Current affairs

By guest columnist Bill Wright, head of energy solutions, Electrical Contractors’ Association

The recent hot summer and sunny autumn meant that the PV installation on my house has really produced a lot of power and hence income. The recent stability in FiTs and the resolution of the Chinese PV panel anti dumping argument with the EU means that now is an excellent time to get PV panels installed. Prices have stabilised and what other investment can give a 6-8 percent return on capital guaranteed for 20 years with index linked payments?

There has been a lot of publicity in the press about the potential for power cuts in the years around 2015/16 due to coal fired and nuclear power stations being shut down at the end of their working lives, and insufficient supply capacity replacing them. Although this is a doomsday scenario, there is a possibility that in severe weather and if power stations are shut down due to a fault (not unknown) that brown outs (reduced voltages) or black outs could occur in some regions. Those with renewable energy systems might think they are partially immune but the invertors used in PV systems rely on mains power to be available to work. When power fails, so does the invertor, central heating pumps and other ancillaries. Now might be the time to be thinking about ‘off grid’ systems which can run independently from incoming supplies and use battery storage, which could provide power to essential equipment in a building. A ‘hybrid’ system utilising both battery storage and mains synchronised invertors would be an ideal solution.

One potential problem with off grid systems is the difficulty in obtaining FiTs, theoretically possible, but difficult to achieve. It would be interesting to hear of contractor’s experiences with these.