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« Powering the Nation | Main | The survey that wasn't »

Teaching solar power

Five lessons on how to waste  money.

Thanks to Max Farquhar for this link.

Updated format 12.45pm

I looked at the Renewable Energy Foundation website and searched for Solar installations in the UK. This link may not work, so I took a partial screen shot in case. It shows a few schools with truly appalling figures – the 4th column is installed power (KW) and the last 2 are rolling & annual load factors.

Schools with Solar Panels Output readings 10:10 #itshappening renewable energy con fail photo

Just consider that 3 of those schools have spent probably 15+ grand for a year round output equivalent to a soon-to-be banned 60 watt bulb!!! What a great way to teach our future leaders about sustainability…


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Reader Comments (24)

I've just googled that Load Factor = The average power output of a system over a year.

Oct 10, 2012 at 12:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterNial

You just have to look at the first one 101Mw with a rolling load factor of 6.2% to see the idiocy of this. They'd be better of connecting the exercise bikes in the gym up.

Oct 10, 2012 at 12:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterShevva

Very poor energy conversion. Should claim from the installers for not giving the LF claimed.(I cannot believe that anyone would order such costly items with such poor returns, if any)

Oct 10, 2012 at 12:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Marshall

It's nice to see some actual figures. My rule of thumb, is that in central England, you will achieve an average power output of 10% the capacity of the panels if they are well sited. Some, well actually lots, of those figures are surprisingly low!

I hope some of those schools weren't relying from income from their installations...

Oct 10, 2012 at 12:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterHeide De Klein

I'm not sure the REF/ROC data is the best place to look for data on the performance of low-power PV on schools, and I suspect these figures are misleading, though I could be wrong.

There are very few recent data entries, and I suspect that PV installations of this size moved over to FiTS rather than ROCs in 2010.

Unfortunately, the energy co's and market regulators are not mandated to make records of the performance of individual installations available. So we cannot see where the money is going. 'Data protection' Ofgem/DECC told me.

Oct 10, 2012 at 1:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterBen Pile

A few months ago I examined the rolling load factors of all solar facilities with an installed capcity of 50kW and above. The average was just under 6%.

Oct 10, 2012 at 1:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

I have just wasted an hour or so scrolling through the whole thing. Fascinating!

PV seems like a total waste of money. My favourite was 'Sunny Side' in Woking with an installed capacity of 37kW with a rolling LF of 0.9% and and annual LF of 0.9%.

Looking at onshore wind farms some are hopelessly inefficient; some with LFs of 3%. The ones in NI seem the most inefficient - does the wind not blow there?

The Blythe offshore wind farm is only generating a LF of 15.5%.

All this says to me is that developers have jumped on this lucrative bandwagon regardless of any siting issues. If the Government was a little less generous with subsidies developers/chancers/what you will, might be a damn sight more careful about where such things are located [aside from all the other issues about whether we need them 'to save the planet' in the first place].

I would hazard a guess that many of these schools have applied for grants to erect their PV panels, not dipped into their own pockets, so they can indoctrinate the kids, but perhaps someone will prove me wrong.

Oct 10, 2012 at 1:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterGrumpy

Do remember that the name of the game is subsidy not power generation. Every kW generated by those installations results in 43p direct return to the occupant.

I have a small solar installation: 1.7kWp installation cost £7,000, last 12 months (remember the amount of sunshine) the FiT was £800+. An RoI of 11% not including the electricity however derisory.

Oct 10, 2012 at 2:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterArthur Dent

@ Arthur

The risk though is that the subsidies get canned within 9 years. In that case you're not compensated for the £7,000 you wasted fitting the things and the electricity your panels produce is worth nothing.

Oct 10, 2012 at 3:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

If you use the REF database to search for Solar PV generators, and list by ROC date -- this link -- you will see that, with the exception of about a dozen or so entries, ROC data is not listed post March '10.

Also, if we look at the entry for Heartsease Primary School for instance, we see its accreditation date is 2010-02-18 -- just a month before the data series ends. Lionwood and Lakenham have no accreditation date, Mile Cross's is 2010-02-18, as is Bluebell Primary School's. We should be careful not to draw from incomplete data.

Oct 10, 2012 at 3:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterBen Pile

@ Ben - from your comments is there no current equivalent to the REF site? If the Data Protection Act is now being used as a cover for dismal performance, it really does smack of desperation...

Oct 10, 2012 at 3:57 PM | Unregistered Commenterdave ward

Dave, if the data were available, the REF would likely publish it.

My comments are based on a discussion with DECC & Ofgem (and at times it was hard to tell them apart) in July/August '11. I wanted to know how the FITS payments broke down. The other reason cited for not releasing data is 'commercial sensitivity'.

I pressed both about the data being made available in the public interest. They didn't seem to agree with me. One of the problems with Ofgem is, I guess, the idea that a quango such as that can protect the consumer's interest, but can't really criticise government policy -- i..e over-emphasis on emissions-reduction, renewables and reducing demand. So much for 'autonomous', maybe we should call them qungos.

You may find some interesting data at though the interface is shonky to say the least.

Oct 10, 2012 at 5:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterBen Pile


Nope, the FiT subsidies are guaranteed for 25 years which is why they make an attractive proposition.

Oct 10, 2012 at 5:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterArthur Dent

Little exercise for anybody .

Spikedonline were advertizing Tescos Solar Panels
So i thought i would give Tescos a ring.
Woman at the call center got my house up on Google Earth.
Calculated the size of my roof from comparing it with the width of the road outside .45 degree pitch etc.
Then she calculated i could have a couple of panels for 8 thousand pound .30 Year Guarantee.No interest free credit all up front.Calculated the approximate output .With the current feed in Tariff it would take about 15 years to get my money back but only when they are producing and feeding into the the grid.So night time and winter i still have to buy the electricity/When you actually need it.

Then some other sales guy came on and told me honestly. Wait till next year when Cameron brings in the Green Deal and then i may get a grant.Then he said before George Osborne cut the Feed in Tariff Tescos used to get 200 Solar Panel calls a week.Now they only get 2 calls per week.I dont know who the other Mug was who phoned after me.

PS Rule of thumb solar panels point the same direction as a Sky Satellite Dishes.

Oct 10, 2012 at 5:40 PM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

"solar panels point the same direction as a Sky Satellite Dishes"

And are equally useful...

Oct 10, 2012 at 5:54 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Ben Pile - thanks for the link, as you said it's pretty dodgy - I couldn't get it to work with Firefox, and had to use IE. A quick check didn't tell me much, but I'll try and have a closer look later.

Arthur Dent - with the current financial and political outlook can you REALLY be sure of that "guarantee"???

jamspid - Sky dishes point 28.2 degrees East of due South, so they're only a guide. The ideal direction is directly South. The school in Bish's link would have been better off mounting them on the wall at the other end, but that would expose them to vandalism, and would have required access equipment to install. The best way might involve some sort of framework spanning between the two pitch roofs allowing them to be aimed in the right direction, and avoid most of the shading they will get now.

Oct 10, 2012 at 6:09 PM | Unregistered Commenterdave ward

Teachers will in due course have lots of examples to point to when they come to teach about the follies of panic-politics, pseudo-science, and pressure-group manipulation of national and international bodies. The panels, like the windfarms, will not all be removed immediately if ever, and so will help bring to life the topic for otherwise incredulous children. 'Who could be that soft?' I can hear them chortle.

Oct 10, 2012 at 7:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

@ dave ward

Arthur Dent - with the current financial and political outlook can you REALLY be sure of that "guarantee"???

Precisely. There must be a very large risk that a future government will simply welsh on the whole deal. At a guess, I'd expect the grounds for welshing will either be picked from among:

- you live in a mansion, or
- you are deemed to be rich, or
- there is a higher rate taxpayer in the house, or
- you're in the south east where your vote doesn't matter anyway, or
- your energy performance certificate proves you're untermensch (term used advisedly because these are fascists we're dealing with).

Oct 10, 2012 at 8:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

Solar panel with a built in satellite dish.Great idea.I d have one.

My postcode is SE6 my lounge look out toward Bromley and Grove Park.with my back towards Sydenham and Penge At Midday the sun is directly overhead through my Lounge window. And that's where my Sky Dish is where the panels would have to be sited above

I look out over a couple of sports fields .And up road toward Beckenham is Kent County Cricket Ground.and Crystal Palace training ground Match days is a right mare with traffic and parked cars.
According to my old Lease all that land is Green Belt.So they cant cover it in Turbines or Solar Panels.They applied few years ago to build a big garden center that got thrown out.

Climate Skepticism want to get really clever .Challenge all those snotty School Kids and School Science Teachers on twitter and facebook what modern kids are into.
The Climate Change,Science homework assignment from hell.Really will upset Sir and Miss.Actually Imagine installing solar panels and actually calculate the panel sizes required Direction The Aspect Use their own actual postcodes and houses.See the problem see the unit costs.See the disappointing KW output and disappointing savings and off course the Carbon Reduction

I think 7 Thousand pounds can be better spent on New Upgraded Windows Insulation Gutters Home Repairs Upgraded Central Heating or even a More Fuel Efficient Modern Family Car .Kevin McCloud eat your heart out.( Still think hes a great TV presenter though.Love watching Grand Designs .)
Students can then see for themselves just how ineffective Current Photo Voltaic technology actually is.
Students may start to believe there are better ways to be Green than just Hugging Trees and being a member of the Green Party.

Oct 10, 2012 at 9:26 PM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

"Teaching solar power"

Please come back when you have taught it how to work 24 hours a day.

Oct 11, 2012 at 12:14 AM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand

If people are interested in delving deeper, there is accurate information on some of the solar installations here:

Oct 11, 2012 at 1:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterHeide de Klein

Thanks Heide - that link looks far more promising!

Oct 11, 2012 at 10:55 AM | Unregistered Commenterdave ward

Leighton Moss RSPB reserve in Lancashire is well worth a visit at this time of year, as long as you remember to look at the harriers, egrets, starlings and ducks, rather than the granite-faced RSPB employees who grudgingly let you in.

Upstairs, there is a genuinely pleasant cafe (those charming ladies are local volunteers, not RSPB ninjas), but what amuses me is the large electronic display which shows how much electricity is being generated by the solar panels situated somewhere around the reception building: about enough to power a light bulb, probably less than is required to power a large electronic display to advertise the RSPB's virtuous use of solar panels.

As for the back-up supply, the RSPB, rather churlishly, fails to provide details. I'm guessing nuclear.

Oct 11, 2012 at 8:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterOwen Morgan

Shocking inditment of corporate waste, same thing happens here in australia makes me sad !

Apr 17, 2013 at 5:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Fredricks

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