With the demolition of feed-in-tariffs by the UK Government (a scheme that paid homeowners to export extra energy from renewables back onto the national grid), there has been a gap in the market.
But what if councils could actually invest in solar panels for low-income families and in their own social housing stock, and derive a long term return?
I’ve already addressed the fact that the current infrastructure we use to route utilities to home is hugely outdated, causing massive headaches for repairs to electrical, gas and water lines, and slowing down the rollout of technologies such as hyperfast broadband, particularly to more rural communities. You can read about the simple solution on my page about “rethinking infrastructure” here.
But what if we could take this a stage further, save the people of Fife money in the short term, contribute to a massive reduction in CO2 emissions and also derive long term revenues for the council?
I am not going to address how to fund the project at this stage, but councils are fully familiar with the different available options for investment in such projects and there are a number of mechanisms that could be used to great effect. Public, private and government investment are three, and I am sure that people who chose to be part of the scheme would be fine with £10 or £20 extra on their council tax per month, to save hundreds of pounds a month on electricity bills. Instead, I am going to concentrate on the technology which exists today that could be used. What I will say though, is it is vitally important that any such scheme be available to everyone regardless of income and regardless of credit rating – because the scheme should be about helping the most vulnerable.
What I am suggesting, is putting energy production in Fife, into the cloud. Decentralising power generation from a large power plant to many small ones and using Fife residents’ homes to do it, while simultaneously saving them money.
First, you need to understand the basics of how solar panels are connected to homes. From the panels, cables run to what is called an “inverter”. This changes the DC from the panels into AC and is connected to the consumer unit in your home so the energy can be used. This is what is known as a grid-tie-inverter.
There are inverters that also have DC outputs for connecting batteries. These are called hybrid inverters because they both connect to your consumer unit and also to batteries for storage.
With both of these types of inverters (and it is the same for wind turbines), any excess energy is pushed out to the national grid along the wires which come into your home. It used to be that homeowners were paid a fairly high rate for doing this.
At this point, I ask that you read “rethinking infrastructure” because it is important to what I am proposing.
If you already have the ability to easily lay cabling, why not take advantage of it to run electrical cabling specifically dedicated to “outbound” transmission.
Put simply, what I am proposing is that the council fund the installation of solar panels on all of their social housing stock, and for any council resident who wants them under a “25% for us, 75% for you” policy.
In return for the council being allowed to use your roof for power generation, 75% (up to your maximum home usage) of the panels fitted onto your home would be connected to your consumer unit, applied to your energy consumption, reducing your electricity bills.
The other 25% (or greater if your roof has extra capacity) of the panels would be connected to a dedicated outbound powerline running through the newly installed infrastructure for utility delivery.
The combined output from all homes would then be combined on that dedicated outbound electrical network which the local council would then connect to the grid (under a company in which the council would own a 100% share) and sold to the power companies. The council would then derive a long term revenue stream which would pay for the cost of the panels that it had invested to install, with any revenues there-after (once paid off) applied directly to the council budget by way of dividends paid out by the company for the councils shareholding.
The panels and the agreement could be applied to private homes as a burden, meaning the contract continues to apply to the next owner, and the next, and the next.
In addition, with a change in planning permission laws for new homes, the council can direct that all homes have a roof space sized, and positioned in the right direction so as to be conducive to the provision of renewable energy.
Put simply, councils have the ability (by creating an investment regime) to generate energy through existing resources, and then generate a long term revenue from short term investment.
The intrinsic benefits of such a scheme would mean job creation in Fife for both installations of the network and renewable tech, as well as increased economic advantages in the form of those workers spending within local communities.