1 Nov 2011

Half FIT

One morning two weeks ago, I was awoken by some banging coming from a neighbour's roof. Draw back curtains and, lo and behold, across the street, some guys are up on the roof, seating some PV panels. Now this is a street running North-South, which means the panels are facing due east, so the amount of power they will create will be well down on their designed output.

To me, this was a sure fire sign that the Feed-in-Tariffs (FITS) had gone too far. Harvesting sunlight to make electricity in this manner is never really going to make much sense in a northerly latitude like ours, and doing it inefficiently like this really offends me. No way would anyone ever conceive of erecting east-facing PV if it wasn't for the promise of a big fat subsidy cheque. I've never liked these subsidies (having bleated about them on this blog often enough) and I don't have a huge amount of sympathy for these businesses which have apparently been "caught out" by this week's announcement that the subsidy is to be approximately halved forthwith (actually from December 12th).

Building a business plan on the whims of government renewable subsidies has never been a clever idea, especially in the UK which has a lamentable history in this area. We had Clear Skies, launched in 2003: they cocked that up. We had the Low Carbon Buildings Programme, launched in 2006: they cocked that up. Now the FITs, launched way back in April 2010, show every sign of being cocked-up too. Roll on the Renewable Heat Incentive!


  1. Mark,
    You only get a subsidy for the electricity that you produce not just for putting the PV there. So if people want to waste money on east-facing roofs, isn't that their call?

    Bob Irving

  2. I expect that's true but the company doing the installation banks the cheque however the system performs.

    Solar PV is the new Double Glazing,

    To be super cynical "If a thing's not worth doing at all it certainly isn't worth doing properly"

  3. Bob,

    That rather assumes that people are aware of what is going on and that an east-facing PV array is not the greatest idea ever thought of. The mad scramble for the 41p FIT seems to have trumped common sense.

  4. Yes, I'm not a fan of FITs either for a whole host of reasons. And yes, the lost opportunity of spending the resources involved in this PV installation on another one somewhere better is one of those reasons.

    However, don't knock east or west facing installations too hard; they're not that far down on a perfect south facing setup. I'd suggest playing with PVGIS for an idea.

    Further, E/W installations stretch the length of the day when PV is generating useful power which would be useful if we ever got to the point where PV was making a significant contribution to the grid, at least in summer.

  5. I think Mark is right to say a sign of an excessive subsidy is that it still pays to put PVs in a sub-optimal position - ie even if you only got 75% of the return compared with a perfect orientation it was still worth it.

    Now the consultation on FIT throws another confused incentive into the mix: combining household efficiency with FIT. I'm fully in favour of efficiency, and think it should be prerequisite for any heat generation incentives - but for solar PV it doesn't make sense. Will people only insulate houses with south facing roofs as these are optimal for PV - or will PV only go on the roofs of houses which can be insulated easily, irrespective of latitude or roof orientation?
    Basically the confusion of grid linked PVs that happen to be on a roof, with the energy performance of the building underneath remains a strong feature of policy despite not making a lot of physical sense.

  6. Look at the big picture here. Solar PV has the potential to power the whole world - but only at massive scale. We won't achieve that scale until prices come down by at least a factor of 10 - and we won't get prices down until demand increases to stimulate technical development.

    The primary function of the feed-in tariff is to stabilise and support the PV industry. In that sense, it doesn't matter very much where the panels are installed.

  7. Ian writes: The primary function of the feed-in tariff is to stabilise and support the PV industry. In that sense, it doesn't matter very much where the panels are installed.

    Mark writes: Ah but it does. I've no problem with supporting PV as an industry to get it kick started. My problem is that I don't think the best place for all this PV is on domestic roofs (esp east facing ones). I would much rather they were placed on professionally run PV farms where access, maintenance and security could be managed. And just possibly these farms should be somewhere other than the British Isles.

    I realise this runs counter to the green-tinged desire for decentralised electricity, but so be it.

  8. > My problem is that I don't think the best place for all this PV is on domestic roofs (esp east facing ones).

    See it from a political perspective. Why didn't we all just go out and fix global warming 10 years ago? It would cost no more than a medium-sized war, and we seem willing to fund plenty of those.

    One reason is that it all seems rather remote to the average voter. I think the politicians' hope is that voters will start to see carbon reduction as a normal civic duty, like not dropping litter. For that it must be ubiquitous and visible - even on east-facing roofs.

  9. Ian,

    I cant buy into that idea. Methinks the more the public sees PV on neighbours roof tops, the more they start to feel resentful that their neighbours are getting one over on them via their increased fuel bills.