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Solar Panels Initiative

In 2019 Carey English set up a group for those interested in action for the prevention of global warming – a group which Nick Hall and Jean Lavers joined. It was a small group at first but nonetheless we planned and executed many events under the heading “Love Your Planet”. When Carey and Guy moved away at the end of 2019 we tried in vain to find a replacement as leader. Nick and Jean, called a meeting in January, deciding to promote the solar panels project in Derwenthorpe. Two other households had the same idea. We were convinced it was a good, long-term investment and a way of reducing our carbon emissions. As the Energy Saving Trust says:

“Solar Electricity is green renewable energy and doesn’t release any harmful carbon dioxide or other pollutants. A typical home solar PV system could save 1.3 to 1.6 tonnes of carbon per year (depending where you are within the UK).” https://energysavingtrust.org.uk/renewable-energy/electricity/solar-panels

Over the years Jean and Nick had sounded out Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust as to whether they were going to initiate a project to put solar panels on our roofs, let us keep some or all of the electricity generated, and sell surpluses to the grid. Our covenants on purchase of our houses allow them to do that. But by 2020 it was clear they weren’t going to. So, if we wanted solar panels, we would have to buy them ourselves. We decided to try. Making that decision felt good. Making a reality of it required much learning, much effort. It was a two-track process: (1) finding out if anyone else in Derwenthorpe was interested, and promoting the idea; and (2) was there anyone out there who we’d trust to clamber about on our roofs and put panels on, and get the wiring right and all the other equipment?

We formed a small working group: Jean Lavers, Nick Hall, Harriet Ennis, Chris Ennis, Richard Lane, Graham Smith and Ian Eiloart. We are non-expert Derwenthorpe residents except for Richard, who works in sustainable energy and kindly gave his time as a volunteer adviser. We got plenty of encouragement and useful advice from JRHT, particularly Joanne Lofthouse (Derwenthorpe Manager) and Owen Daggett (Sustainability Manager). Richard Partington and his colleagues, architects for Derwenthorpe, gave us both encouragement and very helpful technical advice.

1.Publicising the initiative

We began by designing a questionnaire, aimed at gauging what level of interest there might be in Derwenthorpe. How keen were residents to get (and pay for) this addition to their houses?

Then came lock-down. At that time (mid-March) no-one, we felt, would be interested. We went to sleep (got involved in other things) for a couple of months. Late April, though, the invitation came to put something into the newsletter “LotsOn in Lockdown”. Why not a 3-line item asking each reader what they thought of the idea? We got a couple of dozen positive responses.

We followed this up with an article on the DRA website, copied onto Facebook  –  this produced several more interested people  –  enough to know that we were going to get a group able to have a serious dialogue with suitable firms.

We also wanted to be sure that every household had the chance to consider the idea. We drew up a questionnaire, asking simply: do you want a no-obligation quote? Yes or No?  Similar questions for a battery and whether the battery should be able to charge an electric vehicle. Thanks to some dedicated volunteers we got questionnaires to all the Derwenthorpe houses (some 450) by mid-July. About 20 new addresses came up as a result  –  60 in all.

2. Choosing installer firms

The first concern (April/May 2020) was whether any firm was doing this kind of work, and could they do it under the various Covid-19 restrictions. And would they?

We obtained details of twelve firms from the relevant part of the Which? Trusted Trader list, plus two by recommendation from JRHT, who had used them on other projects. We wrote to them asking if they were interested and if there would be a discount on bulk purchase.

Our first check was whether or not they were listed under two quality control schemes: MCS and RECC.

MCS is the Microgeneration Certificate Scheme. MCS certifies low-carbon products and installations used to produce electricity and heat from renewable sources. Having an installation certified by MCS means that any surplus power generated is acceptable to the grid.

RECC lists firms who have signed up to the Renewable Energy Consumer Code, which governs things like technical site surveys, getting necessary permissions, contract documentation and customer care issues. https://www.recc.org.uk/scheme

We sent a Request for Information to five of the firms, selected from the original set as being listed under both MCS and RECC schemes and being not far away (the furthest being Leicester). From people we had heard from as being interested in the project we had 16 addresses whose residents were happy for the five firms to estimate, by desk-top survey, what a system would cost. (The prices were expected to vary from house to house according to the size of the roof and its orientation, etc.). We asked each firm about:

  • Price per property for installation etc. of a grid-connected solar array
  • Price per property for appropriate battery
  • Discount per property if the project were for 25 or more households
  • Timescale
  • Warranties
  • Health & Safety, including precautions against CV 19
  • Sub-contracting, e.g. for scaffolding
  • Contracts, rectifying snags, etc.

The firms sent back much documentation, about the panels they were likely to install, about the inverters (required to convert the DC which the panels generate into usable AC power) and about batteries; also about their working practices, contracts etc.

The working group met by Zoom on 8th July 2020 and we pooled our knowledge and understanding of the bids; agreed to include design of panels in the evaluation (we preferred black); and discussed differences between the firms’ contracts and documentation. We decided to recommend to residents two firms  –  ASK Renewables and Carbon Legacy. (See at end for contact details.)

3. Open-Air Real Live Socially Distanced Meeting

Both these firms said they were willing to come and talk to residents, and several of the households who were in touch said they would like to meet and discuss the scheme. We fixed Saturday 1st August as a good date; and Joanne was happy for us to have the event on the un-enclosed grass space outside the SSC. We wanted a serious hearing and discussion, and above all a safe one. So we only invited people who’d already been in touch. Just under 30 people came, from 20 households. The weather was kind, we could all hear and be heard (only one noisy aircraft interrupted) and we learned much about both theory and practicalities.

From there on it’s been up to each household to make contact with and deal with one or both of these firms  –  and if satisfied with what’s been offered enter into a contract with the chosen firm.

4. Covenants with Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust

When we bought our houses we accepted a covenant to get consent from JRHT before installing solar panels on our roofs. They agree in principle. Each household should, before committing themselves to a date for starting work on site, send them details of what’s proposed: number of panels, fixing detail, how they ‘ll be arranged on the roof  –  a drawing if possible. Both the firms are aware of this and will help supply the details. We need to allow 3 to 4 weeks for the trustees’ consent to be obtained.

5. Other consents

In order to connect the electricity you generate to the grid (so you can sell any surplus) you need consent from the DNO (District Network Operator). This may take time  –   but the installer will take care of the process. The one for our area is Northern Powergrid  –  for enquiries ring 0845 070n7172.

6. Update latest

ASK Renewables say that they have contacted the names on the list we sent them. They have done 11 visits and issued quotes on each; 2 have applied to JRHT for consent. They have a further 7 visits planned. Carbon Legacy have 20 people on their list as interested in having a site visit, have visited 9 and booked another 5 for September. Their first 9 quotes are ready to go out.

7. Is it too late to join in?

No!  Send your name and address, email and any other contact details to either or both of the recommended firms, and they will make all the necessary arrangements with you. Or give them a call!

Contact details

ASK Renewables Limited Samantha Kidd admin@ask-renewables.co.uk 01226 715522 www.ask-renewables.co.uk Carbon Legacy Shirley Mills shirley@carbonlegacy.co.uk 01664 821224 www.carbonlegacy.co.uk

Nick Hall and Jean Lavers
August 2020
climateaction@derwenthorpe.co.uk


2 replies on “Solar Panels Initiative”

Note about consent from the DNO (see 5 above): if your array of panels doesn’t generate more than 3.68 kWp then you don’t need their consent. Nick

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Thanks Nick and Jean for all your work on this. I have appts from both potential suppliers in my diary. I should also add that on the phone Samantha and Shirley from Ask Renewables and Carbon Legacy are extremely nice to deal with.

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