Renewable Energy: Questions to consider (part 1)

Porter Dodson recently co-hosted a free Renewables seminar alongside Old Mill Accountants and Solar Systems in Somerset. The seminar provided an overview of the financial implications, legalities and logistics of installing renewable energy sources.

The Q&A session at the end raised some interesting questions which have been outlined below.

If your roof is on a North South line and panels will be on an East West split, can you still install solar panels?

Although south facing and 30% pitch is generally optimum for panels, they can be installed on any roof but there will be a lower yield. An E/W split does have the potential advantage of twice as much space and, therefore, twice the capacity.

When installing solar panels on roofs, how are the roof warranties affected?

Roof manufacturers may require specific installation standards to protect the warranty.  Depending on the age and structure of the roof, a structural survey may be required to ensure that the roof is not compromised.

Have you come across any problems with foot paths on land proposed for use as a solar farm?

Yes, and some installations have been prevented from going ahead as result, primarily due to security issues.

Can you get insurance against vandalism in the fields?

Yes, but you may then have to install CCTV and 8ft security fences, depending on your insurance company and their requirements.  Some companies are happy with a livestock fence boundary.  The biggest problem surrounding solar farms and insurance currently isn’t vandalism, but theft of the components during the installation, which is costly and holds up the commissioning of the farm.

If the life of the panels is 25-35 years and they become less efficient over time, at what point does it become more viable to replace the panels?

Panels must be at least 80% efficient after 25 years.  The inverter is more likely to fail during the system’s lifetime, and replacement cost should be factored into your plans.  To prolong the life of the system, it is important to consider the environment and factor in cleaning for dusty or dirty locations such as close to a motorway.

What is the carbon footprint of solar panels at the end of their lifecycle?

When they are decommissioned, as much of the solar panels as possible are recycled or reused through the PV Cycle scheme.  It is anticipated that although there will be 85% less carbon as a result of the panels, they will not be carbon neutral with current technology.

What are the disposal costs at the end of the lifecycle of the panels?

As environmental laws change with the technology, compliance is going to become more stringent.  It is imperative that that these costs are built into a decommissioning element of any landlord/tenant lease. See also www.pvcycle.org.uk.

If the ROI is 8-18% on installations, what are the real life costs?

The cost of inflation should cover cleaning and inverter costs. A full O&M schedule can be produced giving realistic cost of ownership throughout the lifetime of the system.

If you compare investing your money in property versus investing in a solar farm, how do the 2 of them compare?

We don’t know what the performance of property will be over the next 20 years but the investment in solar will yield a guaranteed index linked return for 20 years and will complement any investment portfolio.

Why isn’t there more take-up on the green deal?

Primarily due to poor communication, but also because it can add up to 7% fees and is not that good a deal.  Moving forward, there will need to be a green assessment to show eligibility for government schemes related to the Renewable Heat Incentive. Whilst this may increase the number of assessments it will not necessarily increase the uptake of loans.

Can you tell us a bit more about thin film technology?

It is currently expensive and not particularly efficient.  However, it is one of the interesting technologies that may change the way in which PV cells are produced and installed. The next major advancement in the market is more likely to be better battery storage at the local level.

Is there likely to be any technological advancement to allow storage of AC storage?

Yes, but currently there is only traditional battery storage.  Advancement in this area is likely to be the next big thing and we are seeing this bear fruit in European markets at the moment with Lithium Ion models becoming more available.  The storage mass currently required, even for a relatively small installation, is prohibitive.  There is also research into grid storage solutions to overcome the issues of intermittency of the supply.

If you would like to discuss Renewable Energy with one of our specialists, please contact us.

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