Solar panels, also known as photovoltaic panels, harness the energy from sunlight and convert it into electricity. Comprising interconnected solar cells made of semiconductor materials like silicon, they generate renewable and clean energy without emitting greenhouse gases.
But in terms of getting your money back, that was always the question, wasn't it? What are the economics like on that now?
And so now, I mean, you're talking probably less than ten years on a on a on a house. But, you know, for goods commercial roof top where you can get to use all the electricity, maybe in a factory or something. You could be sold as little as 3 to 5 years to get your money back and then last for 25 years.
And so, you know, okay, can that lifetime make it to produce significantly more than you paid for?
Hello and welcome to Rethink What Matters, The podcast dedicated to aligning the economy with the ecology and everyone for improved business performance, stronger families and a greener, cooler planet. And today, I'm joined by Paul Hutchens, CEO of Eco2Solar Limited. We're going to be discussing solar panels. And so if you could tell us a little bit more about Eco2solar, then please, for.
Eco2Solar or an installer of solar panels and associated technologies. And we work on newbuild properties across the whole of mainland UK that last year, for example, to give a bit of context, we installed solar once for over 8000 properties.
Okay. And what was your journey into working with solar panels?
I've worked in business for many, many years With many, many. IT and software companies, for example, lots of sales and marketing and international experience and following a small business that I launched myself back in the early 2000s, which I sold, not very much I decided I needed to do something a bit more interesting and something that kind of fuels passion, which is strong away, but certainly something I believed in and thought was worthwhile plus would capture you know, a new trend will be a good thing to do and etc..
Energy came up, went out and researched it. And long story short, after talking to a number of people and looking at multiple websites, reading lots of papers, and I launched the company in 2007.
Now are there different types of solar panels?
The difference is kind of merged over the years really, and I've become a little bit less transparencies. The technology's improved, but as a result of that, some were a little bit more efficient than others and then would generally be reflected in the price PV panels, the price per watt, not the panel. So if you're getting a more efficient panel, you generally find you pay a little bit more per watt for that panel.
What would you say to the 80/20 percent of solar panels that are installed, say, last year? What sort of type would they be?
It seems the solar panels is always a sweet spot and that's that varies over time. It was it was 200 watts for a while and see 50 currently is probably about 400 to 450 watts If you want stuff that's much bigger than that, you'll tend to pay a premium for it.
And do we know the carbon footprint of the solar panel?
The carbon footprint of a subset of panel can vary quite significantly on the basis it is quite carbon intensive, or rather it's energy intensive to make them so. But a lot of the companies that manufacture solar panels in the Far East generally are investing in renewable technologies to provide the energy. So many of them have got lots and lots and lots.
I mean, many, many tens of thousands of solar panels on the roof to brought the energy to produce a set of policies like set apart. So if you like. So as a result and I did a bit of research on this to see what was what was the latest figures on this. But generally speaking, the carbon payback, if you like, on a set of values between one and four years, depending on how they've been produced.
So bear in mind they last for 25, 30 years. You know, they pay for themselves from a carbon perspective many times over during their lifetime.
And I'm just curious, actually, are solar panels powered? They have a power input to them.
So solar panels are completely self power generating from the sun. So the photovoltaic effect which comes from the cells, sends a radiant energy. He fires up the whole system, the solar PV panels that require any energy at all to run them.
So what's the difference between solar thermal heating and solar panels?
They're very different. I mean, solar panels or solar photovoltaic PV panels, as they are technically known, produce electricity, solar thermal heating panels produced heating. They are very, very different in terms of that in the kind of physics and make up. So it's a solar thermal panel. It's basically a heat. A heat accepting object is basically a dark colored material, which is a conductor which creates heat from the sun and then gets transmitted and finally some kind of fluid to hot water system or a heating system or something where solar PV panels are actually relying on two layers of silicon, which creates what's called the photovoltaic effect.
And what that does is the difference being the positive and negative creates a flow of electrons, which then can be used to power things. So effectively it produces DC power, which can be inverted via inverter to AC power that can be used in any grouping.
What are the challenges installing solar panels of a or they significant? Or is it very becoming quite straightforward now to install these solar panels?
The solar panels themselves are actually relatively easy to install in some ways when you know what you're doing, you've got solar panels sitting on a roof, for example. You've got some cables to an inverter that inverts the DC to the AC via some switches and things and these to get a cable to your to your meter on your consumer board, which produces electricity.
And so theoretically speaking they are spend straightforward. So the the the difficulties around it really are around the regulation of it. So obviously it's the electrical things. You've got to make sure it doesn't it's got to be in line with the regulations to make sure it doesn't catch fire, it doesn't do anything. It shouldn't be. And also it's fastened to the roof.
So, you know, if it flies off the roof and hit somebody, it wouldn't be very pleasant. See this regulation around that as well. So, you know, there's quite a bit of regulation around doing it properly.
Gotcha. So what is the situation with incentives and grants and solar panels? Are there any still?
There are not many, and it's already full for commercial or nonresidential other these or local schemes that might be available from one local authority, for example, a specific grant scheme for homes. There's a thing called a smart export guarantee, which means that your energy supply will offer to pay you an amount of money per kilowatt hour that you export to them and then install an ISA.
So it reaches it and they'll they'll send you some money once a quarter based on it and it will vary depending on the supply you choose. Some are better than others, rightly or wrongly.
Okay, but does everybody have that facility? If they want to have it, then to be able to feed energy into the grid and get paid for it?
Yes. Residential customers. Yes. So speaking to the feed in tariffs, finished the grant scheme, finished back in March 2010, 2019. Sorry. And since then the Smart Export Guarantee system been in place.
And in terms of getting your money back, that was always in question, wasn't it? But what's the what are the economics like on that now?
And so now, I mean, you're talking probably less than ten years on a on a on a house and a for goods commercial rooftop. You could be totally where you can get to use all the electricity, maybe in a factory or something. You could be sold in as little as 3 to 5 years to get your money back and then last for 25 years.
So so, you know, over their lifetime, they're going to produce significantly more than you paid for.
What are they like? How do they degrade? Do they degrade over time significantly or not really?
They degrade over time and they have fairly long guarantees on them in terms of the performance. So so a solar panel generally is is it has a performance warranty for about 25 years on average. So they vary by module manufacturer, but generally speaking, they would they would guarantee that at the end of 25 years you have between 80 and 85% of what it was to start with.
So if it is a 100 watts, for example, you'd expect it to be 80 or 85 off the 25 years.
Sounds good to me. I'll be happy with that. I think it's.
Right, obviously. Yes. Very reliable technology to be fed. Kind of does what it says on the tin. And we can predict with some accuracy what you'll get from it is not on a daily basis, of course, because the sun shines when it wants to. And yet every year we can we can reasonably accurately predict what you're going to get.
Okay. But are you finding that you're installing the combined solutions more and more now with batteries and heat pumps?
Yeah, absolutely. Yes, it depends. That depends what market you're in. So, for example, if you're in a conversion point where installing for a factory, for example, the expectation then would be they'd use all the electricity. So there's no point in the battery. And if you're installing for, say, a residential, what we call retrofit, so you're storing in some home probably 50% of those.
Now anecdotally, you get batteries, much less in you, Bill, because it's the regulation doesn't dictate it at the moment, but it probably will for the next set. Building regulations that is new set just coming to force. There's another set coming in a couple of years now, probably probably because we haven't seen the details yet, require or expect batteries.
So this legislation at the moment, the new bills have to have solar panels or is that is there something?
There is, yes. So it will be the case is it's not directly the case. In other words, there's nothing in the legislation that says or regulates that you have to have a set of panels. But the most advantageous way of achieving the the relevant regulatory requirements under the standard assessment protocol concept generally for 80% of homes is best to put something like solar panels to some of the base of bulbs as well.
And. Whereas it doesn't specify in the next set of regulation, it's going to be even more significant. Nothing but the new regulations that can place force now in England, they're already in force in Scotland, we would expect to probably 80% of new properties from, let's say, the end of this year will have solar on them.
Okay, then he cleaning because I'm thinking you look at the roof doesn't look clean does it, after ten years.
What about just anything that they they do and they don't in the sense that they are designed to be self-cleaning. So providing on the pitch and the rain and any water that hits them will, will and will clean most of the debris off and you will get an incremental benefit maybe every few years to getting somebody to get up there and clean it.
But it's unlikely to be enough to be worthwhile paying somebody to do it. So so if you've got a big commercial roof, for example, or you've got fields of them where it's worth getting somebody to do it, and then yes, if you've got a normal residential house with, say, ten or 15 panels on that, it wouldn't be worth erecting scaffolding and stuff again.
So we have less to do it and more costs and depends whether you're going to get benefit of you sort tens of pounds if you alongside that. So there is some benefit is relatively small.
What about the manufacturing of the making of these solar panels and the materials that they use? Is there anything in there that we, you know, we're going to run out of? I mean, minerals is obviously I think there's silicon in there. Is there is there anything else that we need to be thinking about?
Yeah. I mean, the basis of what they're made is silicon, which is ultimately comes from a sense of material which is mined and best glass in it, which obviously comes from a different but similar kind of source. And the rest of it really is a bit of copper and some aluminum to make the frames.
Yeah, yeah. And I heard not so long ago that solar panels can get too as they get as the heat up to become less efficient.
Way to export tend to be small but they are there is a linear curve on this basically the cooling and keep the solar panels the more efficient they are. And so actually if you get a sunny day at -40 in the Antarctic, they work really, really well. And if you put them in in the desert, they work well in the sense there's a lot of irradiation, but they will lose some efficiency because it's very hot.
And so yeah, it's an either way around is not, not, not prohibitive. In other words, you know, they don't need to be terribly cold. But on the other hand, you know, if it does get very, very hot, says one of the reasons why having them in the desert isn't necessarily that much better than having them in a reasonably warm country that has sunshine.
And then when they after 25 years, we need to throw them away. What happens to them at the moment? You know, once they arrive, do they get recycled? Can they be.
Yes, they can be recycled. There is there is a scheme for recycling. And we just sent some broken panels and we are solar panels and we don't we don't break many panels. It might be one a week or something on a scaffold or something, whether it be dropped or whatever, and then what it shouldn't be and but they might appropriate it some.
So we sent those off for recycling. We have to pay for that. Right. And they got to be recycled properly. But, you know, it's not a big issue at the moment because, you know, people didn't start installing solar panels in any quantity till about probably 12, 13 years ago. So bear in mind they last for 25 years or so. There will be a bigger requirement for recycling them, probably from about the middle of the 2020s onwards.
Right. We came back and what's happening with solar panels and where where's the technology going? Is it evolving very quickly or is it sort of it's a bit of a hit, a bit of a bottleneck at the moment. Is there something new that needs to happen to keep the technology moving forward?
It's constantly it's constantly evolving and there's there's new types of panels that have become subtler, I suppose. And since, you know, they put the contacts in the back space instead of the front, these slightly different technologies for sort of bonding the cells and different ways of doing things. They've got some, for example, that they call Bifacial products, which basically will give this some irradiance stability, some some some absorption ability on the back.
So effectively what you do is you just saw it on a on a roof where it's not obviously actually against the roof. So anything that reflecting up from the from the roof would be able to be absorbed in the form of electricity. And so working on that and they're also working on combining different technologies as well to make things generally more efficient.
So there's there's a lot of work going on around the different technologies to take things forward. But it is I have to say, it's quite incrementalist. It's not it's not 30% a year or anything like that. It's it's small amounts every year, but currently getting better all the time. And obviously, generally speaking, apart from the recent issues of inflation, generally speaking, the price of these things will come down.
And Tesla's got the solar roof. Some haven't. They look like roofs.
Yeah, I've I've got my hands on this in terms of personal views which are no disrespect to anybody or even to my own company, we don't install them and they're not actually technically available in the UK and they are, they're quite expensive. And because they haven't produced volume with them yet. So whilst it's a great idea, it's really not cost effective and certainly not cost effective to be available in the UK at the moment.
And so titles have been around for a long time, 14 or 15 years or so, never really taken off because of the additional cost.
So they're sort of tiles, okay. Right. Yeah, yeah, yeah. You build your roof out of these so the tiles and a and all that.
Obviously we install mostly in roof solar panels so they look like they're slightly larger Velux window.
Okay. So they're actually in the roof so they, they don't stick above the roof and that they're very dark, they're all black with cool this, everything's black. So against a black tiled tiling system, you wouldn't see it quite very much from a distance.
Right. How dependent are they on the direction that they face for their efficiency?
Not it's not as much as you'd think. And so the two things that people talk about is the direction they face to the face and what the what's the pitch and the you know, the pitch fits anywhere between, you know, sort of ten work and certainly between 20 and 45 degrees. It's not really much different. And if they're facing south, that's best.
But if you face them southwest or southeast, you probably need maybe 5% efficiency and even east and west, you're talking 80, 85.
And so what about people that have got existing properties or the consideration is for people who want to retrofit?
Yeah, it's generally possible. And there are guidelines now for. So we've done a lot of residential retrofits over the years. We just don't do them anymore. And but you would need a survey of the roof. So we need to have come and have a look at it. But most most modern roofs are okay. solar panels on the snow loading would be sufficient of that.
You can generally if you if you're worried, you can get structural engineers, have a look at it. And if it's if it's an unusual roof, in some ways it is a very old roof, for example, to not in good condition. It would be worth getting a structural report. But yeah, I would say probably for a large proportion of British roofs, as you know, there have been solar panels on.
What's your biggest frustration, do you think, then? I mean, the.
Biggest frustration is people not not understand the weather, not appreciating the value enough to say, well, I'm going to spend some money on it. I mean, solar is very, very, very popular in the UK, has about 80% approval rating. So when you ask people, do you like solar or not? Like so 80% of people say they do, and which is the highest of all of the renewable technologies, Obviously much, much higher than any fossil fuels.
But when it comes down to it, very often people are vociferous enough in terms of either wanting to pay the money to put it on their own roof or even when they're moving it to a new build home to say, yeah, my neighbors have got solar panels, or my friend bought a new build property of why have I not got them?
People are still happy that if they can buy a three bedroom house in the area that they want for the price they want, they'll go with it when it's got the solar on it or not. And I think people should be a bit more demanding.
All their solar panels used in a community way where they're installed, you know, at a park somewhere and everybody taps into. Is that possible?
Yeah, I see them as there's quite a lot of things around like that. There's this this a publicly funded schemes where you have that kind of thing or maybe it sits on a in a, on a village hall, for example. It provides sport central, so it provides energy for people generally to use. And there's also been schemes where, you know, maybe a whole host of properties have been given the opportunity to have solar and maybe a reduced rate because it's economies of scale, lots of stuff happening.
And there's also companies, community benefit societies, for example, that will raise money by shares to install solar panels onto village homes, hospitals, leisure centers, whatever, and they will then sell the energy at a reduced rate to the incumbents and get a return back.
Right. Okay. That's good to me. I think I heard Musk say once that, you know, if you had about whatever it was, ten football fields of probably 100 football fields of solar panels, that would be enough to power the entire world. You can if you could.
Absolutely. I mean, it is a very small there's a map you can follow on the Internet where there's a very small part of the Sahara Desert. You covered that with solar panels. That would be enough for me to use anecdotally every single minute of every single day. 5000 times as much energy as we need. And every minute it's the earth in the form of solar energy.
Right. And so there's a lot of it. If you've got them, if you concentrate in one place because you've got a distribution problem. Right. You know, it's a bit like water is now there's enough water to go round. Yes. People are flooding in Scotland in the past in North Africa or something is moving around is not a small consideration.
So if you want to move lots of energy around from that concentrated area, that would be the constraint on the cost.
So we're going to come down to storage at end of the day, isn't it? How how effectively we can develop that?
Yes, it's in storage and small. So it comes down to if you can if you can generate the energy from the sun, you can store it. You can also send it where it needs to be at the right time. So, as I say, know, if I'm able to start to generate energy, but I don't need it. My neighbor can use it or the school can use it or a local factory can use it.
You know that that's much, much better. So if you if you if you're able to use energy intelligently as opposed to everybody, you know, producing energy at midday and then coming home 6:00 in the evening, wanted to use it, then when maybe it's in the winter itâ€™s dark, let's let me intelligent way to use energy we need to smooth out well.
When you do your installations is part of what you install some smart switching that switches in the solar panel then switches maybe over to two wind when it's a windy day and it's cloudy.
We no, not directly like that, but we do do some small technology. Yes. And that's becoming more and more prominent, certainly smarter ways of using that. So, for example, you solar with your heat pump and you're in charge of, for example, your immersion heater. And so when this solar available, it uses that energy to go in them, to go charge your car or to pick up your water or something because those are quite, quite popular and that that's those technologies are becoming more ubiquitous now, I think.
And they they will be installed, I think, possibly in the next set of regulations. They'll be a lot of that being sought for build homes.
Okay. And so the biggest objections people have to installing solar panels if we go back to retrofit because I think obviously with new build, it's sort of built into the buildings with retrofit, we are talking price friendly.
Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think that it does need to be over time, I think probably finance models to to make that easier. And there are some things that, you know, some green movies and things you can get. And they are getting cheaper because, you know, the solar panel system, the might cost you 20 grand 15 years ago might not only cost you five, Â£6,000, but it's still a chunk of money people go to find and I think it's more work needs doing on that personally.
So what's your view on things just becoming more local? We need to be more local that we local grates, local heating, local rather than everything being generated by windfarms off the North Sea.
I think there's this there's a two stream thing to that. Yes. Yes. I think we're we're doing both. So there'll be more wind farms and there'll be more set of farms that produce electricity and, you know, a similar model to power stations where you've got a great big facility producing power that then gets sold into the into the grid and people buy it in the normal way.
But I think the for me anyway, the focus should be around microgrid. It's it should be around the home streets, the housing estates, the village town. I'm making energy as local as possible and that's a simple generation as much as you can locally. Story as much as you can locally are moving around locally to to people that need it when they need it, using various smart technologies as well as financial instruments that allow you to sell things to to, to other people, peer to peer arrangements, that kind of thing, and arbitrage to sell back to the grid.
So yes, I think the more we can make it local, the better. And for me personally, I'm not against solar farms, the solar fields. But for me, you know, we should be covering the roofs The solar first, at least while we're doing everything else before.
In terms of monitoring the performance of the solar panels. Is that something you can do?
Yes, it is. I mean, it is true at all levels. And if you've got a utility scale or large commercial win, it's quite important because you can you can get basically invested in an asset. And are you expecting a return of X? And you need to make sure it's this X plus something as opposed to X minus. That's that's very important.
And with regards to the homes, most systems now will have some kind of monitoring device on them. And so you can monitor I mean, I've got, as you probably expect, being a bit of a geek anyway, I've got about three or four up somewhat more. This is one for my car charges, one for my a, T for myself, because I see different system.
Let's see, different buildings, one for the heat pump and and I see this, this and one from a battery as well. I've got a battery. So you know and all of that kind of linked together. To what extent or another to the extent that you realize actually interoperability for these things is potentially an issue. So so actually for example, I could charge my car using solar, using my my app, the controls, my solar panels at the controls, my, my battery, all my app, the controls, the charges that you've got to make.
Yes. It's not the ideal installation in your view then. Yeah. It depends on depends on what you looking to achieve. I'm going to say solar is probably a bit biased, but I'll be working for this, working with it for years now, and I know that soon has really built over the last 25 years and it kind of does what it says on the tin.
We know what it's going to give you over that period of time and they give you very little trouble. And so solar is a bit of a no brainer in some senses. I think in terms of these technologies anyway. And if you charge us a very popular with people now because obviously a lot of people want to drive electric vehicles.
That really is quite a driver. Very simply, people getting solar. I've got an easy I'm going to forget your vehicle, my drive under your TV charger for that actually, because my electricity bill is going to go up in this case and solar. And so those those are kind of givens. Batteries are also very popular as well. So 40 50% of residential retrofits get batteries.
I think this is as much emotional decision as anything else. People want to feel that they're able to use all that energy and not sell it to the grid. They want to feel that they're more independent, if you like, off the grid, which I think is important, and the payback on those and the returns are getting much, much better.
And things like heat pumps, for example, are really dependent upon the site and type of building for best from well-insulated houses, for example, then to do with very old houses. But again, great technology of a heat pump here. And you have heat pumps in my house for the last 12 years or so, and they're very reliable and produce great heat and they're very cost effective.
So I'm a fan of all of those things.
Thanks very much for spending your time with us.
Thank you very much. It's been a pleasure. I've enjoyed it. So thank you for your time.