Solar electricity panels (known as photovoltaics or PVs for short) capture the sun’s energy and convert it to electricity, so at this time of year energy output is high. One Letchworth household with a 3.7kWp solar PV installation, which is smaller than the average domestic solar PV system of 4.2kWp, generated 132kWh of electricity in last week’s sunny weather, more than the 130 kWh they actually used: 47% of the household’s electricity came directly from the solar panels, a further 38% via a home battery, which stored most of the solar surplus, and just 15% from the national grid.
Selling energy to the grid earns typically 5p per kWh, but you’ll pay around 30p per kWh if you’re buying from the grid, so households do best if they use their home generated energy themselves. A home battery lets you use more of that energy by storing it to be used when you need it.
Electricity providers are targeting new tariffs at households with home batteries or electric vehicles, offering rates as low as 7.5p per kWh for chosen off-peak periods. These households can reduce their electricity bills by filling their batteries with cheap off-peak energy and using this in the daytime when grid electricity is more expensive to buy.
The more households invest in solar PV and battery technology the more consistent grid demand will be. Reduced peak demand lowers the need for energy companies to use expensive fossil fuels, which should benefit all consumers if the cost saving is passed on. At Transition Town Letchworth we’re pleased therefore to see the Government’s energy strategy includes an ambition for a five-fold increase in solar installations.
At a local level however, there are still policy obstacles to overcome. Solar PV panels require permission from the Heritage Foundation but the Foundation has restrictions on the proportion of a roof that can be covered by solar panels (60% in the Heritage Area and 90% in Modern Area) which impacts more on those homes with smaller roof areas and reduces the financial viability of solar PV for those households. Removing these restrictions, and adjusting the distances required from the roof edges, would help tackle this inequality in the Foundation’s Design Principles.
Similarly, removing the restriction that panels cannot be visible from the street in the Heritage Area and allowing panels configurations which blend with roofs, rather than just rectangles, would allow all Letchworth residents the best opportunity to tackle both the cost-of-living crisis and the climate crisis.
In the long run solar panels may turn out to be a temporary fix, replaced in future by more efficient technology, but for now, would it not seem reasonable to allow all householders the same opportunities to mitigate the energy crisis?