Archive for the ‘Photovoltaic (PV)’ Category

How to Understand Microgeneration – Solar PV

Friday, April 9th, 2010

Presentation made before smart metering and feed-in tariffs (FITs) now available.



Photovoltaic Modules and Inverters – Considerations for Selecting

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

With so many different types of products on the market today for the solar electric (PV) industry, selecting the right module or inverter can be the difference between a successful system and a failed one. The PV market has hundreds of companies to choose from when selecting product. Being that longevity is one goal in providing an extended return of investment (ROI) for projects, it is important to select the products from companies that you can trust will be around into the distant future.

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Research can be a daunting task in regards to finding the balance of quality, longevity, and price — your distributor can be a great source of information when considering products for a PV systems. Your representative should be able to provide you with information about product warranty, quality of the product, price (often reflected in £ per watt), and any technology implemented into the product.

As it relates to solar modules, the most expensive side to the system, a low priced module can get very tempting. While important, price should be weighed in conjunction to a manufacturer’s longevity; after all how good is a 20-25 year warranty when the company no longer exists? Additionally, there is a common miss-conception that module efficiency should be the deciding factor — efficiency generally only affects a systems size not performance. Efficiency reflects a modules ability to convert the sun’s energy into electrical power. For example a 200 Watt 16% efficient module vs. a 200 Watt 20% efficient module reflects a reduction in the system physical size by 20% but this will also most likely increase the cost of the module and therefore the length of ROI on the same 200 Watts of power. Until just recently, module technology was mostly based only on efficiency and material type, but now some electronic technology is implemented into the modules themselves increasing the modules energy yields, and power output.

This seems all very familiar to me, relating the subject to the debate I’ve had before on data centers design with computer equipment technology, required power per square foot / meter and increased computer rack efficiency density allowances.

Conversation would go something like this:-

  • Computers getting more efficient – so less power needed; Please reduce power allowance – Reply: OK
  • But have a higher density, so can increase the computer power in the same allocated space with more modules  – Reply: So you need more power!
  • But we need less overall space per module, so more efficient: As a result the computer power is greater – Reply: You need more power per sq area – in less space!
  • Oh! – but the computer module is more efficient – so less power needed – Reply: Yes individually – but you put more in!

Inverters are also a key function to the PV system and also typically the second most costly item of the system. Inverters contain many electronic components and over the years can be stressed to their limits, so selecting a manufacturer that has proven technology and a solid warranty can help save the installer a problem down the road. In the past the PV market has seen typically a 10 year inverter warranty and a fail period on the inverters in the first 15 years, however with today’s leading manufacturers these numbers are progressively getting better with 15+ year warranties and a fail period after the first 20+ years.

What are Feed-In Tariffs?

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

The Government is introducing a system of feed-in tariffs (FITs) for small-scale low-carbon electricity generation from 1 April 2010. FITs are a per-unit support payment made directly to generators by electricity suppliers.

The new renewable electricity Feed-in Tariff scheme (FITs) will be available from 1 April 2010. FITs aims to promote domestic and small-scale renewable generation technologies up to a maximum capacity of 5 megawatts (MW). Ofgem will be running the behind the scenes administration of the scheme on behalf of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

There are two routes to apply for FITs depending on the type and scale of technology installed:
• Generators with Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) accredited solar, wind and hydro generating equipment up to 50kW in capacity that are installed by an MCS accredited installer can apply direct to a ‘FIT supplier’ – usually their energy supply company – with their installation details and to enquire about FITs payments. We expect the majority of installations will fall into this category.
• Generators with larger installations between 50kW and 5MW (or anaerobic digestion at 5MW or less) will first need to apply for accreditation through Ofgem’s Renewable and CHP Register before they can apply to a supplier for the tariffs.

Its intend that FITs will replace the Renewables Obligation (RO) as far as possible as the financial support mechanism for microgeneration (with a declared net capacity 50 kW or less) in Great Britain.
FITs will complement the RO by providing the simplicity and certainty needed to support householders, communities and businesses involved in small-scale generation. Installations with a capacity of 5MW or less will be eligible for FITs. Whereas the level of reward under the RO is exposed to fluctuations in the value of Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROCs), FITs will guarantee a fixed level of reward for each unit of electricity you generate, for as long as you are eligible to receive support.The Feed-In Tariffs are based on the electricity generated by a renewable energy system and there will be an additional bonus for any energy which is ‘exported’ to the grid. This means you get paid more for the energy you don’t use than for that which you do which encourages energy efficiency.

At times when you are producing less electricity than you are using, the shortfall will be ‘imported’ from the grid and you will pay your electricity company for this in the usual way.

The Feed-in Tariff therefore gives you these three financial benefits:

  1. A ‘generation’ tariff based on the Total generation and the energy type, plus
  2. An ‘export’ tariff for any energy Exports when generating more than you need, and because you are now producing some of the energy you use
  3. Lower bills from your supplier for the energy you Import from them

What you need to do
You will require an additional electricity meter to measure the electricity that your system is generating, and also to measure how much is being fed back into the electricity grid.

Once you have installed your generating technology you must inform your chosen energy supplier that you are eligible to receive the FIT. The supplier will then register your installation onto the Central FIT Register, which is administered by Ofgem. Payments will be made by your energy supplier at intervals to be decided between you and your supplier. You may be required to provide meter readings to the suppliers if requested.

If you want to opt out of the guaranteed export tariff you must inform the supplier. You may want to do this if you chose to use a power purchase agreement.
Tariff levels, for technologies installed between 15th July 2009 and 31st March 2012

Technology___________Scale____________Tariff level (p/kWh)________Tariff lifetime (years)
Solar electricity (PV)____≤4 kW (retro fit)___ ____41.3____________________25
Solar electricity (PV)____≤4 kW (new build)______36.1____________________25
Wind_______________≤1.5 kW____________34.5_____________________20
Wind _______________>1.5 – 15 kW________ 26.7 _____________________20
Micro CHP ___________≤2kW _____________10.0 _____________________10
Hydroelectricity _______≤15 kW ____________19.9 _____________________20

Tariff levels vary depending on the scale of the installation.

The tariff levels shown in the table above apply to installations completed from 15th July 2009 to 31st March 2012 for the lifetime of the tariff. After this date, the rates decrease each year for new entrants into the scheme.

All generation and export tariffs will be linked to the Retail Price Index (RPI) which ensures that each year they follow the rate of inflation.
What payments will you be eligible for, and how can you claim them?

The tariffs available and the process for receiving them vary, depending on when the technology was installed, and whether the system and the installer were certificated under the MCS scheme:

The following advice applies to domestic installations. If you have installed a qualifying electricity-generating system non-domestic property with a grant from the Low Carbon Buildings Programme, see the Low Carbon Buildings Programme website for further guidance.

In October 2008 the UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Miliband, announced that Britain would implement a feed-in tariff by 2010, in addition to its current renewable energy quota scheme Renewable Obligation Certificates”. In July 2009, he presented UK’s new Feed-in Tariff Programme, expected to begin in early April, 2010. Miliband has given a new name, “clean energy cash back”, to this policy which falls fully within the framework of Feed-in Tariffs and is based on a few, extensively discussed, key elements:

a) Less than 10% of Britain’s electricity consumption, by 2020, will be provided by renewable energy sources. The 2% target requires the “green generation” of only 8 billion kWh (that is 8 TWh) per year. France, thanks to its system of Feed-in Tariffs, in 2008 generated already nearly 6 TWh, and only from wind energy; in the same year Germany generated more than 4 TWh from solar PV (photovoltaic), and reached 40 TWh from wind energy.

b) The project involves only renewables sources which can produce less than 5 MW energy; so, UK’s new FiT’s project cap is 5 MW. Depending on law, only renewable energy sources and generators within this cap can benefit from tariffs: the government still prefers resorting to the Renewable Obligation Certificates mechanism for developing larger projects.
To prevent companies from moving large scale (for example big wind) projects from the ROCs to the Feed-in Tariff programme, a number of anti-gaming provisions has been inserted in the policy design; this should avoid the breaking up of bigger projects into several small ones, to fit within the 5 MW energy size cap.

c) The contract term is 20 years, 25 years for solar photovoltaic projects: this means that, starting from 2010, British providers of Wind Energy, Hydropower, Energy from Biomass and Anaerobic Digestion falling within the Renewable Sources eligible in accordance with the provisions of the proposed FiT scheme will be rewarded with a tariff rate guaranteed for the next 20 years – 25 years for Solar PV generators. In this way UK’s renewable energy industry has a somehow long-term certainty, and can advantage of the FiT over other policy options.

d) Costs for the programme will be borne by all British ratepayers proportionally: all electricity consumers will bear a slight increase in their annual rate, thus allowing electricity utilities to buy renewable energy generated from green sources at above-market rates set by the government.

e) Generators can be green fields (they do not have to be metered customers).

f) The new UK’s Feed-in Tariff Programme review is scheduled for 2013.

The cost of installing and owning solar panels will fall even faster than expected according to new research

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

The cost of installing and owning solar panels will fall even faster than expected according to new research.

Tests show that 90% of existing solar panels last for 30 years, instead of the predicted 20 years.

According to the independent EU Energy Institute, this brings down the lifetime cost.

The institute says the panels are such a good long-term investment that banks should offer mortgages on them like they do on homes.

At a conference, the institute forecast that solar panels would be cost-competitive with energy from the grid for half the homes in Europe by 2020 – without a subsidy.

Basically everything (in the industry) is bound to grow still further. Growing further means less cost

Heinz Ossenbrink, EU Energy Institute

Incentive programmes for solar panels in Germany, Italy and Spain have created manufacturing volume that’s bringing down costs. Solar panel prices dropped 30% last year alone due to an increase in output and a drop in orders because of the recession.

But Heinz Ossenbrink, who works at the institute, said China had underpinned its solar industry with a big solar domestic programme which would keep prices falling. There are large-scale solar plans in the US and India too.

Panels had been expected to last for 20 years and price calculations were based on this (with a free energy source, purchase and installation represent almost the entire price of solar power).

But Dr Ossenbrink says the institute’s laboratory has been subjecting the cells to the sort of accelerated ageing through extremes of heat, cold and humidity that has long been a benchmark for the car industry.

Long lifetime

It has shown that more than 90% of the panels on the market 10 years ago are capable of still performing well after 30 years of life, albeit with a slight drop in performance.

Dr Ossenbrink says 40-year panels will be on the market soon.

A key goal for solar is what is known as grid parity. That is the point when it is as cheap for someone to generate power on their homes as it is to buy it from the grid.

It varies from country to country depending on electricity prices, but the institute estimates that Italy – which has a combination of sunny weather and relatively high electricity prices – should reach grid parity next year. Half of Europe should be enjoying grid parity by 2020, it estimates.

Cloudy northern countries like the UK could wait further, possibly up to 2030. But the day would come when solar panels on homes would be cost-competitive without a subsidy, even in Britain.

Dr Ossenbrink says: “Basically everything (in the industry) is bound to grow still further. Growing further means less cost. Less cost means grid parity.”

“We have been surprised in the past five years at the drop in prices. It’s due to good incentive programmes first in Germany then Spain and Italy. That created a kind of a boom that was helping industry to reduce costs and get into profitability. And when an industry is in profit it drives on its own.”

Owning solar

Professor Wim Sinke, from Utrecht University in the Netherlands, who leads the solar umbrella group the European Photovoltaic Technology Platform, says the industry has even greater ambitions.

“The target of the sector as a whole is to reach grid parity in almost all of Europe over the next 10 years. So by 2020 we should have grid parity in most of Europe,” he told BBC News.

Key sticking points for domestic solar, he said, would be the lack of flexibility in electricity grids to take in surplus generated energy and difficulties with finance.

Dr Ossenbrink said: “What I would like to see is the finance sector saying solar power is a product like financing a house – except they can predict the value of the solar panel much more safely than they can predict the value of the house in a volatile market.

“Electricity will never be given away free. Banks should offer mortgages on people’s solar panels like they do on homes – the bank should own the panel, then it would transfer to the householder when the loan has been paid off. It would be perfect for life assurances.”

It will take much longer for solar to match fossil fuel power at the point of generation, the institute says, as wholesale electricity prices are much lower than retail prices.

From BBC web site

Metering for “switched on schools” in Northern Ireland

Thursday, June 4th, 2009


An innovative project involving the installation of photovoltaic (PV) solar panels and renewable energy streetlights, as well as metering and data services, has been implemented in forty educational establishments across rural Northern Ireland.

Energy and advanced smart metering firm, PRI, is providing the metering and data services for this NIE Energy (NIEE) project, named “Switched on Schools”.

For several years NIEE has worked on an ad hoc basis with the five Northern Ireland Education and Library Boards in installing renewable energy systems at schools throughout the region. Supported with European funding, a program approach evolved for achieving a thriving, sustainable rural community in Northern Ireland via increased awareness of PV technology.

The award-winning Switched on Schools project made this possible, and has enabled schools to appreciate how valuable energy is as a resource and how energy bills and CO2 emissions can be reduced. Spreading the carbon footprint reduction message to families and friends, pupils gained an understanding about renewable energy and monitoring online their solar power system.

PRI supplied the energy data services for remote collection, analysis and billing from the Spring XP and GSM top hat meter in each school involved.

Company sales and marketing manager Geoff Chapman explains: “Our meter and energy data service solution records the amount of energy used in each school and provides historical data for trend analysis. Significantly, this information is relayed to a central point for monitoring and interpretation.”

Data is collected and monitored from the customer’s equipment. Received data is presented in a pre-determined format appropriate to customer needs.

Installation across the forty schools enabled them to claim money from the Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROC) system for the renewable energy produced. The NIEE generation tariff offers rewards for electricity exported back to the grid and ROCs.