were installed on their roof, together with storage batteries in December 2022. By summer 2023, the data indicated they were heading for a saving of at least £1,000 in the first 12 months. This convinced me to try again and so requested a quote from GRC Solar Ltd, their installers, which, following an addition of an extra battery, was accepted and ultimately fitted on the 30 November 2023.
Some of the reasons why are set out in the H is for Heating blog post. My investment in this technology satisfies a number of needs, reduction in our personal carbon footprint, generating own green energy, reducing our monthly electricity bill, allowing any surplus to pass to the national grid as green energy and making me feel happy!
Investment or Payback?
A number of people talk about the cost and slow payback. Certainly if you are looking to recover your money, it does take time, estimate for our installation is just over 9 years. It can be quicker but will cover that next time.
I prefer to look at the investment return. Provided the estimated savings are realised, am looking at a near 10% return on my ‘investment’. Thats tax free as well, and am reasonably confident of this based on my relatives experience.
Working out what can be achieved
The provider checks out the position of the house and estimates the potential savings available by maximising the number of panels that can be fitted on the roof, accessing sunshine data for your area and calculating the impact on the exact orientation of the home roof (south, south west etc).
This is all done by looking at satellite images. The only information we provided was the latest annual electricity usage (available from the most recent bill). In our case the illustration and quote came through in about 3 days.
Once we set the date, advised to expect a possible day, day and a half installation time. Estimated start time 8.00am. Actual was 7.30am. In November this is before sunrise!
A two man team worked on the roof (scaffolding erected a few days before) and an electrician worked inside. We did supply some mince pies and doughnuts from Greggs, to offset the impact of a few flurries of snow!
The electrician installed a new consumer unit and generation meter underneath the existing consumer unit and placed the Inverter and isolators plus batteries in the garage on the wall. It could have been placed in the roof space but was easier to place in the garage and the connection to the panels routed through the garage roof to the panels on the main roof.
New consumer unit and generation meter
Inverter and isolation switches (secateurs for scale)
Batteries (secateurs for scale)
The panel installation was completed by 12.30pm that day, the system energised by 1.00pm and we could see system generating energy for the first time. A quick walk through of how the system operates and the team had all gone by 1.30pm.
The system is monitored using an app, which indicates what’s working and the state of the batteries. Really easy.
Obsessive generation behaviour (OGB)
Once the system is up and working you may soon suffer from what I call OGB. You want everyday to be better than the day before, by that I mean the amount of generated power increases.
This all depends on the amount of sunshine. When you look at the BBC weather app (or equivalent) for the following day and it shows cloud, your mood may reflect the weather (Miserable!) but when sun is promised, you will have a much more positive outlook (Happy!).
Hopefully you would develop a higher level of patience over time
Results to date
In the the early days, December was quite grey and the minimum on one day was only 0.6 Kw. January has been much better with the best day generating a maximum of 8.8Kw, Across the period to date (26 January) the system has covered 31% of electricity used.
December and January have on average, the lowest level of daylight in the year. (Met office data for South East). So expect better days ahead.
We have yet to organise a link to get paid for any surplus electricity generated. This will be done soon. We also intend to acquire a smart controller for our Immersion heater. This allows surplus energy to be used to heat the water, rather than using gas. Currently we use all that we generate so not important at this time.
Feel free to ask any questions. I recommend GRC Solar Ltd as a potential supplier of your personal power station. I have been very happy with how the process worked and the installation was quick and efficient.
GRC contact is Andy 07703 286393
Will provide a more detailed update once we have completed the second month of generation.