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Feed-in tariff changes put new shine on solar panels

Changes in feed-in tariffs for power from solar photovoltaic panels could give the industry a shot in the arm as they end problems over built-in and self-use systems.

New Commission de Régul­ation de l’Energie buy-back tariffs for total production (where the house owner does not use the power for their own use) is ending a restriction where the tariff for built-in units was higher than that for those laid on top of the roof.

Built-on systems of under 3kW peak output will be paid 18.7 centimes/kWh (a significant rise from 5.6) while same-sized built-in systems (called IAB for Intégration Au Bâti) will be paid the same plus a reducing 4.5 centimes/kWh bonus that will fall to zero in late 2018.

Under ‘feed-in tariffs’, EDF contracts to buy the power over 20 years and the new tariffs apply to all systems, including those already working.

Rather than selling all their power to EDF, owners can also use it themselves – known as autoconsommation­ – and sell the surplus to EDF being paid 10 centimes/kWh (up from the 5.6 centimes previously).

Owners who do not sell any power to EDF – they self-use it – will be paid an investment bonus prime for doing so. Paid over five years, it will give €400 for a 3kW system up to €100 for a system of 36-100kW.

The new self-use tariff should encourage property owners to fit a system properly sized for their own needs and end over- spending on too-large systems.

A 3kW peak output system will cost about €10,000 and solar panels can be fitted anywhere in France – a recent study for Nantes in the north-east showed solar power could be profitable for nine out of 10 homes there, despite it not being France’s sunniest city.

Elsewhere, Brest averages 3.22 hours a day while a solar panel in Marseille could make use of 4.91 hours of sun a day on average over the year.

If the system is fitted on a well-aligned south-facing roof the majority of systems fitted can pay back their cost within 12 years through the buy-back tariff with EDF and will have a lifespan of up to 30 years.

Lindsey Elliott of Charente company EcoPower Europe said self-use systems were ideal for people with high summer usage and equipment such as swimming pools to heat.

Ending the IAB restriction will also cut costs as these units are more complex, dearer to fit and not as efficient.

Mrs Elliott said the tariffs “could only be positive” but felt they could also lead to a rise in frauds and salespeople brow- beating owners to take loans.

“It gives people extra choice but the system they buy must be the one that is best for them. That is one reason we like self-use systems as we can make it what an owner needs, depen­ding on site and usage.”

David Callegari, chief of In Sun We Trust, said: “This is good for homeowners. It has created two equally attractive options for going solar.

“The feed-in tariff is still a great solution for those who seek a secure and profitable green investment, making the most of their rooftop’s potential. Self-consumption is also emerging as a solid alternative, with smaller installations requiring less budget and paperwork, and the added benefit of a government subsidy.

“It makes particular sense for homeowners wishing to come off the grid – a tendency that will only grow, as electricity costs rise and storage batteries become cheaper.

“That said, self-consumption is a fertile ground for scams of all sorts. Consumers should be wary of solar companies touting more than 30% in electricity bill reduction – especially if it’s done door-to-door.”

At Dualsun, a Marseille firm that builds and installs its own panels (it has designed a hybrid photovoltaic and hotwater panel), they said it would encourage properly-sized systems based on real needs, while the end of the IAB restriction could cut costs and ease fitting, especially for water-tightness.

From October 1 systems must be installed by a qualified RGE technician to benefit from the new feed-in tariff, which is common for all work receiving green grants or price benefits.

Owners may need to submit a Déclaration Préalable to their mairie for the work – and may be refused in historic areas.

They should also ensure quotes cover costs of scaffolding etc and ask about maintenance.

Tiled roofs could be new powerhouse

Residents in historic towns and villages who have been refused permission to fit solar panels on their tile, slate or laves (stone tiles) roofs may in future be able to do so with a new design that overlays an invisible film of photovoltaic cells on the traditional material.

Called Invisible Solar, it is aimed to fill a large gap in the market across Europe where traditional roofs give many villages, towns and cities their charm and distinctive appearance.

Although still being developed to allow full commercialisation, the Invisible Solar roofing lays solar cells into a polymer that mimics the roofing style and blends into the colour and shape of materials ranging from terracotta to concrete and wood.

It has long been said that France could cover its entire annual electricity needs if half of its roofs were covered in solar panels and, although not accurate (at least half the roofs will be facing in the wrong direction, ie north), such a new roofing material with integrated solar panels could transform householders’ ability to support the green energy revolution and encourage environmental change.

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo believes so and tweeted that the Invisible Solar roof could boost renewable energy in historic towns like Paris – especially so in the capital where the city council has backed a move for Unesco world heritage recognition for its emblematic grey zinc roofs.

Made by Italian company Dyaqua, known for its Medea LED lamps incorporated into stone surfaces such as walls or steps, the Invisible Solar panels use a recycled plastic polymer that is opaque to view but transparent to light and tinted to mimic the traditional roofing tile.

This is laid on top of a traditional tile for support and is installed in the same way as a clay tile, blending with the roof.

Tiles produce 4.5W peak output with a 15m2 surface or 223 tiles needed for 1kW, half that of a solar panel. They cost about €7/watt against €1 or €2 for solar panels.

Hand made and expensive, they are time-consuming to make and the firm is raising funds to develop new production methods to cut costs to near traditional materials.

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