According to the UK’s premier energy saving advice portal, The Green Age, in 2015 over 500,000 properties in the UK had solar panels installed on their roofs. This is around 2% of the 28 million homes in the UK (TheGreenAgeUK, 2015). Although this sounds good, there is a common problem with retrofitting. Many people opt for the “rent a roof” scheme. This is where homeowners don’t invest in the panels themselves, but instead effectively rent their roof space to the solar companies in exchange for free electricity (Brignall, 2012). The solar companies then line their pockets from the government feed-in-tariffs. Because of this, mortgage companies often don’t offer mortgages to properties under these schemes as any faults with the panels are usually down the homeowner to repair (The Eco Experts, 2016).
It is seemingly inevitable that we will run out of fossil fuels at some point. As a result, it will mean we will all suddenly need alternative power sources. The website Swell specialises in renewable home energy production and storage systems. They say that we need power to keep our comfortable lifestyles. They suggest that our reliance is too high on the current aging and fragile electrical infrastructure that can be affected by wind and flooding. Swell consider not having your own energy system to be like not owning your own house. Like renting, it leaves the market to decide the price you pay and leaves you nothing to keep at the end of it (Gretz, 2017).
House prices are currently too high for many first-time buyers to even afford the down payments (Wilford, 2017). By installing solar power and batteries in new developments it means buyers get less real estate for their money as the house price is more expensive due to the costs for the developer of the installed gear. ‘Shoebox homes’ are already becoming the norm in the UK (Joyce, 2011). Naturally, owners choose bigger homes over smaller ones and may not prioritise homes with solar when looking to buy (Davies, 2014).
TheEnergyShop.com has come up with a range of hypotheses that could be contributing to this vast price increase. Unlike the publication on Ecotricity, they believe there are more fossil fuels left than we think. They say the technology to find and extract fossil fuels is significantly improved meaning we are now extracting more fossil fuels than ever before. They suggest the price hike might be due to other causes. Some of these include government taxes to bring in extra money using the environment and infrastructure as excuses, the various wars in the eastern oil-rich countries, and Chinas economic growth which has led to them consuming vastly more energy than ever before (TheEnergyShop.com, 2012).
An analysis done by TheEnergyShop.com, a free independent energy price comparison website, conducted an analysis into the possible reasons why fuel prices are going up at the rates they are. According to British Gas’ standard energy rate that many households are on, the average household in 2003 paid £534 to fuel their homes. Almost 10 years later, the average household paid almost £1300. If the same British Gas tariff had increased at the rate of inflation, consumers would be paying around £700 to fuel their homes.
The website Ecotricity states that the world currently consumes over 11 billion tons of fossil fuels each year. It suggests that if no more reserves are found and we carry on using them at our continually increasing rate, we will run out of coal, gas and oil by 2088 (ecotricity, 2016). With this in mind, perhaps more should be done to get home owners installing renewable energy production and storage systems just to stop the world finding itself with no sufficient energy sources in the future.
The Need for Change
It seems that we are getting to the stage where legislation and incentives are not always needed to encourage the installation of renewable energy production and storage systems. Clayhill solar farm in Bedfordshire is the first solar plant to be built in the UK without any subsidy from the government. The plant also includes batteries for energy storage so that the electricity can be used day or night. The Government Climate Change Minister, Claire Perry, described the plant opening as “a significant moment for clean energy” (The Indipendent, 2017).
The installation of solar panels on residential buildings falls under the General Permitted Development order of 2015. This means that solar panels may be installed on a building providing they are on or within the curtilage of a dwelling. The panels may not protrude more than 20cm above the roofs surface, and if in a conservation area or World Heritage Site they must not be fitted to a wall which fronts a highway (Planning Portal, 2017).
Gareth Davies, an author who writes for the website The Eco Experts thinks that solar should become a basic fitting. His controversial analogy states that buying a new home without solar panels is like buying a new home without plug sockets in the spare room or a sink in the bathroom. He believes that they are things people can manage without though make no sense not to install during construction. The idea of a salesman confidently saying that it saved £3000 on the house price of the house is mad. People like to brush their teeth in the bathroom, charge their phones at night in the bedroom and importantly, save on their electricity bills over time (Davies, 2014).
The UK does have legislation to push the renewable energy drive, however, the focus is more on the big energy companies. Ofgem’s Renewable Obligation came into effect in 2002 which places a requirement on UK energy suppliers to source an increasing proportion of their energy from renewable sources (Ofgem, 2017). BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environment Assessment Method) has become the de facto measure of the environmental performance for buildings in the UK. However, unlike Ofgem’s Renewable Obligation, developers are not legally obliged to comply with the BREEAM aims (SteelConstruction.info, 1990).
There is a similar situation in France. As of The French Biodiversity Law passed in August 2016, all new buildings built in commercial zones must either be partially covered in solar panels or plants. This was introduced to increase biodiversity and renewable energy generation (Green Energy Power Solutions Ltd, 2016).
Other countries have had more successes however. As of 1st of January 2017, all new build properties in San Francisco that have 10 floors or fewer must have solar panels installed on their roofs. The legislation was introduced after the ambitious new climate change target set in 2016 to reduce carbon emissions to 40% lower than the 1990’s rate by 2030. This has made councils in California take drastic actions to help achieve the goals (Spector, 2017).
The concept of using legislation to enforce the compulsory installation of renewable energy production systems has been considered before in the UK. In August 2012 and October 2013, petitions were posted on the UK Government and Parliament website to bring the concept to reality. Unfortunately, these petitions didn’t make headway (Petitions.GOV, 2012).
According to a report on ‘Space standards for homes’ published in 2015 by the Royal Institute of British Architects, the average 3 bedroom home spans 968 sq.ft (Mark Crosby, 2015). The estimated energy usage for a home of this size is 10 kWh per day (British Gas Consumption Calculator) Tesla’s latest Power Wall battery has a usable storage capacity of 13.5 kWh. With a 4.5kW solar system, typically 10.48 kWh of power would be produced each day (Vasili, 2017). Due to the storage capabilities and solar panel efficiancys, it means that enough energy can now be produced and stored in order to run a home leaving some energy spare for peak times.
In the past, large government subsadies have been on offer to get the nation using solar technology. Howerver, this presented 2 problem. One, it was very expensive for the government to subsadise the instillations, and two, the UK national grid is not built for such speradic use. For example, when a large cloud comes over, the homes suddenly need power from the grid. Since these subsadies were cut, solar prices have continued to drop, and advancements in technology have meant home owners now have access to battery storage systems.
By installing renewable energy storage systems alongside solar panels in homes, it means that there is less power loss in transmission down long cables. This also means that the need for often unsightly infrastructure is lessened or not even needed at all, resulting in reduced pressure on the DNO’s (Hokin, 2017).
An electrical engineer in Iran, Reza Hemmanti, published a paper on combining solar with battery storage. He states how solar is only a viable solution when combined with batteries as it allows for the energy to be scheduled. He suggests that there are three main operating conditions under which batteries can be used. First, the home runs off batteries and solar in the day and uses overnight cheap rates to recharge the batteries at night. Second, the home sends energy to the main grid during on-peak high-cost hours to make a profit. Third, the home works on “net-zero” where it has no reliance on the national grid (Hemmati, 2017).
To work around this problem, batteries can be combined with solar to provide a constant power supply during times of little or no light. With the advancements in battery technology, it is now possible to power an entire home for a few days with a battery no bigger than a standard washing machine. Companies such as Tesla, LG, Mercedes, Nissan and BMW have all released there own rechargeable batteries for the home (Muoio, 2017). For companies supplying batteries that are not big enough for the desired requirement, there is usually an option to link them together, therefore multiplying capacity.
Because of these key points, the report states that grid connection will become an issue as existing distribution networks were designed to accommodate unidirectional flows of certain amounts of voltage and power. Distribution Network Operators (DNO’s) would eventually have to enhance network infrastructure to cope with omnidirectional power flow (KPMG LLP , July 2015).
KPMG published a report in July 2015 which looks into the facts behind the transition to solar. The report noted that there are three key aspects that set solar power apart from the more conventional ways of generating power. First, the power output of solar panels is variable due to the amount of sun panels get exposed to. Second, panels are spread across large geographic areas meaning there is no central power hub, third, the power output is uncertain and irregular due to the weather.
Figure 1: Sourced from: Solar Power Is The Future.com
As seen below, sunlight is made up of 3 different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. This is Ultraviolet, visible light and infrared.
Currently, the most efficient solar cell ever tested converts 44.5% of the portion of energy in the sunlight that can be converted. This is known as 44.5% efficiency (Ward, 2017). Before this breakthrough in technology, up to 25% efficiency had been achieved. This breakthrough allows solar cells to capture sunlight within the infrared wavelength of the electromagnetic spectrum. Previous solar cell technology only caught sunlight within the visible light wavelength (What light wave do solar panels use, 2016). All current domestic solar cells use the visible light wavelength only. Until now, infrared light was deemed to not have enough energy to dislodge the electrons in a solar cell.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has consistently under-estimated the uptake of solar since the year 2000. It predicted that uptake would quadruple over 15 years, it actually took only 5 years. With the increased demand has come increased research meaning consumers continue to hold off purchasing solar systems as prices have continually dropped (Mathiesen, 2016). In a study done by Oxford University titled “How Predictability is Technological Progress?”, it was found that the costs of manufacturing solar products had dropped by around 10% each year since 1980 (Farmer, 2016).
Solar technology is getting ever cheaper leaving developers with little excuse not to be installing panels. According to the website Which?, the average solar panel installation in the UK costs approximately £6,500, and the systems should be lasting over 25 years (Ingrams, 2017).
Current Technology and Infrastructure
The purpose of this literature review is to explore the current situation on renewable energy storage systems and gain a better understanding to why they are not being installed by more home owners. The literature that I shall review will cover a broad range of themes that once compared and contrasted should communicate the reasons why home owners are not installing the systems. Finding alternative energy sources for properties is a contemporary issue that seems to be continually growing in scale. Solutions to the problem are becoming cheaper and more widely adopted across the UK leaving fewer excuses for the public not to invest in the technology.
The world is becoming ever more aware of global warming along with worrying about the rising costs of fossil fuels. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration states that the earths average temperature was 13.7°C in April 2017 (NOAA, 2017), the warmest in thousands of years. CO2 levels in the atmosphere are also higher than they have been for millions of years (Weart, 2017). People have started looking for more cost-effective, reliable and environmentally sustainable ways to power their homes. Affordable renewable energy storage systems are now becoming easy to get hold of and more widely used, when combined with solar, they offer a consistent renewable energy source for a home.