Green Energy – Talk 1: Solar Panels

Video and material now available!

Sustainable Amersham hosted the first talk of their Green Energy series on the 30th of April, 2022 at the Amersham Library. It focused on solar panels – an installation experience in Amersham – from planning to power-up.

Amersham resident and sustainability consultant, Christoph Geppert, was invited to share his recent experience in solar panel installation. The talk included why he decided to install solar panels, what was involved in the planning process and technical details such as solar panel types, various flavours of solar panel installation and the storage methods for the surplus electricity generated.

The event was well attended, and the audience was very engaging, asking questions and giving comments throughout the talk.  The collaboration with Amersham library, was a key to the event’s success and was one of the first uses of the ‘Talk Room’ in their brand-new premises within the Lifestyle Centre.

Sustainable Amersham also collected feedback from the audience for future talks, mostly positive with a couple of learning points. The talk was recorded, and it has been uploaded to the Sustainable Amersham YouTube channel (see below) to share with the public together with all other technical material exchanged.

If you enjoyed this talk, why not come to our next Talk on how to save energy and the planet ?

Here are the main points we discussed:

Everyone who can do it should do it now 

With the urgency of climate change and the collapse of biodiversity, the demand for green energy is high. UK home solar PV systems can save more than 10% ( 1.3-1.6/12 tonnes) of UK annual house hold consumption.  The European Commission described solar PV as amongst the most cost-effective electricity generation technologies. Considering the sharp and continued rise of energy prices, it proves good value for money in the medium/long term.

The step by step guide

Step 1: Planning

Planning permission and building regulation: Check the planning portal: solar panel installation may be ‘permitted development’ with no need to apply to the Local Planning Authority for planning permission. To be sure that no future objections are possible a ‘certificate of lawfulness‘ can be obtained. This is though almost the same as a planning application but without the consultation of neighbours and it is cheaper. 

When it comes to Building Control it is important to consider all the regulations, for example the structural integrity of the installation, weather proofing and to ensure that all contractors have the necessary qualifications and all materials are up to the job. Get advice if you are not sure.  

Inform Distribution Network Operator, if necessary: Installations above 3.68kWp will need permission from the DNO (Distribution Network Operator, find out who this is here).

Notify your home insurance: Make sure your insurance is valid with the added solar panel installation.

Inform your neighbours: Always! To keep an amiable relationship and have them onboard.

Help with funding:  Currently there are no government grants available. Installing energy efficient systems such as solar panels, heat pumps and insulation are exempt from VAT from April 2022 to 2027.          

Step 2: Choose your solar panels and installation system:

Solar panel size and types: various sizes available depending on your roof size and shape; different types have differing performances and aesthetics.

Installation flavours: An in-roof system was chosen in this instance to create a more integrated look and to not increase the weight load on the roof. This also reduces potential wind lift of solar panels. Roof tiles removed to integrate the solar panels were saved to replace other roof tiles when necessary. 

Size of your system: look at your roof size and your orientation and tilt. That will give you the maximum energy you will be able to get.

Will you have a battery? Solar energy is only available during the day. If you don’t use it at that moment you will feed it into the national grid for little return. A battery will help save that energy but has its own sustainability costs.           

Step 3: What do you need?

Other Equipment: DC cabling, DC isolator, charge controller, battery (optional), DC/AC inverter, AC isolator. These should all feature in your provider’s quote. You will also need a smart meter gen 2 which needs to be installed by your electricity supplier. Wait times can be substantial. The system can work without the smart meter but you will not get paid for the electricity that you feed into the grid. At least it won’t be lost. 

The traders involved: manufacturer, roofer, installer, electrician. 

See here a couple of ideas to get a trustworthy provider:

Solar Together from Bucks Council

MCS portal

Which? on Solar Panels

Ethical Consumer on Solar PV

Choose your trader carefully: Contact various providers and try recommended companies. Using someone who can provide all the work tends to be easier to manage.

The supplier GB-sol was chosen in this case because of their high ethical and environmental rating (Ethical Consumer). The company also is the only one that manufactures solar panels in the UK. Another reason was that they provide an all-in service.

Step 4: enjoy!

Use your generated energy: Solar panels may cover, in an average household around 80% of the energy used. A battery or an electric car helps achieve this by allowing you to spread out the use of the generated energy. Change your habits and use dishwashers, washing machine etc during the day. 

Sell what you do not use: Smart meters will help to get paid for the extra electricity generated and fed back to the grid. However, government Feed-in Tariffs are no longer available. In their place we have Smart Export Guarantees (SEG). These do not provide a given price and depending on your provider may range from 1.5-7.5 p/kWh, a far cry from the price you are paying for the energy purchased.

You can find the recording in our YouTube channel and here:

And see the relevant slides: