Payback time

I was intrigued when I heard the news back in April that the UK government had initiated a feed-in-tariff scheme that would allow householders to generate a bit of cash on the side by installing alternative energy system in their homes and then either using it themselves or selling it back to the National Grid.

Since the scheme was introduced, the uptake of solar panel installations registered with the scheme has increased every month. According to Ofgem, 412 installations were made in the first month. And in the following months this figure increased to 944 in May, 1,406 in June, 1,751 in July and 3,642 in August.

At the end of the first quarter of the scheme, the total installed capacity of all registered installation was 15.2MW, with photovoltaic installations representing more than 97 per cent of the total number of registered installations. All of the photovoltaic installations registered in the first quarter of the scheme had an installed capacity of less than 50kW, with most having an installed capacity of less than 4kW.

Keen to find out how I might also take part in the scheme with a little solar generation of my own, I went onto the website of the Energy Savings Trust, which has developed a rather nifty little calculator that allowed me to figure out the amount of money that I might be able to generate if I installed solar panels on my own roof.

After choosing the location of my house from a map of England (that presumably represented the average number of photons that might hit my panels during any one year), I then selected the smallest (and presumably cheapest) panel that I might be able to affix to my abode (less than 4kW), stated that I wished to use all of the power generated myself, and then asked the calculator to present the lifetime benefit to me over 25 years.

The figure looked rather large. In fact, it was gosh darned near close to £44,000 – an impressive sum by any measure. Sadly though, when I investigated the cost of installing such a 4kW system my enthusiasm fell. You see, the price of a system capable of delivering 4kWp – that’s 4kW peak – was also rather sizeable – one contractor quoted a figure of more than £16,000, meaning that it would take me 10 years just to recoup the cost of the installation.

Or maybe longer. Because it’s my guess that the peak power generated is based on measurements under optimum conditions, which won’t be the same as the power generated under actual working conditions. Indeed, I guess that the actual power output would be 20 per cent lower, meaning, of course, that my payback time would be longer too.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of solar power and the government scheme isn’t a bad one. But because for me at least, the financials don’t add up at the present time, I’ve come up with an alternative scheme that Mr Cameron and company might like to consider.

In the Dave Wilson Feed-In Scheme (DWFIS), the government would pass legislation that required solar panels to be fitted to all new houses by law. And it would be the government that would carry the cost of installation. The government would then receive all the money generated from the new systems over a 25-year period – money that would not only pay back its initial outlay, but swell its sadly depleted coffers too.

It’s an argument that no one could fault – after all, I’m only asking the government to take the same long-term approach to generating low-carbon energy that they have asked me to consider. Surely they will see the sense in that and adopt my approach as swiftly as possible?

Dave Wilson
Editor, Engineeringtalk

Dave’s comments form part of the weekly Engineeringtalk newsletter, which also includes a round-up of the latest engineering products and services. To subscribe click here