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Waverley’s Solar Failure

4 March 2014

According to the Government “Solar photovoltaic (PV) technology is a mature, proven technology and is a reliable source of renewable energy with an important role to play in the UK energy generation” and the Government is aiming for an ambitious 20 gigawatts of solar energy by 2020.

However the Government forgot to explain this to officers at Waverley Council who seem to have regressed from those enlightened and sunny days of 2011 and 2012 when they recommended putting up solar panels on the WBC offices and Godalming Leisure Centre. Solar is a low risk way to help Waverley Council tenants meet rising electricity bills for the next 35-40 years.

Waverley produced a report on fitting solar pv to 740 of their tenants houses left out of the first round in 2011, but managed to get the financial facts so wrong, that we had to put pen to pdf and respond to all their errors. Its quite a read, and – unfortunately – covered in red!

The point is that this project would have delivered free solar energy for tenants worth around £250 per annum to some households – at no cost to the tenants or the Council – as well as generating income for Waverley to spend on energy saving improvements on other Council houses.  However officers chose to exaggerate the risk and present the scheme as financially unattractive to the Council.   For instance, under the community/co-operative model we calculated that Waverley would start to receive a direct financial benefit in year 7/8 whereas in the officers’ version WBC don’t get any money until year 15.  Waverley also seemed to be worried about staffing costs which apparently will be needed for three years for a one off installation project (no, we don’t understand that one either).   The main problem with their model however is the previously unheard of cost of £1,000 per roof in year 20 to rip off and discard a perfectly good set of solar  panels which have a total productive life expectancy of 35-40 years (“criminal” was how this was described to us by a senior local authority procurement consultant when we discussed Waverley’s financial model with him).

The savings council tenants have been deprived of are significant.  £250 x 740 tenants x 35 years is a total of £6,475,000  at today’s electricity prices and even on Waverley’s very conservative estimate of savings of £150 per annum the saving over 35 years is nearly £4M at today’s electricity prices.

Here’s the complete GWFoE response to the officers report with our track changes.  

In reviewing the officers report (above) our renewable energy expert Mike Smyth made this important policy point:
“There is also a real but unquantifiable financial risk to Waverley if they do not proceed with the solar project at the present time. At the moment solar pv can be installed free to Waverley, but that position is not forecast to continue for more than the next few years or so. The government is anticipating that a high proportion of suitable houses will have solar panels installed as part of present energy policy. Consequently there is a risk over the next decade that all suitable social housing will be required to install solar pv as part of a revised Decent Homes standard, which then will need to be undertaken at Waverley’s expense.”

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