Friday 1 March 2013

Specifying Solar for New Build Houses

or how solar panels can be the 'pillow chocolate' of the house-building industry

Yes Please
I don' t know who it was that came up with the brainwave that the last thing you want before turning off the lights and going to sleep in a hotel is a chocolate, but they didn't share my dentist's views on oral hygiene.  Despite this the hospitality industry seems to have adopted a standardised procedure that involves a crack-team abseiling into your room while you're out at dinner and depositing unasked for confectionary on your pillow.  How do you know if you're in a top hotel?  The chocolate tastes the same, but the wrapping paper is branded with the hotel logo.

The solarblogger has recently returned from a walking holiday, involving a stay in a few hotels.  One of these stood head and shoulders above the others, and not least for their take on the complimentary chocolate. 

Upon checking into the room, we found a small basket of fruit and a dish of four selection box chocolates waiting for us. This hotel had actually given us a "free gift" we valued - something we might want to eat at a time of our choosing that afternoon or evening.   This is what marketing folk call a “moment of joy” a small touch that has an effect on the customer far beyond its cost.

I can confirm that they tasted as good as they looked.   (The solarblogger does the hard work so you don’t have to).

A Box is for Ticking

Building regulations and local planning requirements are putting energy performance of new homes in the spotlight.  At the same time, forward-thinking housing developers are catching on to the idea that their customers are keen to reduce ballooning energy bills and that solar panels are becoming an attractive feature that adds value to a property.

The question for a developer is whether they wish to delight their customers.

The trick, just like in the example of the chocolates, is giving your customer something that they actually want and value – something they might buy for themselves.

Some developers will struggle to leave behind a mind-set ingrained over many years.  It’s a mind-set that sees energy efficiency measures on homes as just another box to be ticked to meet regulations.  Forward thinking developers have escaped this trap and are seizing the opportunity to give their customer something of real value.

How to Delight your Customers with Solar

The average size of a PV system chosen by people retrofitting their homes is calculated by the Energy Saving Trust to be 3.5kWp, or around 14 panels.

A compliance-led developer will choose to install only the number of solar panels to just scrape over the bar required by regulation.  Solar PV installations of 1, 2 or 3 panels are not uncommon.  No sane person would spend their own money on installing such a small system, which might only deliver 200 kWh per year of energy savings, or 5% of electricity used in the average home.

Here’s my simple three-step plan for a solar system that adds value to a new-build property:

1.  Install at least 1.5kWp (10 sq m) of solar PV per house – a system of meaningful size that would give real value to the customer – delivering about 30% of average electricity use.


2.  Install a solar thermal system (3-4 sq m typically), to deliver 60%-70% of hot water used.  This will normally allow the property to meet regulations, and you’re giving the customer a system they might choose to buy for themselves.  Locate it so as to leave space on the roof for the householder to add a solar PV system later.


3.  Install a solar thermal system as standard, and sell customers buying off plan the option to complete their solar roof with additional PV panels.

Oh, and while you’re at it you might want to give some thought to the impact on the kerb-appeal of the property – see this article: “The Best Looking Solar Panels You’ve Never Seen