We’ve got the power

You may remember my solar ambitions a couple of months back. We decided to go for it and try to have the panels installed before 31st December, when the government’s feed-in tariff* got slightly less generous.  The big question was: ‘Do we have a good enough energy rating to qualify?’ – because the government doesn’t pay you to generate electricity if your house has an energy performance certificate of E or below. Hence all the crawling round in the loft laying insulation and worrying that single glazed windows and uninsulated brick walls weren’t going to cut it. (I’ve never been so anxious to score a ‘D’ in my life.)

With the tight timescale all we could do was pay the deposit towards the panels, wait for the EPC inspector, and hope.

Keanu-Reeves_as EPC inspector

How an EPC inspector calculates your home’s energy performance

Well, we needn’t have worried. When the inspector turned up (looking exactly like Neo from The Matrix, as it happens) he made a bee-line for the boiler, took one look at it, and pretty much gave us a ‘D’ on the spot. So condensing boilers are very sexy if you are an EPC inspector, apparently, even if you do look like Keanu Reeves.

‘But we’ve only got 100mm of mineral wool in our loft,’ I bleated, while he took a photo of the radiator valve with one hand and a laser measurement of the height of the ceiling with another.

‘Doesn’t make much difference,’ he said, looking at me over the top of his shades. ‘It’s like putting a blanket on a bed. The difference between nothing and a blanket is huge. After that every other blanket only makes a minimal difference.’

Then he leapt into the loft in a single martial arts type bound without his feet touching the ladder.

So, with our panels installed by the very impressive London Solar Energy company, we now have a low ‘B’ rating. Go us! Even with our single glazing and uninsulated walls. To be fair, most of our walls are insulated – by the neighbours’ houses on either side. Terraced streets have their advantages.

London Solar Energy were impressive because a) their panels generate more than any other company we looked at, at 285W each, which meant we could fit a healthy 3.4kW system on our measly strip of south-facing roof; and b) their team was in and out in a day having done the whole installation and even having tried to explain to me how it worked (any guesses which took longer…?). (And c) they weren’t at all pushy and salesy like the other two companies we had discussions with.)


Ta dah!

The best bit by far was the thing I shall call, for want of a better word, the Widget. This sits in your kitchen picking up from a sensor on the electricity meter how much money you’re making carbon you’re saving. (And how much money you’re making.) It also shows you on an attractively colourful wheel how much wattage is being generated right now! On your own roof! For free!

‘Great,’ I said to the engineer. ‘Look, it says it’s making 26W! What does that mean?’

‘It means it’s powering nearly a whole lightbulb,’ he said. ‘But not for long – it’s 3pm so the whole thing will stop working in a minute.’

So, if you want to be wowed by your new photovoltaic panels, don’t install them two days before the winter solstice.

Sadly, the Widget has developed a fault and is due to be replaced, so I can’t reel off lots more statistics at you. (I knew you’d be disappointed.) What I’m looking forward to, when it does work, is the moment that the ‘switch on’ symbol lights up. This means the panels are making more than 750W so it’s a good time to switch on the dishwasher/washing machine/jacuzzi. Until the Widget is working I won’t know for sure what time that is, though I’m turning appliances on as close to noon as possible to be on the safe side. Perhaps the answer will turn out to be ‘March’.

The financial return is meant to be good – our projection was for more than £20,000 over 20 years (I think – where’s the paperwork when you need to blog it?) including electricity bill savings. So we should make back the £6000 we borrowed several times over. For the next three years while we pay off the loan, however, Mr Suburbanite says we can’t have any fun. I don’t know what’s wrong with him. How is it not fun to sit on the sofa every evening reading the daily stats off the Widget…?

* The FIT is what the government gives you for generating electricity at home – in 2014 it was 14p per kilowatt hour, but dropped to 13.5 in January. Either way it’s guaranteed for 20 years. A system like ours is supposed to earn, on average, £35ish a month, and this doubles when you take into account savings on your electricity bill.


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