Solar PV – is it still worth it?

February 2, 2012

Continuing uncertainty over the Government’s decision to cut the Feed-in Tariff for Solar PV has led to confusion among potential customers,  as well as being pretty disastrous for the trade. Green Energy Net has two excellent articles on this which may help you decide whether it’s still for you and you’ll find them here:

Is Solar PV still worth considering in 2012?

When does Solar PV not make sense?

If you’re still considering installing solar panels on your house, read both of these first – and  in particular, pay attention to the recommendation that before considering any renewable technology, you should first do the easy and cheap stuff – insulation, draught-proofing and taking more care in how you use your heating and hot water system will help keep your bills down with very little effort. In future, it’s likely that adoption of such measures will be mandatory before Feed-in Tariff can be paid, and rightly so. Installing solar panels or a heat pump in a draughty, poorly insulated house makes no sense, either financially or in terms of carbon saving  -  which is, after all, what the Feed-in Tariff is all about.


Is your home a Green Home?

September 30, 2011

Have you just installed a renewable technology at your home? Are you willing to share your experience of the process with others? The Energy Saving Trust has just launched a new initiative called the Green Homes Network,  where any householder thinking of installation can search for homes in their area  who have already installed and who would be willing to allow a visit. At present there are no Green Homes registered on Islay and only one on Jura, and we know there are lots more out there! It’s easy to register – just visit the Green Homes Network page and fill in your details. Personal details do not appear on the site and any prospective visitors must arrange an appointment through the Energy Saving Trust – so there’s no danger of busloads of PV tourists appearing in your garden unannounced!


Renewable Heat Premium launches soon

July 22, 2011

The new Government initiative designed to encourage installation of renewable heating systems in UK homes opens for application on 1st August. The Renewable Heat Premium is a one-off payment which varies depending on the technology chosen. It is a forerunner to the Renewable Heat Incentive, opening in 2012, under which all such installations – including those installed now – will receive annual payments. The jury is out however on whether the payments are high enough to actually encourage new installations or whether they’ll just benefit those who are already able to afford to install . Green Energy Net  goes into this in more detail – worth a look if you’re thinking of renewable heat for your home.


Solar flare….

June 15, 2011

Despite the generally un-summery weather recently it’s good to see that solar PV is flourishing on Islay, with a number of households taking the plunge already this year, and several more installations in the pipeline.  However Islay Energy Trust has received a few enquiries recently from potential customers who have been – rightly – confused by assertions from some installers that grants are still available for installation of domestic renewables.  This is not the case – government grants for renewables were phased out when the Feed-in Tariff was brought in, and there are currently no plans to re-introduce them. One firm who were contacted explained that they just haven’t got round to updating their website (it’s been almost a year…)  and, when pressed on why their salesman had given assurances on grants, claimed that he actually meant the Feed-in Tariff, which is NOT the same thing.

Confusion has also arisen over recent newspaper adverts offering ‘grants’, seemingly available to all and, untypically, with no upper limit. When questioned, this organisation claimed that the grants –a third of the total cost, with no maximum – were coming from ‘private sector funding within the industry’, and all I had to do to benefit was give my details, which they would pass onto a number of firms for quotes. The likely scenario here is that the organisation is being paid for referrals; certainly the person on the helpline did not take kindly to being questioned too closely.

The message is very simple – if you are considering installing solar panels, treat the installation as you would any other major household spend. Ask around, get several quotes, and make sure your salesman/woman knows exactly what they are talking about before signing up to anything. If you do make enquiries to a firm offering ‘grants’, make sure that you compare their quote with others from outside the system. If necessary, IET can supply contact details for firms who have delivered successfully on Islay, and who should be willing to put you in touch with satisfied customers locally. The technology is sound, the payback can be excellent… but if the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is!


Re-energised

April 4, 2011

Islay Energy Trust learned on 21st March that their application for a further year’s funding from the Scottish Government’s Climate Challenge Fund has been successful. Over the last two years, the Carbon Savings Project has worked with households on the island to try to cut energy bills and improve household energy efficiency. The focus for the new project – RACES (Renewables and Carbon/Energy Savings) will be on offering the same support to small businesses, while helping to improve the energy rating of several community buildings and, crucially, further exploring the scope for community renewables on Islay. This last is vital if IET is to become a self-sustaining organisation, and to meet the aim of developing a community trust fund for the benefit of the island.

Project Officer Lindy MacLellan will begin training as a Non-Domestic Energy Assessor in April, with a view to being qualified and able to offer business help by early June. We will also be contacting those who have expressed interest in our community solar PV scheme, with the aim of progressing that as quickly as possible, while continuing investigations into other sources of community income generation. One condition of our funding is that we may not actually generate any income during the next year, although we can progress the project to the point where we begin to generate income on 1st April 2012 – so that is our target. A busy year is ahead – we’ll keep you updated!

Free energy advice will still be available at the IET office, Custom House, Bowmore. Lindy is also still a point of contact for the Home Insulation Scheme, if you are experiencing any difficulties. A full report of the the Carbon Savings Project is available to download here. CCF Final report – Carbon Savings Project


New interest-free loans scheme for domestic renewables

March 14, 2011

The Scottish Government has announced a new pot of money is to be made available to householders wishing to install micro-renewables, such as heat pumps, small wind turbines or solar panels. £500,000 worth of interest-free loans will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, with the maximum loan award to be £2000. The Home Renewables Loan Scheme opens to applications on 1st April, and when coupled with the Feed-in Tariff or the Renewable Heat Incentive helps to make renewable technologies more attractive than ever.


Renewable Heat Incentive announced

March 10, 2011

Householders planning on installing any form of renewable heating – for example heat pumps, biomass boilers and solar thermal water heating – should take note of the launch of the Renewable Heat Incentive today.  Details are available on the Department Of Climate Change website – final payments are still to be fully thrashed out, but this is a welcome confirmation that the scheme will actually go ahead, after some concern in recent months that it may become a victim of the economic crisis.


Home Energy Assessors hit the streets

November 3, 2010

Our new Home Energy Assessors began their survey work in Bowmore this week, in the worst weather imaginable for knocking on doors. Wind and rain failed to dampen their spirits however, and they will be working hard to visit every house on Islay, Jura and Gigha over the next few weeks as part of the Scottish Government’s Home Insulation Scheme, under the management of Changeworks. As you can see they are a very friendly and cheerful lot!

(R to L – Rosie MacLellan, Lindsay Smith, Meri Ferguson, Alec Chasemore. Next week the team will be joined by Joe Teale from Gigha.)


New Recruits

October 19, 2010

Islay Energy Trust has recruited 5 Home Energy Assessors to help in the delivery of the Scottish Government’s Home Insulation Scheme in the Argyll islands. Between the end of October and late December, the Islay-based team – Alec Chasemore, Meri Ferguson and Rosie MacLellan from Islay, Lindsay Smith from Jura and Joe Teale from Gigha – will visit every home on Islay, Jura and Gigha offering a free Home Energy Check. This will identify individual insulation needs and any offers for which householders may be eligible. The Assessors, who are about to finish a three-week training programme and will be trained to City & Guilds level, will make three attempts at visiting every home.  The HEC can also be filled in online or over the phone. When all the survey work is complete, the appointed installer – still to be announced – will be contracted to complete the insulation work within a very strict time frame. If you haven’t yet had loft or cavity wall insulation installed, this will be an opportunity to take advantage of heavily discounted rates, or in many cases free installation. In particular, if you currently have between 60 and 160mm of insulation on your loft, you will be offered a free top-up, irrespective of your circumstances or the size of your loft. This is a new, very valuable benefit which has not previously been offered.

The Islay-based team will be seconded to Changeworks, the managing organisation for the HIS, and will work alongside teams based on Mull and Bute to cover every island in Argyll.

“The Islay Energy Trust (IET) moved quickly to assist Changeworks in the recruitment process. Working with locally based staff offers so many advantages in terms of service delivery that the partnership made good operational sense. Building up further expertise for the benefit of the community also fits well with Changeworks’ strategy of support for island and rural based communities on behalf of its Energy Saving Scotland advice centres”, comments Tom Kenny, Head of Commercial Operations at Changeworks, who has been tasked with co-ordinating assessments to over 90,000 properties across Scotland.

 Information from the HEC forms will also be used to build up a clearer picture of housing across the islands, for example identifying the proportion of ‘hard-to-treat’ houses such as those with solid walls or coombed ceilings. It is hoped that feeding this information back to the Scottish Government may help to make a case for subsidised measures to treat these, so your participation is vital. Even if you have completed a HEC form in the past, it’s important that you take a few minutes with one of the Assessors to complete a new one.

This is a great opportunity for the islands, and IET are delighted to have played a part in ensuring that some of the associated employment comes to Islay. We wish all the new recruits the best of luck with their training, and look forward to seeing them in their new HIS uniforms very soon!


Spring may be coming…..but….

March 25, 2010

                                                       

Don’t forget how cold the winter was! If you were shivering in an uninsulated house this winter, make sure you do something about it before the summer passes. Without insulation, you were losing up to 25% of your home’s heat through the roof, and another 30% through cavity walls – and paying for the pleasure.

Energycare Scotland have just completed a second round of work on the island as part of Islay Energy Trust’s Carbon Savings project, and this time over 20 homes have benefited from either free or cut-price loft and cavity wall insulation.  These boys are keen to work and will be back on Islay during the last week of April, so get in touch now if you’d like to participate.  Anyone missed from this latest list due to timing or other issues will be top of the next. Other firms carry out this work too – you may have had a flyer from Argyll & Bute Council with your council tax bill recently offering a council tax rebate if you take up an offer from Scottish Gas; feel free to explore this but it’s worth noting that the ‘rebate’ appears to have been added on to the initial cost, which on this visit by Energycare was around £199. It has also proved difficult to get larger firms to commit to coming to the islands

These discounts for insulation work apply to all households with uninsulated cavity walls and also those with less than 60mm of loft insulation; if you are over 70 or on certain benefits the work may be free. The benefits of full insulation are immediate and will save you money as well as keeping your house warmer – even if you have to pay for cavity wall insulation, it will repay itself in just 2-3 years. If you are having trouble keeping your house warm, insulation is the first thing you should consider – there’s no point paying for heat that is escaping to the outdoors!

Interested? The initial survey is free and carries no obligation to have work carried out. If you’re not sure how much loft insulation you already have and have difficulty in accessing your loft yourself, just get in touch – call Lindy on 01496 301413, or email lindy.maclellan@islayenergytrust.org.uk, or call into the IET office in Main Street, Bowmore.  Surveys will take place from 23rd-25th April, with installation completed the following week. Act now and you’ll be sure of warmer winters for the future – indoors at least!

Quick, professional work - and no need to don the face mask yourself!


Renewables Roadshow – January 2010

November 10, 2009

 turbine + houseThinking of installing a renewable energy source at home or on your farm, but not sure where to start? Or are you just interested to see how renewable energy systems can fit into a domestic setting? Islay Carbon Savings Project will be hosting a one-day drop in event to be held in Bowmore Hall from 11am – 5pm on Saturday 30th January 2010, where all the information you need will be under one roof. Information will be available on planning and natural heritage issues, grid connection, grants and loans, along with displays from a number of installers from around the country. There will also be activities for children (and young at heart adults!) courtesy of ALIenergy, and tea and coffee will be available all day, provided by Islay High School’s Hospitality Group, so you can mull over all you have learned in comfort.

Amongst the firms attending will be EcoLiving, Mint Energy ( in partnership with Proven Wind), Novadyne Solar, and BabyHydro; Rejig will also be there to chat about their biogas project, and Scottish and Southern Energy Renewables (formerly Airtricity) will have information on grid connections and on their plans for off-shore wind development in the seas off the Rinns. Eamon King of EnergySaving Scotland will be able to advise on grants and loans for domestic installations, while Rae McKenzie of SNH will have advice for those eligible for SRDP, as well as being able to comment on natural heritage issues. Argyll & Bute Council will be providing general guidelines on planning consents. Some of Islay’s primary schools will be presenting examples work on climate change and renewable energy and to round it all off you’ll be able to see how the Sound of Islay Tidal Energy Project is going along.

All in all it should be an information-packed day which will leave you wondering how you ever managed without that ground source heat pump…. we’re hoping for a good turnout to support our exhibitors, so put the date in your diary now!


Interest-free loans to improve home energy efficiency

October 8, 2009

Interest free loans are to be offered to householders to help them cut their fuel bills and reduce emissions.

A sum of £2 million is available this year for a pilot loans scheme to help people improve insulation, replace inefficient boilers or install small scale renewables.

The Energy Saving Scotland home loans scheme is managed by the Energy Saving Trust in Scotland on behalf of the Scottish Government.

 Loans of between £500 and £10, 000 are available. The loans are interest free so you only pay back what you borrow. Applicants can pay back the loan in monthly instalments over a maximum of eight years. 

Loans can be combined with grants such as the Energy Saving Scotland home renewables grants and funding from fuel suppliers under the Carbon Emission Reduction Target.

 You can borrow money to:

  • Install cavity wall or solid wall insulation and/or loft insulation;
  • Install renewable energy systems, such as wind turbines, solar water heating, heat pumps, small scale hydroelectric schemes and wood fuel heating systems;
  • Replace old, inefficient boilers.

For more information, go to http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/scotland/Scotland-Welcome-page/At-Home/Grants-and-offers/Energy-Saving-Scotland-home-loans


Switch and Save

September 3, 2009

Fuel bills are rising and set to rise again this winter. Heating our homes is becoming more expensive, and it is becoming more important that we stay up to date with deals and offers to keep our costs down.

Whoever your current electricity supplier is, you can almost certainly save money by switching if you haven’t already done so. Switching suppliers sounds complicated but it really isn’t – I’ve just done it and it was very easy to set up (although I’ve yet to receive my first bill from my new supplier or the final bill from the old one so I’ll keep you posted.) If all goes according to plan, by switching supplier and signing up to online billing with a monthly fixed payment, I’ll save a whopping 29% on next year’s electricity.

The easiest way to switch is by using a price comparison website – there are several of these, USwitch  being the best known. I also found  Energy Choices very user friendly, but  for those who do not have access to the internet ,  Simply Switch offers an excellent telephone switching helpline  – 0800 011 1395. Whichever method you use, all you need is your postcode and an idea of your monthly or annual electricity spend. It’s worth looking out your last few bills to get a reasonably accurate figure for this as the tariff you pay will depend on your usage.  Before you call or go online, you should also think about how you’d like to pay and whether you’d like to receive paper bills or are happy to be billed online. The cheapest deals available are for online billing and fixed monthly direct debit payment, as these cost less for suppliers to administer. If you want to continue to pay a quarterly paper bill then that will cost slightly more, but if you don’t have internet access at home you can still make a reduction by signing up to monthly payments.

Once you’ve decided to make the change and supplied your details, your new supplier will take over without any further action from you. You don’t need to contact your old supplier as that will be done for you, and they will send you a final bill –it’s worth checking your meter reading on the date the switch is to happen just so you can check this is accurate.

Many people are entitled to cheaper electricity without realising it – all energy providers must by law offer a social tariff to what are termed ‘vulnerable’ customers, and this must be equal  to or cheaper than the provider’s cheapest deal.  To qualify, customers generally need to be in receipt of either means tested benefits, Disability Living Allowance or pension credits but this varies from supplier to supplier. Those living in fuel poverty (defined as spending 10% or more of household income on fuel) also qualify. If you fall into one of these categories it’s well worth calling your supplier to ask if you qualify for their social tariff. Information on these tariffs is hard to find on suppliers’ websites, but the helplines do seem to be manned by helpful and well-informed staff. Scottish and Southern appear to offer most, with a 20% discount on costs, regardless of payment methods.

Many people opt to use prepayment meters, but you should think carefully before making this choice. Suppliers need to recover the cost of administering this system and you will typically pay up to a third more for your electricity than if you have a normal account. The exception to this is Scottish Power, which is the only firm to set its prepayment meters at a lower cost than standard. If you are with another supplier, on a low income and a prepayment meter is your only option, think about switching.


Time to say goodbye to standby?

July 22, 2009
bye bye standby

bye bye standby

We all have them – little lights around the house telling us that our appliances are ready and waiting for us to need them again. Collectively, these appliances are costing customers in the UK an estimated £1 billion per year, and are thought to be responsible for up to 800,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. It is a bizarre fact that this is roughly equivalent to the emissions from flying the entire population of Glasgow to New York and back. So why don’t we switch things off? Lots of reasons – for one thing, crawling around the floor pulling out plugs at night takes too long. We might not be sure whether our mobile phone is fully charged – so let’s leave it on overnight just in case. Or we just don’t think it’s worth it – surely that little red light isn’t using much power? The little red light is only part of the story however – what we often don’t realise is that the light is just an indicator of the slow trickle of power which is being drawn by the appliance to keep the electronics ready to switch on immediately.
One easy way to deal with the standby problem is to buy a device which will switch them off for you with one click. In the Islay Energy Trust office we use the Bye Bye Standby – this comes as a pack with two special sockets and a wireless wall switch. All our computers, printers etc are plugged into these using a multi-socket adapter, and the switch is stuck to the wall beside the door (sticky patch included!) It took about 5 minutes to set up, and now the last person to leave can switch everything off at once. The pack costs about £30 from most electrical retailers and you can buy extra sockets separately.
This works equally well at home with the TV and DVD… but not, supposedly with your Sky box. These seem to be in league of their own in needing to be left on standby permanently – Sky very cleverly describe the standby setting as the ‘green’ setting. There are approximately 8 million Sky boxes in the country, supposedly consuming enough electricity while on standby to keep a small power station in business. When I called the Sky helpline to ask about this I was told that this was to ensure that the box could receive software updates overnight, and that switching it off regularly could result in the box not working correctly. However a second adviser told me that there was no reason the box couldn’t be switched off as updates are received through the phone line and can be processed when the box is next switched on. Not being a Sky engineer, I don’t know who was right – but I know of at least one person who switches off their box at night without any problem so I will give it a try too and keep you posted…..
By 2010, all new appliances will be required to have a standby power consumption of between 1 -2 watts, with a further reduction to 1 watt or less by 2013. Unless we’re going to buy all new appliances however, we still need to think about switching off – the standby consumption needs of present day appliances are up to 10 times that.
All our electricity monitors are currently out on loan but some are due back very soon, so if you would like to borrow one, please get in touch and I’ll add you to the list. The latest interesting thing mine has shown is that my computer draws more power with the screensaver on than when I’m actually working on it. There was I thinking the screensaver was an energy saving device – wrong again!


Cut your carbon footprint – cut your costs

April 30, 2009

We hear a lot about cutting our carbon emissions, but what is it all about and is it really worth doing? If you’ve read the article on global warming in a recent issue of the Ileach, then you may already be convinced of the need for action. If you are not, perhaps you would just like to reduce your living costs? It really doesn’t matter what motivates you, the fact is we need to stop wasting the Earth’s resources, and by doing that we will reduce our carbon footprint and save money into the bargain.
Islay Energy Trust’s Carbon Savings Project has been tasked with reducing Islay and Colonsay’s total carbon emissions by 300 tonnes in each of the next two years. That figure may seem a bit meaningless, but if you think of it as equivalent to the saving made by fully insulating 100 lofts, then it begins to come into perspective. If every household on the two islands was able to reduce their carbon emissions by just 300kg (and that could be as little as 2% depending on your current energy use; simply turning down your water heater thermostat to 60C and your central heating by 1 degree will go a long way towards that), then the target would be reached very easily – and we would all be a bit better off into the bargain. Over the next few months, we will be distributing Home Energy Survey forms which can be used to give you tailored advice on how to reduce your energy bills, and also how to access grants for loft and cavity wall insulation – help with these is available to all households.
So how do you work out your carbon footprint? There are lots of calculators out there on the Internet, some of which are more thorough than others, and probably none of which is completely accurate, but they do give a good indication of where you are using more energy than necessary, and advice on how to cut down. You might like to try the one on the Energy Saving Trust website – it will take around 10 minutes to work through. Ideally you should have your latest energy bills to hand, (or at least an idea of your monthly spend) and an idea of the number of miles you drive in a year. If you don’t have access to the Internet, or have difficulty using the calculator, feel free to call in at the Islay Energy Trust office, on the middle floor of Custom House, Bowmore, and Lindy will do it for you. Don’t be depressed by the result, or feel guilty! If you live in an old house and have to drive to work every day – both fairly common in rural areas – then your result may well be higher than average. What’s important is that there are small, easy measures you can take to cut your energy usage, and after a while they will become routine.
After all, we used to waltz out of the Co-Op with armfuls of carrier bags….


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