Sunny delight

The halving of the Feed-in Tariff does not mean the sun going down on solar PV, argues Mark Elliott of Energeno. It was Harold McMillan who coined the phrase: ‘You’ve never had it so good’ in relation to full employment during the 1960s. Putting aside the scare stories of the potential solar PV  job losses as a result of the recent government announcement on Feed-in Tariff (FiTs) levels, you  could  have used the same adage for the very generous subsidies that have been on offer up until now.

After energy minister Gregg Barker brought forward the halving of the FiT from April to mid-December, many solar PV companies argued that the sun has gone down on their growth ambitions.

Although the CBI announced that the government had scored an ‘own goal’ on its renewable ambitions because of the cost of solar jobs, my argument is that householders can now see the true value of their investment and what returns can be realised because they are no longer seduced by over-generous FiT payments. In short, the future is still bright. Instead of a sense of over-reliance on the subsidy, householders putting in PV will now have to work for their money. There is still a FiT and because the price of capital equipment is greatly reduced, the power is now truly in the hands of the consumer and the installer.

Up until now the MCS-approved installer has not really had to sell the benefits or explain how the consumer can track the performance of his system in terms of cost and carbon savings and the harvesting of energy that is returnable to the grid. Indeed for those householders keen to learn, they had to regularly monitor inverters and meters with difficult to understand displays often installed in lofts and outbuildings.

But technology now enables the installer to get this all-important message across in a simple-to-read – and even colour-coded format – which reveals the savings and the surplus energy, all in one convenient portable display, with no calculation required. More importantly, it is portable and rather like an ergonomic ‘home hub’ for the internet, can look like a design feature anywhere in the home. It can offer a digital read out of energy being produced and glows green when the system is in optimum mode – harvesting more energy than is being used in order that it can be sold back to the grid. Most importantly, those who have so far used the technology have saved an average of 20 per cent on their electricity bills.

To installers, the technology can remotely monitor the performance of the solar PV and flag up failing technology as an early warning system allowing them to add value to the relationship they have with that consumer. This is a big impact on the current one-transactional arrangement recently highlighted in the WHICH? Report that has dogged this fledgling industry to date. In future there will be a meeting of minds between a more sophisticated and informed consumer and a more proactive and collaborative installer community eager to bring greater innovation to the renewable market.

The sun has far from set on the solar PV industry. Consumers no longer blinded by cash incentives will drive demand through the savings they derive through the regular checking their levels of energy use and carbon reduction. This is not just in the home, but soon to be delivered to their smartphones as they go about their daily business.

This creates a level playing field where the customer is king and has a route to redress. Any shortfall in projected estimates can be addressed with the installer early on, whether it is down to a fault or a miscalculation. Also, through the next generation of remote monitoring, installers will be able to flag up issues and therefore be able to continue the valuable dialogue with the customer. It is at that stage that we can truly say: You’ve never had it so good!