Photovoltaics: Array of Sunshine?

You only have to look around at the roofs in your neighbourhood and you can see how popular PV panel installations have become. On the face of it I’m a fan, why wouldn’t I be? Clean, potentially free energy is an attractive proposition.

So have I installed PV on my roof at home? No, and why not?

Number one reason is the look, my wife is totally against the look of retrofitted PV panels and to be honest I can understand why. There are plenty of examples where the panels are placed on a roof with hips and valleys so the panels have to be placed in a bit of an ad hoc arrangement spoiling an otherwise acceptable roof. Slightly different for a gable to gable roof where the panels can be arranged in a symmetrical layout particularly if the panels are on the rear elevation but even so I don’t think it could be labelled as attractive.

The cost is also another factor, the feed-in tariff, which is a fee paid for the energy produced is not as high as it once was and has slowly been eroded over time and makes the overall payback period longer. It’s true that a conventional gas boiler is expensive to install and I don’t think I would consider the overall payback period of a boiler. Maybe the desire to produce clean energy has to be particularly strong to offset some of the cost.

I guess the new, innovative PV tiles that can be installed during new build construction overcome the aesthetic issues highlighted above but doesn’t overcome the problem of retrofitted panels.

There is another issue that I have recently come across regarding retrofitted panels. A family member is in the process of moving house with a chain of about six properties, one property having retrofitted PV panels. There is now a hold up with the buyer wishing to purchase the property that has the PV panels. The buyer has reported that the roof that has the PV panels is owned by the installers of the panels! This has obviously spooked the buyers. I do not know the complete story and all the facts but it would seem that the buyer has misunderstood the situation and it is more than likely that the installers of the PV panels lease the roof and benefit from the Feed-in Tariff with the house owner benefitting from the electricity produced. Mortgage companies, it would seem are cautious when lending on properties with the roof leased to a third party. The buyer has now pulled out of the sale, breaking the chain! Whether this was due solely to the perceived problem with the PV panels I am not completely sure but apparently, it was a factor.

As I said previously, I’m in favour of energy produced by the sun. As a Technologist, it seems a no-brainer but whether the UK’s energy will be produced on a local,  individual, household basis or will end up being produced more on a national level and in combination with other forms of energy only time will tell.

Maybe the look of retrofitted PV panels is something that just takes a bit of time to get used to, they haven’t been around a long time yet and if all houses had them as standard then it would be accepted as the norm. After all guttering, downpipes and the like are hardly something to get excited over but we accept them and would ask questions if they were missing! Perhaps PV panels will eventually be viewed along these lines. I bet there were a lot of people who wouldn’t know what tiles they had on their roof anyway, wouldn’t really be that interested and so wouldn’t lose any sleep over the subject. Perhaps ‘Function over Form’ wins this debate, somebody wants clean energy, PV fits the bill, the best place to site the panels is on the roof, so just put them on the roof and get on with it.

Alternatively, the ‘Fabric First’ approach to ensuring that the envelope of a building is adequately insulated and therefore heat loss is minimised makes sense. However, it is not always easy to insulate the walls of an existing house. Cavity Fill insulation is cost effective and relatively easy to install but is not always appropriate, particularly in areas of high exposure or with houses that do not have a cavity. External Wall Insulation systems are also effective but may change how the property looks externally and this may be out of the question where conservation is a concern. Insulation applied internally does not rely on a cavity being present but is technically difficult to achieve fully, especially on an occupied property.

Compared to insulating the external walls of an existing property, installing PV panels may be an easier option for the homeowner. Either way, in reality, it’s not an easy call to make. With so many variables to consider, the best way to go may not be so clear.

My wife still doesn’t like the look of retrofitted panels, so that is the end of the argument!