solar power

Data visualisation here!
May 2010
For a long time I’ve been considering lowering my carbon footprint, and investing some money, with renewable energy. About a year ago the government introduced a financial incentive called the Feed-In Tariff (more on that later), and recently we decided to take the plunge and have a solar array installed!
the array
This is it!

It’s an eleven (count ‘em!) panel array of photo-voltaic solar cells. That means that they generate electricity rather than heat water. On a sunny day we can expect to generate anything up to 2 kilowatts.

The electricity generated is either used by Toxic Towers, or if we’re not using it then it gets fed back into the National Grid, to be used by others.

We get paid for the electricity we generate!
installation
Having the system installed was not fun. To choose an installer I did a lot of research, and used a website called “YouGen” that reviews and rates renewable energy system installers. For all the good this did us, I would probably have been better off making a list and sticking a pin in it, because the company we chose turned out to be a right bunch of lemons. They were supremely disorganised, and broke a fair few promises. We were cheerfully told the installation would take two days; it actually took three weeks! Although I’m pleased to say that in the end everything was done to our satisfaction, getting the installers to achieve this felt like herding cats, and caused me and Phil a lot of unnecessary stress.
how it works
The two sets of panels feed their electricity to this red box, called an inverter, up in the loft. The inverter converts the direct current generated from the panels into alternating current suitable for feeding into the grid.

There’s also a meter, which formally measures how much electricity we’ve generated, for our Feed-In Tariff payments.
the feed-in tariff
The FIT is a scheme that was introduced by the government in 2010 to encourage people to set up their own renewable energy generation systems. We receive a payment for every unit of electricity generated (a generation tariff), and an additional payment for unused electricity that we feed back to the National Grid (an export tariff). This boils down to roughly £2 to £6 a day, depending on the weather.

Future payments are guaranteed for the next 25 years, and will rise with inflation. When we’re using more electricity than we’re generating we buy it from our power company at the normal rate, but of course we’re using a lot less of it! We make a point of waiting until mid-morning now before switching on things like the washing machine or dishwasher.
monitoring
The system comes with a cool gadget that displays how much electricity we’re generating over the course of the day. It also keeps running totals of power generation, how much CO₂ we’ve avoided, and revenue.

Even better for me, you can connect it to your computer and download spreadsheets of data to play with. I am never happier than when I’m making pretty graphs with lots of colourful lines! Here’s the April data!
Click on the images to see larger versions, or see of all of these (and more) pictures, and graphs, are in the gallery page.

I’ll probably add to this page as I think of more things I haven’t said yet. I’d highly recommend going solar PV to anyone with a roof that faces roughly south. You heard it here first: solar power generation is becoming increasingly popular due to the FIT, and soon there will be sets of panels on roofs everywhere!

I’m happy to be contacted if you’re thinking about going solar yourself, and would like more information. The details for getting in touch with me are in my “about” page.
UPDATE:
June 2011
We’ve just had our first request for a meter reading from our energy supplier! We’ve generated around 520 kWh. This equates to offsetting 370kg of carbon dioxide, and will earn us about £230!
UPDATE:
November 2015
I’m happy to report that everything still works, and we’ve not blown up! *touches wood*
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Warning:
Toby was created in a bizarre industrial accident involving a quantity of mercury, ethanol, polonium 210, and Cillit Bang.
Joke:
Q: Which vegetable is faster than dial-up?

A: Broad beand.
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