Is the UK subsidy for solar PV a good use of scarce funds?

The Guardian web pages are reverberating to the clash of arms between George Monbiot and UK supporters of feed-in tariffs for solar photovoltaic panels and other small-scale renewables. Monbiot claims solar power is an extremely expensive way of generating electricity in the UK and that the new scheme is another way of subsidising the wealthy middle class. The fans of feed-in tariffs note the success of similar schemes in other countries. They think that the cashback proposals will help create jobs in businesses that install and maintain low carbon energy sources. The UK scheme will help drive down the costs of renewable technologies and increase public support for wind and alternative sources of electricity.

The argument has focused on solar photovoltaic panels installed on domestic roofs. This note tries to quantify some of the costs and benefits of the new scheme. I’ll take one of  the simplest possible examples: an installation of 12 panels on the roof of a medium-sized house in the south west of England, where solar radiation levels are relatively high for the UK. Does solar energy make sense in this country?

Before considering interest costs

a)      The installation will generate a maximum of about 2 kilowatts in full sun on a south facing roof at midsummer.

b)      Over the course of a year, we can expect the panels to produce about 1800 kilowatt hours.

c)      The value of this output would be about £70 in today’s UK wholesale market.

d)      The system will typically cost about £10,000. The price of the solar panels is tending to fall but the associated electronics are in very short supply worldwide. The most important component is the ‘inverter’, the device that takes the DC low voltage current from the roof and turns it into an 240V AC current that is precisely aligned to the frequency of the AC on the local electricity grid.

e)      A system will probably last about 25-30 years, although there will be some fall in power generated as the solar panels age.

f)        If we assume the system lasts thirty years – and make no deduction for the decreasing production at the end of its life – the full cost of the installation is about £330 per annum. This is without considering any interest costs, maintenance or the probable need to replace the expensive inverter at least once during the 30 year life.

g)      The absolute minimum annual cost of the installation is therefore at least four and a half times the wholesale value of the electricity generated. (£330/£70).

h)      We might choose to compare the cost of the system with the full retail price of the electricity produced. If the homeowner is paying 12.5 per kilowatt hour, the annual value of the electricity produced is £225 (1800 kWh times 12.5p).

i)        Without the huge subsidy provided by the feed-in tariff, the annual electricity output comes nowhere close to covering the costs of the installation over its thirty year life. At current electricity prices, the system will produce electricity worth £7,750 compared to an installation cost of £10,000. In conventional terms, this is an extremely bad investment for society as a whole. Because the feed-in tariff rewards homeowner with over three times the current retail price for electricity, it may nevertheless be good for homeowners that invest in solar. The people who pay for this generosity are all the other homeowners using electricity in the UK who don’t install panels on their roofs. This is the crucial point: a subsidy system that may be good for recipients may be damaging for the rest of society.

After interest costs

j)        If I have £10,000, I could put some solar panels or I could invest my money in 30 year government bonds. Today, these bonds will pay me about £450 a year before tax. If I pay tax at 40%, this falls to £270.

k)      When assessing whether solar panels are a good investment, the rational householder will consider the prospective disadvantage of not getting this income of £270 a year, as well as the cost of the initial purchase. He or she will factor this loss into their thinking on solar panels.

l)        Adding £270 a year to the annual cost of £330 produces a total figure of £600 a year as the full financial impact of putting up solar panels.

m)    This is almost three times the full retail of the electricity produced. Without large subsidy or huge increases in the future prices of electricity, solar panels are a terrible investment.

The proponents of feed-in tariffs seem to accept this broad logic. But they respond by saying that the scheme will assist in the development of a new industry and drive down prices. There may be something in this argument. However the cost of solar installations is largely determined by the world market for PV panels, of which the UK will always be a tiny part. We cannot make much of a difference to global prices. In fact, it can be argued that the new UK subsidies are likely to divert scarce inverters to the UK where they will typically produce about half the maximum output of an inverter in a sunny country. So the UK feed-in tariffs, at least as applied to solar PV, might be said to be actually decreasing the total amount of renewable energy produced around the world.

Does this analysis apply to wind power? No, not completely. A moderately sized wind turbine suitable for a farm – such as the Aeolus Power 50 kW model in a good location – will produce 100 times the electricity of a 2kw solar installation for about 25 times the cost. In other words, the productivity of the capital employed is about four times as great. This means that small scale wind power is almost economic. If, for whatever reason, we choose to subsidise small scale renewable energy in the UK we need to focus our money on wind energy. This argument applies even if electricity prices double or treble in the next decades. Wind we have in abundance, sunshine we are short of. By any standards, focusing on solar PV doesn’t make sense and will add to the energy costs* of householders not benefiting from the feed-in tariffs.

* Assume one million households (about 4% of the UK) install PV panels producing an average of 1800 kWh a year. The annual subsidy will be approximately £700m, all of which is paid for by other electricity users. If all this cost is eventually paid for by householders, the cost will be about £35-£30 a year, or perhaps 5% of current bills. (Only about one third of  UK electricity demand comes from homes but householders will eventually pay the whole subsidy cost because of higher prices for goods and services because of the increased price of electricity).

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  1. Paddy’s avatar

    This is a good article, so far as it goes. It demonstrates that the government’s obsession with PV is actually slowing down the decarbonisation of the economy as a whole. Where you don’t go with this article is to the conclusion that mCHP is a near term solution for achieving partial decarbonisation of the grid in the short term and offers much greater value for money than PV.

    In the long term PV and wind will both be important but micro-wind still has some way to go and PV has a long way to go. The UK feed in tariff is yet another example of governments picking winners to fit in with political prejudice.

  2. Mike’s avatar

    Paddy,

    Where do you get the idea that mCHP is the best way to go? There are many possible routes to decarbonising the grid and I don’t believe that there is consensus that mCHP is the best way to go.

    mCHP is at best a small efficiency improvement over existing power/heat generation and still depends on fossil fuels.

    Better would be to encourage wide spread use of heatpump technology which would get domestic heating off fossil fuels and on to electric. Electricity supply can then be switched over to renewable sources in large scale (cost effective) installations.

    http://www.withouthotair.com/

    Has a book you can download “Sustainable Energy without the hot air” which goes into the possible technologies and how they can be implemented.

  3. Frances’s avatar

    As a home owner who has had hassle free PV for 7 years already (ie not a penny on maintenance costs to date and annual output exceeding the installers estimate every year) I’m really puzzled by this argument. It is not “real world.” The “rational home owner” or housing association will also consider very strongly issues such as the longevity of the technology and the hassle factor (or not) of maintaining it etc. I note you do not compare like for like ie a domestic PV v a domestic wind turbine. Why is that exactly? You also fail to mention the working lifetime of micro/small wind turbines is 10-15 years, far less than even the warrantied never mind actual working lifetime of PV so again the “rational homeowner” or farmer would also need to take that into account as I did.

    What is the feed-in tariff for a 50 kW “nearly economic” (ie without any feed-in tariff) turbine? You don’t tell us. Is that because it might undermine the thoroughly misleading argument that the scheme is just about domestic PV?. Or can we expect a follow up article pointing out that the small wind tariffs give too high a rate of return therefore and are wasting “scarce funds.” I suspect not.

    You say nothing about electricity inflation over the 30 year working lifetime of PV, something that the “rational home owner” will take a view on. And you’ve lost me completely on the “lost interest” argument. Seriously, does anyone make this kind of calculation when buying a car or home improvements of any kind? Why do you think that they would apply this approach uniquely to spending money on a PV system or a wind turbine?

    And all of this argument assumes that farmers are going to eventually one day get costly planning permission and an expensive grid connection for a wind installation. Both non issues for domestic PV (outside conservation areas). As I say I’m really puzzled. It’s a great shame you felt obliged to jump on board the Monbiot anti PV crusade of the last week or so – but for what positive purpose?

  4. Chris Goodall’s avatar

    Dear Frances,

    Thank you for your note. The reason I wrote the article was to illustrate the extremely high cost of solar PV in the UK and to point out that this price is going to be paid for by the rest of the population. New installations of PV are going to increase the cost of electricity for all of us, with very limited benefit to UK emissions.

    By contrast, well sited ‘farm-size’ wind turbines are almost commercially viable already, need relatively financial support from electricity customers and might make a measurable difference to UK emissions.

    Like you, I have had PV for several years and it has been almost trouble free. I am irrationally fond of the panels and regard them almost as a part of the family. But you and I will not benefit from the Feed In Tariff and so won’t be taking money off lower income households. I am only questioning whether the very high subsidy for PV wouldn’t be better directed elsewhere.

    Chris

  5. Frances’s avatar

    Dear Chris
    thanks for your swift reply. Much appreciated. It’s good to hear that you also have a PV system which kind of makes my point for me – in your article you are trying to reduce everything to a rather narrow rational cost calculation in one point of time, but we all know the real world is not like that. We obviously both want to see more renewables not less which is a good starting point , but I wonder if you’ve considered fully the possible implications of your intervention (and those of George Monbiot) at this particular time.

    Your’re both dismissing domestic PV out of hand on cost grounds. But really I’m even more puzzled by this argument now. Here’s why. If its true that the 50 kW wind turbine needs relatively little financial support from electricity customers because it is “nearly economic” already without feed-in tariffs what would be your justification therefore for paying the presumably rich farmer (if they’re paying 250k for a wind turbine) 24p per unit plus 3p per unit export for 20 years?

    Using your output figures above, and unless my calculator is playing up that appears to be a total 20 year direct subsidy to a rich farmer from “lower income households” of £972,000 before RPI adjustments for a piece of kit costing 250k. No wonder wind companies are pleased! That’s some ROI.

    Assuming you agree with my calculation, are you also going to be arguing that the wind tariffs are far too high as well given your concerns about the “poor” subsidising middle class installations? Or is this literally just about knocking domestic PV – which actually has far lower returns than the farmer wind example? Oh and you haven’t yet dealt with the working lifetime and grid connection/planning cost points which is key surely in any analysis of the relative costs of the specific technology examples used in your article.

    As you say, we won’t be receiving the full PV tariff but I do ask you to try and step back from this a little, perhaps rerun the numbers including the cost of replacing the turbine after 15 years etc and reconsider whether this is quite the black and white issue that certainly George Monbiot appears to think it is.
    Thanks
    Frances

  6. Daniel Taghioff’s avatar

    This is an interesting discussion.

    It seems that this debate also involves aesthetics: That is why planning permission is required for wind.

    It also involves Geopolitics: Wuuld it not make sense to put huge solar installations in the Sahara? Aaah, but then Africa might control European energy supplies.

    I think what this debate is missing somewhat is that George is coming at this from a large-scale grid-solution type perspective. I am currently an ignoramus when it comes to EROI calculations, but I think it is fair to say that the focus on domestic installations is a fudge to get round the political problems of larges scale changes to energy infra-structure.

    Or do the number show that local generation solutions are more efficient?

  7. Simon heath’s avatar

    Solar pv is really not suited to the uk. It’s much cheaper to buy an A++ rated freezer and get the same carbon or £ savings.

    Or should I say it wasn’t. Now you can earn a decent income from the FiT it suddenly has become attractive. With the FiT it makes sense to invest in PV as it pays an (almost) guaranteed return better than most other financial products.

    Does that make it good? Not really. But grab it while you can!

    The main problem with the goverments strategy us they are too focused on generating energy – not saving it. Rather than buying PV, you could instead spend £15,000 on external wall insulation and drop your energy bill loads. Eg. I worked out by doing some serious draft proofing, fitting external insulation (to a house which already had cavities filled) getting a heat recovery ventilation system my bills would fall 80%. for a cost of about £12,500. Eat your heart out PV!

  8. Frances’s avatar

    Simon
    of course you’re right and we must do all of those things but why see this an either/or?. I thought the Gvt wanted to have every home insulated by 2015 (its already supported that in 8 million homes or so) with additional support through PAYS from 2012 precisely to support solid wall insulation and the rest . But I think you’re implying that all the Gvt is doing is bringing in a feed-in tariff for PV. Unfortunately this is the rather silly impression that has been given by Monbiot over the last ten days. Of course, if all the Government was doing was introducing a feed-in tariff for domestic PV that would clearly be absurd but in the grand scheme of things (eg forthcoming CCS levy – incidentally who is complaining about that being taken from “poor” households to subsidise some of the biggest corporations developing that long-term technology) the feed-in tariff is hardly the most ambitious renewables support scheme in the world and so a serious sense of perspective is surely now needed.

  9. Notme’s avatar

    Chris

    When you think about photovoltaics you have to think about the trajectory of the technology. Not where it is but where it’s moving.

    Here is a recent cost estimate for a 12.3 kWp system in Germany – use the google translator if need be.

    http://www.photovoltaikforum.com/angebote-f41/bitte-um-anlagenbewertung-12-3-kwp-schueco-yingli–t45842.html

    The all in cost (including the 19% VAT) is 40928 Euro – or 3327 per kWp. Your hypothetical system was about 2200 Euro per kWp more than this system.

    Why was the system in your example so much more expensive? I figure it’s becasue there isn’t any competition between PV installers in the UK. But why would there be? Oh sure, a few eccentric environmentalists *wink* and the odd richie rich but nobody mainstream is installing PV. I might be completely wrong but I figure a healthy market for PV in the UK you would be able to match the PV system costs in Germany. Do you agree with this logic?

    I don’t find your argument against the FiT convincing becasue you aren’t doing what I would consider a fair cost comparison. I think a fair comparison needs to imagine what PV would cost if the UK had a competitive market. Germany provides the best representation of future PV costs that the UK can expect. Why not use their example as a crystal ball? Make sense?

  10. David Thorpe’s avatar

    The issue is the cost-effectiveness of various measures to reduce the carbon impact of energy and particularly electricity generation.

    Saving energy is important and more cost-effective than generation in general but of course we need both.

    My response (I am a colleague of Monbiot’s and put up my own figures at the same time as he did) is here:
    http://lowcarbonkid.blogspot.com/2010/03/cost-effectiveness-of-low-or-zero.html

  11. Capell Aris’s avatar

    Where I live I could install either a wind turbine (predicted 16 % capacity factor) or PV and expect both technologies to deliver close to their current highest capacity factor for the UK. I’m a AGW denier, so my interest in the installation of each system is purely financial. Taking production and cost figures from a UK installer for both technologies, the break-even period is 11 years for wind, and 14 years for PV. (Without the infeed tariif structure these payback periods would be ludicrous). This analysis makes no use of normal project economic assessment techniques such as discounted cash flow.

    So do you invest or leave your money in the bank earning interest and where it is instantly available to you (or even better, buy a heat-pump: now they really do work)? My decision is NO, because the risk of not recovering the capital is too high.

    There are two areas of risk both carried entirely by the home installer:
    (i) Will the generators work long enough to complete their payback periods? In the case of the wind turbine I doubt that very much; PV might be OK and survive for 14 years – but then again, chances are it won’t. Does the installer provide a 15 year warranty?
    (ii) Then there’s political risk: are the tariffs likely to be cancelled before the payback period is completed? They’ve been reduced in Germany, so why shouldn’t that happen in the UK?

  12. John Merory’s avatar

    Solar PV is an illustration how we try to mould the technology to maintain our lifestyles, rather than changing to a conserving society. There are much greater greenhouse and other environmental savings in what Frank Fisher calls “conservation mining” (http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2007/05/09/1178390389802.html). Furthermore solar PV is very poor bangs for the buck for renewable energy, as Monbiot and others illustrate. Peter Seligman has written the Australian version of David Mackay’s book, Australian Renewable Energy By the Numbers, freely downloadable on http://www.energy.unimelb.edu.au. Even in sunny Oz domestic urban PV makes no sense, not like large solar thermal and wind. Small PV is great for the outback, away from the grid.

  13. Andrew Smith’s avatar

    German demand and industry has been big enough to shift the world markets, so there’s no reason why Britain wouldn’t be, either.

    http://www.energynumbers.info/german-pv

    Indeed, looking at how Britain can meet all its energy needs in the future, then even if PV were just to be 2-3% of average power, that’s around 50GW of installed photovoltaic panels. The opportunities for British industrial expansion and world leadership are huge. Yes, PV is relatively expensive now, but PV costs in Europe have come down about 27% in the last decade, and look set to continue to fall in the future. And if we build up a British PV industry, the feed-in tariffs will get recycled in the GB economy.

  14. Neil’s avatar

    Tend to agree with john’s first statement. Has anyone factored in the energy cost of making pv panels? Its not just about climate change its also about resource depletion. Will we have the energy and chemicals to replace the PV panels in 30 years time?

  15. Shytot’s avatar

    Just stumbled on this discussion – a lot of the points are very interesting. I believe that PV has the potential (no pun intended) to become more efficient. In addition it is relatively simple to install and allows each household to make a contribution to reducing demand on the grid. This point was made above, that saving energy should be the target as opposed to finding new ways to make more energy. Wind farms / turbines, compared to PVs, are much more expensive to manufacture and build (plus their impact on the environment) and their efficiency is limited. Their profitability much like UK trains is almost entirely based on subsidies from the bottomless pit that is the consumer / tax payer. wouldn’t it be in everybody’s interest for governments to redirect the subsidies to homeowners rather than greedy manipulators and in the process of reducing demand at source they can achieve their % reductions in emissions and the like because the headline number is lower in the first place?

    I would love to install a decent PV system on my south facing roof but I’m not a charity so the economics do not stack up in the present system :-(

  16. Carl’s avatar

    PV panels are at best 18% efficient. Solar hot water panels are between 30% and 50% efficient. If we are interested solely in reducing carbon emissions, we should be installing the more efficient, and thus, more cost effective systems first. Put solar water heating on the roof before giving out FITs to PV installations.

  17. J Clarkson’s avatar

    Yes, customers will pay for it. The payment will be shared out. It might not be a good investment if it was government money being paid. However, it’s not government money. It’s people who use electricity to pollute the atmosphere who are paying for it. And if they pay £35 more for it, then that’s £35 not being used to fuel a car, buy goods and services that they don’t need. That saves lots of energy.

    If one focuses soley on CO2 and costs – the way capitalists and loony climate change gurus do – then one tends to forget that I = PAT – where I is environmental impact, P is population, A is Affluence (how much damned resources and energy we use) and T is technology (more of it means more use of resources because it must reach a limit to its efficiency at some point regardless.) Since Population is critical one must note that sustainable growth, economy or sustainability or oxymorons if we continue to operate a society based on capitalism.

    We provide Rights for the disabled, sick, elderly, and the population, but there are NO RIGHTS given to the FUTURE. That’s because temporal rights have not yet been absorbed into our psyche. How could a fleshy animal race like ours even contemplate such rights for their unborn?

    I say the FIT and PV investment should continue. At least its a drop in the ocean, a spark that might change the way people consume energy. That might have a longer term impact. But ultimately the lack of fossil fuels will change everything we do. Give it time, the great master of our universe…give it time.

  18. Barry Toogood’s avatar

    I also just stumbled upon this discussion, which (excepting one or two silly contributions) is more useful and evidence-based than most.

    My wife and I have just completed a very substantial refurb of our house, in which we have aimed throughout to maximise our contribution to reducing emissions and energy consumption. I am an accountant, and we aimed to make sensible financial decisions wherever possible; money doesn’t grow on trees for us.

    We also used Parity consultants in Sutton as advisors – a useful outfit with substantial experience of eco-refurbs. The numbers are very different when you’re not starting with a new build/clean site!

    Key conclusions:

    1. Some decisions are very easy: LED lighting, thick loft insulation and draught reduction are no-brainers. (The lighting case was helped because we were going to fix all the ceilings and rewire throughout anyway. It cost £2,000 for top-performance Exergi LED bulbs, but at 3.6w each they’ll pay their way well inside their expected life of 25 years.)

    2. Some items make a lot of sense if you’re going to have to spend on fixing old stuff anyway. In this category, we installed underfloor insulation and heating, and we had the outside of the house insulated (it already had been cavity-wall insulated), because we needed to replace the old heating system and fix the crumbling pebble-dash finish outside. We also installed two solar hot water panels as the heating system was being completely revamped anyway.

    3. Ones that just don’t make any economic sense on any calculations I could produce (confirmed by Parity) were:

    - ground source heat pump – so expensive to install that our (already reduced by insulation) heating bill would have only been cut by enough to pay back in over 100 years – just stupid.

    - air source heat pump – cheaper to install but shorter life and high potential maintenance costs. Came in at about 60-year payback – still stupid.

    - PV roof panels – even with full feed-in tariff subsidy and taking the benefit of tax saved on alternative uses for our money (feed-in revenues are tax-free), I couldn’t get better than a 16-year payback on these. However, no PV manufacturer offers more than a ten-year guarantee on the panels (ignore their misleading promises of 80% efficiency after 25 years – look at the actual guarantee!). Then the installer typically warranty the workmanship for only two years! There are way too many uncertainties here, especially when all the panels are being produced in Chinese sweatshops (yes, I know the name on them may be Japanese or German, but look behind the facade to the facts).

    A key point to bear in mind: every investment you make in energy-reducing installations reduces the saving you can make form the next. By insulating well, I reckon we halve our heating bills. That means that putting in something else to halve the remaining bill takes twice as long to pay back!

    Pick the low-hanging fruit first….

  19. Stevie’s avatar

    The Sun emits 10,000 times the amount of energy that the world currently uses.
    Its the most abundant energy resource of all the sources so its about time we started using this inexhaustible supply. Some very good arguments made above about cost analyses and how profitable implementing renewable technology will be however we are running out of time in battling climate change so the switch to solar energy may aswell happen sooner rather than later. And why shouldn’t the consumer pay for these feed-in tariffs, we are the ones that pollute constantly every day. The only way Solar PV will become cost effective with conventional energy sources is by large scale roll out as in Germany, Italy, Japan which will help to produce economies of scale thereby reducing the price per kWh.

    Its true that some European countries have stepped back abit from their initial committment to Solar PV but this is due to imperfect feed-in tariffs. Surely the UK government has studied the various FiTs in Europe, America, Japan and have attempted to come up with the best solution. I am from Ireland and our government has no interest in supporting photovoltaics so if your from UK you should count yourselves very lucky that your government has taken a progressive approach to this technology because obviously they understand the potential. Countries like Germany, Japan, USA, and now UK don’t offer massive subsidies on Photovoltaics unless they think its going to work???

    This technology is ideal as everyone has roof space.
    Micro-wind turbines are not effective in the built environment yet.

    Final point – distributed generation as opposed to large scale centralised generation is definately the way to go (i.e. Domestic Solar PV better than Large Winf Farms). When energy prices do go through the roof as everyone on this forum clearly understands, I do not want to be relying on large power stations to provide for me, I would feel much more secure with an electricity system on my roof which covers my domestic energy needs – hence Solar PV.

  20. Marcel G’s avatar

    Perhaps the subsidies do not completely make sense now. But don’t forget that the subsidies we pay now for the PV systems allows the PV industry to develop more advanced systems. The emphasis currently is to develop less expensive to produce and more efficient. This should somehow benefit all future PV systems.
    So one could argue that the subsidies will reduce the cost. This makes it more accessible to less the affluent amongst us.
    It kind of kickstarts the development and get the industry out of the woolly sock brigade and very well to do into the mainstream. This allows more people access to PV sytems and more revenue for the PV industry will allow for more development etc. etc.

  21. brian faux’s avatar

    Somebody touched on the idea that FITs would boost UK employment in the installing sector (have to be realistic, no one is going to actually MAKE the things here). So, as with all policies, ask the question : who gains? Obviously the (generally already prosperous) people who can afford to have panels installed. They get cheaper power bills , a cash return and the chance to strut their stuff as environmentally concerned. Who else? The installers have wangled a huge subsidy for themselves by cleverly making it illegal for householders to install their own panels. You want solar panels, they have to be installed by an MCS approved installer or you won`t get FITs. Who are the MCS? A quango dominated by industrialists whose chief concern is to sell and install solar/wind etc. (By the way, the hardware also has to be accredited by the MCS at a cost of a few grand a product. A nice double whammy)
    And who loses? Everyone else, especially those troglodytes that live in high rise estates and share maybe a square foot of roof each but still somehow have to pay the subsidy to the large installation companies and Mr & Mrs Smug of the South Downs.

  22. Mike’s avatar

    brian faux, you’re a cynic, but you are right. It’s all smoke and mirrors.
    Just come across this thread as I’m thinking of diverting some cash into this Govenment/industry largesse scheme. Mr Smug I guess, but reconciling that descision against the huge embodied engegy costs of the product, the morality of charging everone for my selfish nice little earner, and the puny ammounts of power produced, just sit uneasy with me. It’s a con.

  23. Angus’s avatar

    If a product needs such a high subsidy to compete with estabished technologies then we should question whether it is the right technology to support for the UK.

    I have one big question – what is the UK economy going to get out of the multi millions of TAX payer investment in solar PV. If our investment is going to stimulate sustainable manufacturing and technology growth in the UK and puts us into a position to recover some of the heavy investment through world sales then money well spent. However if most of our investment goes overseas into Europe, China and Japan to pay for imported products, which unfortunately is more likely to be the case, then our government should think again.

  24. Chris Heath’s avatar

    I’ve just landed on this thread. I am retired. I don’t own a house. I have become interested in the PV issue, as the authorities are about to invest in a solar farm (In Cornwall.) As an ex-electronics engineer. I was curious to read the latest views. (And see what the latest technology has become.) My heart says we should ‘go green’. But, as Mr Monbiot has pointed out, the experience in Germany shows that trying to ‘force’ a technology before its time is ready, is the wrong approach.
    I ran some figures on the giant windfarm off the Thanet coast. I reckoned for the life of the generators the cost would be around £700 per household per year. (That is 30,000 homes). And they are considered better than PV?
    I think the accountant who posted is correct. We (as a country) should be spending this money on reducing consumption, not trying to bolster technologies, which by nature, can only generate for a fraction of the time. And they still have to have ‘conventional power’ back up anyway.
    My belief is that there is a lot of ‘vested interest’ to expand eg domestic PV. ‘ Seen to be Green ‘, may be costing us dearly, and denying funds from research to improve energy profiles and improve the various technologies.

  25. Dave’s avatar

    surely this is a** before elbow again, why feed into an old high voltage system instead of producing an alternative low voltage system designed to suit PV and small wind turbines. Jobs through manufacture would come in a whole new system of white goods etc

  26. sm’s avatar

    Low hanging fruit.
    1) Stabilize and or manage population growth closer to zero.
    2) Subsidize solar-hot water and insulation internal & external. Should the energy companies fund a central charity scheme to do this rather than independently spend the funds.
    3) Allow small scales domestic installation of equipment which is virtually plug and play. (Gas and electric work subject to a sign off process only)
    4) Encourage import reduction and spending within the UK.
    5) Lets not retire power plants for dogmatic reasons (EU or otherwise) until, renewable technology and costs progress.
    6) Increase our pumped storage capability onshore and offshore to smooth peaks and increase interconnects with the mainland say Northern Europe if we are really serious about wind power.

  27. Jamie’s avatar

    I’ve just completed my first year of PV generation. I’m not as clever as some of the contributors to this very interesting debate, but I do know that for thirteen years my lump sum was invested in all sorts of funds and could just as easily have been stuck in the mattress; so I put it on the roof.
    We produced just over 4000 kWh, avoiding 2.74 tonnes of CO2. It looks like we face a payback period of just under 9 years and a ROI of 11.26%, albeit on the best, never-to-be-repeated, FIT. Compared to the collective wisdom of the financial world, that’s 11.26% better; and it’s about 9% better than a building society, even though the capital is tied up.
    We have also become obsessive savers of electricity and our lifestyle has altered so we vacuum, iron and wash clothes etc when the sun is shining. More importantly, we constantly monitor our usage and have reduced it significantly.
    None of this detracts from the original argument that individual PV arrays do not amount to a cost-effective way of producing energy. But I bet loads of PV owners are doing the same as we are; and in the end, we are all going to have to reduce our demand for energy, not find other ways of producing it. So changing the mind set is a first step.

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