PV or not PV – that’s the question – part 2
Recent discussions with friends - about their (recent or imminent) decision - PV or not PV - have prompted me to raise some big issues that others don’t seem to be mentioning yet - about the choice to go for a PV solar roof. Or not.
“It’s OK to Eco the Rich”
The Feed In Tariff ‘grant’ for PV panels can justifiably be criticised for being regressive - benefitting the rich more than the poor.
But the FiT grant is quite a different animal to the incentives that UK government has tried in the past. More ‘ISA with a tax break for Julian’ than ‘Nectar points for Jason’.
The grant appeals to the ‘upwardly mobile’ (do they still use that phrase?). It’s attractive to private homeowners. It lures the ‘wealthy.’ It interests the ‘better off’. All of which do not necessarily make it a bad thing – in the greater scheme of things? We have to engage people with money - into this “planet saving” business - at some point?
A lot of previous government ‘help’ (and it’s sometimes stretching a point to call it that) has historically been targeted at, or has appealed to, those on low incomes:-
So is this ‘energy efficiency’ stuff really just for the hard-up? And not for me?
The overall effect of a decade of this approach - on us all – may be that the public have got the general idea that this ‘energy efficiency’ this is something ‘worthy but dull’ - for the poor, frugal and needy –but irrelevant to the lives of ‘the rich and greedy’
This is entirely the wrong message. It makes energy efficiency seem down market.
Eco the rich. Profit for the posh and privileged?
What if ‘energy efficiency’ was instead seen as something a bit posh and privileged? Aspirational. Keeping up with the Greens’es. (Incidentally these ‘eco the rich’ ideas pre-date the new Tory govt by 15 years or more. It’s definitely not a stealth wealth redistribution Tory smoke and mirrors thing.) There is science behind it: market innovation and transformation.
I am not rich. But compared to some I guess I am very fortunate. So some of my own experience and thinking may be of relevance to others like me:
Here are some of the reasons why we actually went for PV:
1) It wasn’t really an economic decision for me.
It was a logical decision, sure, and a sane one I hope, time will tell. But quite a bit of emotion crept into the decision at crunch time. I’m not going to pontificate about future generations, (not this time!) although concern for the children is probably the ‘highest’ reason anyone can have for taking urgent action to cut their personal carbon legacy. This was ‘up there’ for me and a valid reason.
But the other emotional angle, for me, was, I confess, much ‘lower’ more base - and bass! It was a bit like the ‘poop poop’ of Toad of Toad Hall when he spots something new (again) that he wants. I wanted a PV roof for reasons of excitement, style, fashion statement, boys and their toys, shiny green-tech, eco, ego, esteem, (keeping up with the Green’es) to be in the vanguard, and kerb appeal. In this case curb-ing carbon too.
2) Marketing Budget – proudly flying the PV flag
I don’t have a marketing budget, I run a small ‘man wife and dog’ business from home, call myself ‘the carbon coach’, and thrive on word of mouth. If I did, it wouldn’t be much money. But blowing five years worth of marketing budget on PV panels for my roof would probably be 10 times better than any advertising hoarding could ever be.
I’d like to think the PV solar ‘hoarding’ is saying something like: “I walk my talk. I happily authentically cut my own carbon and costs here. And I can help you do same.”
3) Residual Value
People like to rave about the economics of PV by comparing it with an ISA – one with an ROI of 7, 8, 9 or even 10%! E.g. “If you have £7k in an ISA you are much better off putting it on your roof” some say - (including me!)
But of course it isn’t an ISA! No it’s some PV panels firmly bolted onto the roof of your home and hard-wired into your home’s electricity panels and meters.
No one really seems to be talking about the residual value of a PV installation.
You can’t take it with you!
The way the FiT is legislated, the rights to the FiT grant stay with the title deeds.
You move - you lose.
You can unbolt your panels, but you won’t get the Feed in Tariff grant back. So chances are you are better off leaving it behind… for the next owner… Unless they don’t want it.
Common sense tells me that anyone looking to buy my house will most likely be attracted by the low bills, the overall green / energy efficiency ‘statement’, the impressive energy efficiency ‘label’, and the prospect of >20 years ongoing decent FiT income - instead of electricity bills!
So I don’t expect a future buyer to say they don’t buy (want) the PV bit (i.e. they want it stripped off the roof before contracts are exchanged.) But they could. If they did, I’d be left with a few £1000 worth of (second hand) PV kit - that I paid ten grand for. Not good.
With a Cash ISA you get your cash nest egg back at the end, as well as all the ROI over the years. With a PV roof the biggest single variable, surely, is how much the PV roof adds to the house price. Is this zero, or negative, equity, or more than it cost?
If prospective buyers like the whole package – and emotionally want my house above other similar homes on the market at the time - my guess is that having the PV roof will at the very least ‘ease’ the sale – i.e. make it happen - in the same way that dropping the price £5k would. If they love the house, Uncle-Tom-PV and all, then it’s not beyond the realms of fantasy and wishful thinking for them to be willing to pay a chunk over the market rate for it. i.e. At least £10k more (which is the sum I paid for the PV.)
To illustrate this, imagine a celebrity choosing between two mansions, both originally worth the same, at £10 million, but one of which has just had a PV solar roof fitted. I suspect they might pay £10 million plus 1% (£100k) for the one with solar – if they badly want it. I KNOW this is totally un-substantiable – I know! But what if it’s true?
IF it’s true then a quality attractive and well designed PV installation costing £10k, on top of a big home, might add an illogical £10k - £20k - £50k even - to the house price?
Lower down the ladder, it is also a situation of “no one knows yet!”
But whether a PV roof is seen as an attractive extra feature or not – in future - will surely be the key factor in whether PV takes off.
The time may come of course when not having PV may be seen as a reason to mark down the offer price of a property – like not having an inside toilet!
4) Globally speaking
PV panels are open, transparent, risk free and locally autonomous. The more they generate, the more they don’t pollute. In total contrast to old fashioned fossil or nuclear power – the more they generate, the more they pollute - and the higher the bill, until eventually they ‘cost us they earth’. So PVs feel like they are doing the right thing.
Each PV panel ever made has effectively got a negative legacy footprint on the world – and is ‘carbon quids-in’ - providing it is given a nice roof to sit on, and a nice home to power for life. The technology is ecologically restorative, when it displaces dirtier generation. The more PV we use, the more CO2 we avoid putting into the atmosphere overall. In this sense planting PV panels on your roof is almost as good as planting a tree!
Put your money where your roof is
It’s possible my kids will benefit more from the legacy of millions of solar panels than they ever will from the legacy of £1000’s in my will.
Is PV making my WILL POWER-ful?
Globally, there need be no shortage of will power, as Al Gore pointed out.
6) Wealth and Safety
It was a rush for (black) gold (greed) that helped get us into this planetary mess.
For a long time some ‘greens’ have sometimes ignored the wealthy, and either regarded them as inevitably ‘part of the problem’ or just ignored them. (Until they wanted a benefactor that is of course.)
But we will not change the world by ignoring the wealthy!
Neither is it the case that the wealthy are ignoring the problem, nor their responsibilities any longer, if indeed they ever did? They are realising that they are in a unique position to give, to leave a legacy. To make things happen. I welcome this.
No number of pure ethical greens can save the world* - without engaging wealth. (*not peacefully at least.) If it requires money to do things that reduce emissions, then people who are currently wealthy are part of the solution. “Where will the money come from? Where it is now!” (As Gandhi once observed.)
Where better than <Marlow> (or insert <YourTown>) in 2010, to start a people power revolution that will help heal the world.
Don’t think of it so much as PV. Think of it as a small symbolic gesture of leadership.
“I will, even if you won’t.” “I’ll clean this planet up, starting with me, even if others won’t.” “The infinite power of a seemingly futile gesture.”
Care to take the PV plunge? The water is lovely. You will not regret it.