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Writing to length

“Do me 450 words on Solar PV, please.” That was the editor of a local county magazine. So that’s what she got: not 449, not 451, but 450 words. On Solar PV.

Go to any high point in Sussex on a bright sunny day, look north, and you’ll see the flash of reflected sunlight from Solar PV rooftop arrays on farmhouses and in towns and villages across the countryside. Since the government established its earn-as-you-generate scheme in April last year, Solar PV installations have increased month on month, as we discover our green credentials.

So what is Solar PV, and how is it different from traditional solar heating panels?

“Solar panels” have been around for several years now, boosting our hot water and central heating systems. Mounted on a south-facing roof to catch the heat of the sun, they typically provide sufficient hot water for showers or a bath during the summer, and raise the temperature in our storage cylinders by several degrees in the winter. “Solar PV” panels (“PV” is short for photovoltaic), on the other hand, are similar to the panels that power pocket calculators or pathway lights in the garden, only on a much bigger scale. Sunlight (rather than heat) is converted to electricity and fed to a box in the meter cupboard. From there it is used either by lights or by household appliances, or it is fed into the National Grid. Both solar panels and Solar PV use the sun’s energy, free of charge, and so both help us contribute towards the drive to reduce our reliance upon fossil fuels.

Solar PV, however, earns its keep. Every unit of electricity generated by the panels qualifies for a pay-back from the government: for panels installed on existing private houses, this stands at 43.5 pence for every unit; and every unit not used by you and fed into the grid earns an extra 3 pence; you’re buying less electricity from your power supplier too, so your bills are less. What’s more, these figures are index-linked and guaranteed for 25 years.

I spoke to John and Christine Wilson, who live in a small village just outside of Lewes. Their array of 12 Solar PV panels was fitted last summer.

“We’ve always done our bit,” said Christine, “recycling and composting, but we couldn’t really see a way to be ‘greener’. Then the people from Ovesco [a local energy-saving campaign group] gave a talk in the village, and we realised that Solar PV was something we could do. Since our panels were fitted, there’s only been one day – when the roof was covered in snow – that we had a zero reading on the meter.” “There was brilliant sunshine that day, too,” said John. “But over the year we’ve earned about £850, and our electricity bills have fallen by about 10 per cent.”

“It’s definitely been a good move for us,” said Christine.

Ovesco can be contacted at http://www.ovesco.co.uk

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