Hazards of Solar PV

As we strive to reduce carbon emissions, we are increasingly turning to renewable sources of energy production. With the ability to exploit water, wind, carbon neutral fuels and solar, renewable energy is becoming an increasingly common source of our power.

Since the introduction of the Government’s ‘green’ incentives, specifically Feed-in-Tariffs (FiT) the rate of renewable and energy efficient installs has seen a huge rise. The most popular in the domestic market being solar PV, offering the best return. Due to the FiT model many companies offered free solar PV roof-top installation to domestic properties. Between 2010 and 2012 solar PV was installed to over 100,000 sites.

The advancements in technology, and better understanding have improved safety standards in solar PV installation and maintenance. In the early stages of the FiT programme, the technology was new and government guidelines weren’t as comprehensive. This however has led to further investigation into PV systems and potential hazards.

The PV itself is not believed to have a higher risk factor than any other electrical supply should it become faulty, however ensuring the isolation of the system is very important.

PV systems generate direct current (‘DC’), compared to standard mains electricity which uses alternating current (‘AC’) which is safer to the human body should it hazardously encounter a live stream. In addition the PV generated current cannot be switched off in isolated parts of the system therefore is more dangerous if not being attended to by an expert, qualified engineer. DC currently do not interact with fuses in the same way as AC therefore a standard fuse will not work as an effective safety mechanism, therefore it is important to understand this during installation and integration to a properties electric supply.

Although reported fires involving solar PV are incredibly rare there have been incidents mainly due to poor insulation and unspecified or faulty equipment. There is also an increased risk should a fire breakout, even when not caused by the PV, that if a circuit is not correctly isolated and doesn’t run to a main, specifically labelled, shut-off switch, fire services may not be able to sufficiently shut-off the electrics. If the fire services are unable to shut down the electricity to a property it is then not safe for them to enter or treat the fire.

To ensure fire safety solar PV systems fitted pre-2012 should be surveyed based on the MCS Standards published by The Microgeneration Certification Scheme.

Environmentally and Economically Friendly

Not only is investing in clean energy contributing towards reduction in climate change, and a stable long-term investment but it now appears is benefiting the economy. A study by the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) shows that renewable energies create up to ten times more jobs per unit of electricity produced than that of fossil fuels.

The study, published 5th November 2014, looked at the impact on employment through renewable energy and energy efficiency policies. The data, compiled from fifty studies across Europe, USA and China, showed that solar electricity creates between 0.4 – 1.1 jobs per GWh generated. Comparatively fossil fuels accounted for between 0.1 – 0.2 for same amount of power generated. Wind power creates between 0.05-0.5 jobs, and energy efficient policies accounting for between 0.3 and one job per GWh saved.

From these results it is estimated that renewable energy production creates up to one job more than fossil fuels per GWh produced, with solar electricity at the helm.

Gambling with your investment returns?

Investments in FiT related investment schemes are generally regarded as low risk and long-term to offer a healthy return. Although investors are unlikely to lose money, as these are stable Government backed schemes, the return on investment could be at risk. To comply with due diligence on an investor’s attitude to risk, as set out by the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority), advisers should direct clients to invest accordingly – but what if the investment assets are not cared for sufficiently. This could result in lost revenue, and high repair costs, having a direct impact on the investor return.

Although these low risk investments are unlikely to leave investors high and dry, there are implications that they could have significantly lower returns than originally promoted if the performance and maintenance isn’t properly managed. The predicted yield is based on pyranometer systems, providing theoretical data from static ‘perfect’ sites stationed around the UK. This leaves a broad parameter for monitoring performance against, to allow for variances in positioning based on location, orientation and pitch.

Most monitoring systems compare readings on solar panel yield against data from the pyranometer systems. But do you know how well your solar PV system is actually performing? The wide parameters for accepted energy production means that your panels could be under performing against predicted yield and their potential. Panels could be damaged or have restricted light flowing to them which is not immediately obvious from this type of remote monitoring.

Not only will you be losing money during any down time of the panels, the cumulative effect of under-performance will mean a long-term shortfall in FiT return.

To ensure that you’re PV assets are performing to the maximum yield possible and continue to do so, it is important to have a monitoring and maintenance programme in place to manage assets. This should include an advanced monitoring system as well as preventative maintenance and care. Ecovision’s Asset Management services offer licensing to industry leading cloud-based monitoring platform EAMS that benchmarks performance against actual installed rooftop PV within a localised area. In addition our maintenance and warranty service means we will ensure your PV assets are properly maintained, and will respond to any under-performances flagged through monitoring.

Move your solar panels, preserve your tariff

Businesses that have previously installed solar PV to their trading premises, under current legislation, would lose their Feed-in-Tariff rate should they have to move premises and wish to take the solar panels with them.

From Summer 2019, landlords and tenants that have installed PV on the FiT scheme, and cannot guarantee long-term ownership or lease, will be able to take the solar PV with them without penalty to their existing tariff.

Many businesses currently in these positions are simply removing the panels and putting them into storage, as the cost to reinstall is higher than the returns from the tariff available now. This in turn is having a negative impact on solar rooftop installations – instead of encouraging businesses to invest in renewable energy it means a reduction in installations.

The announcement by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is encouraging, and shows a commitment to increase installations of rooftop solar PV in the UK. The figures provided by DECC demonstrate a huge potential to develop this form of energy production, with circa 250,000 hectares of south facing commercial rooftop space in the UK.

The new legislation, will allow transfers to be made after a period of four years, following the legislation coming into effect. After this time transfers can be made any time during the FiT contract period, and installations will not be required to remain the same size. There are also further changes being made in regulations relating to roof-mounted solar PV on the FiT scheme meaning that a PV installed property will be required to use at least ten percent of the electricity generated.

Source: gov.uk | Announcements: Move your solar panels and keep your tariff 20 March 2015