Thursday, 14 January 2010

power to the people

In April this year it’s going to be possible for a typical household to generate much of their domestic electricity needs from their own rooftops, with a payback period that’s very reasonable. The reason why this is suddenly possible is that our government is introducing a Feed In Tariff for household energy generation. That means that for every kilowatt hour I generate, I will be paid 36.5p, as opposed to the 14p per kWh I currently pay my electricity supplier. Not only that, but I get to keep what I generate, as well as be paid for it, effectively earning myself roughly 50p per kilowatt. And, during this first year that the tariffs are introduced, that level of tariff will be guaranteed for 25 years.

The British government, obsessed as it is with central as opposed to local power (and that’s political as well as energetic) has definitely dragged its heels behind other countries, but this move could revolutionise the way we generate electricity. The German government introduced FITs in 2000, and 5% percent of Germany’s electricity is already generated from solar.

I was told this news by the good people at Ovesco, the company (which has just become an Industrial Provident Society) set up by Transition Town Lewes’s energy group and who are funded by Lewes District Council to give advice and grants to Lewes residents. I’ve just received a quote from our local supplier, Southern Solar, for 8 solar photovoltaic cells on my average-sized Lewes terraced roof. With those panels at our particular pitch and orientation, the company estimates that we will generate a peak of 1.7kw, or 1,382 kw hours per year, earning me roughly £700 per year (untaxed, it was recently announced). This means at a cost of £9,337 (after an installation grant of £2,500, available nationally until April this year) the payback period would be roughly 13 years, a fabulous return rate of 7% and, perhaps most importantly, would insulate me against future fossil fuel price rises. For those who don’t have a flexible mortgage or imminent lottery win, watch out for forthcoming loans and mortgages to help people make that investment.

I’ve started to become energy literate this year, with the help of an Owl Energy monitor (£37 from Argos), which is surprisingly engaging gadget. With its help, we’ve nearly halved our electricity bills, mainly through replacing and turning off lightbulbs, though we still use about 2,500 kWh per year, which is about twice what we’d have the capacity to generate. I’m pretty confident we could reduce our needs quite a lot further, through using less of the big machines such as our oven and dishwasher, and because our children are leaving home. Apparently, it’s immensely empowering to watch one’s meter go backwards and to know that we’re producing our own energy and making money at the same time.

Now, the only question is whether the LDC planning officers and committee have the vision to allow Lewesians to generate electricity from our roofs visibly in a conservation area/national park-to-be. I guess I’m about to find out.


Linzi said...

Dear Adrienne

Sorry not to see your usual column on 'Viva Lewes' today, hope you are well?

Best wishes,
Lewes Reader

adrienne campbell said...

Thank you, I'm very touched that you noticed. I've been feeling such powerful feelings that I've been unable to write anything ready for print. But I hope to resume this week, after a break.

Jane Jones said...

Dear Adrienne

Southern Solar completed our PV installation last week. It's great to see it feeding the grid even on a wet day.

The meter does not go backwards as we had been led to expect - and our energy monitoring Eco-eye device can't tell the difference between drawing power from the grid and feeding it in!

Ecotricity - our supplier - don't want the meter to go backwards and, if it did, they say they would replace it. Apart from costing them money, I guess their billing software etc could not cope! We are waiting for comments from Southern Solar.

Keep warm

Jane & Brian Jones