Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Solar farm development costs so far

So… for those who missed earlier blogs, My new company (positech energy) is trying to build a 1.2mwp solar farm in the UK. I thought it might be worth reminding myself how much has been done, and how much further we have to go. Currently, we are awaiting a planning decision, which has been delayed twice already, but should now happen in less than a month. I suspect this date may actually be final this time…

Here is what has cost me money so far:

Feasibility Study£5,000
Planning Application submission fee£9,730
Topographical survey (is the land flat etc…)£1,150
Solar farm scheme design (inverters/panels/substation reqs etc)£3,465
Habitat survey (are there any endangered bats on the site?)£914
Archaeological Survey (are there any buried roman settlements on the site?)£990
Visual Impact Assessment (will anybody see it, and how badly will this affect them?)£1,485
Flood Risk Assessment (will the site flood? will building it make anywhere else flood?)£495
Construction Management Plan (tell people what building works will happen)£495
Planning Statement (honestly…not sure of this one…)£247.50
Transport Statement (how many trucks, what size, when, where, what route…)£247.50
Statement of Community Involvement£495
Consultant Co-ordination (so I dont have to speak to all these people myself)£495
Planning form (actually entering all of this stuff into planning system)£495
Sundry Expenses (site visit mileage)£250
Historic Impact Assessment (Will building this impact the local history, or views of anything historically interesting)£3,285
DNO (Distribution Network Operator) submission for a grid quote for electrical connection£3,600
Project fee for buying the existing project from previous developer (long story)£5,000
50% of landowners legal fees£464.50

Amazingly, I have already paid all of this, and yet do not have planning permission yet. In theory, I could be denied planning permission completely with no way to recover, and that would mean all of this money was wasted. Scary hug? But wait…there is more:

10% deposit on over 3,000 solar panels£44,524.80
First payment towards electrical grid connection£50,000

Yikes. Those are the big ones. And scary too, because the panels will show up in the UK soon(ish). If you think I can store them in my garage until we get a new site, think again. Its 70 tons of solar panels. In theory, if it all goes wrong, we can cancel and only lose 5%, but more likely, we can re-sell them to someone else, or even have the farm construction company buy them from us. We also have another site currently being evaluated, so we could use them there.

The grid connection deposit can mostly be refunded if we cancel, depending how much work they have done so far, but given the stupidly long timescales they quote, I doubt they have done much yet. Its precisely BECAUSE the grid connection timeline and solar panel ordering timelines are SO long, that I took the risk to order both before getting planning permission.

So what other costs are coming up?

Landowner fee on signing (one-off bonus)£10,000
Legal Fees on signing£1,000
The rest of the solar panel cost~£400,000
The site construction cost~£200,000
The solar battery cost~£240,000
The rest of the grid connection costs£101,007.17

You got to love that grid connection cost right? Especially the way they do it down to the penny to support the fiction that its super competitive, when in fact your choices is of accepting the quote…or not accepting it and not being able to build a farm… In theory its highly regulated cost wise, and in theory you can do some of the work ‘the contestable work’ yourself using a 3rd party, but in practice the amount of the work that is contestable is a pittance, so it just introduces confusion and complexity for almost no gain…

There is really nothing more I can do until we finally get a decision from the planners, which I REALLY hope is ‘granted’, but would not be flabbergasted to discover there are conditions or other requirements. Honestly you would think I was bulldozing st pauls cathedral and making solar panels out of the corpses of rare badgers I crushed under a steam roller, given the way these things get treated in planning terms… Needless to say I have a LOT of VERY strong opinions on how fundamentally broken our planning system is (and it gest seemingly worse over time, not better).

I’ll state it again here: The biggest enemy of the UK meeting its net zero goals is not UKIP, or the daily mail, or the conservative party, or apathy, or cost, or technology.

Its bureaucracy.

For starters, the timescales need halving, AT LEAST. Secondly, we really need to collapse a lot of this paperwork into one. There is no need for separate planning, transport, construction and community engagement documents for crying out loud. Also we need a lot of clauses to allow smaller developments to bypass some of this crap. If your total site area is small, you shouldn’t need to do the full archaeology/habitat/flood/historical nonsense. By all means, if you are covering 100 acres with solar panels, then lets make sure all bases are covered, but for a relatively tiny site? This is ridiculous.

I actually anticipate fairly smooth sailing if we get planning. My plan is ON THE VERY SAME FUCKING DAY that we get planning approval, I want to order the battery, the mounting kits, the inverters, EVERYTHING, so that we are 100% ready to hit the ground digging ground screws in as soon as possible.

This is why I took the risk of grid & panel ordering early. Its also why I’m about to sign a lease with the farmer, and start paying rent (likely next month). I don’t want anything to stop us building the farm once we have permission. In an ideal world, the panels would get unloaded from the ship the day planning is granted. In practice, things are bound to go wrong.

I am nervous about, and very focused upon…getting planning permission for this thing. Its DEFINTELY the most risky and bureaucratic and infuriating thing I have attempted so far. Expect lots of drunken tweeting from me on the day we get it (if we do…).

Doing the maths on a home solar-panel upgrade

My data suggests that the output from my solar array is roughly 1.6MWH per year. This is a 2.1kwp install from over ten years ago, that was recently retrofitted with solar edge optimizers to increase its output during times where some of the panels, or part of a panel was shaded.

I am currently using the octopus go tariff (designed for electric cars for my home electricity consumption. This has 2 different rates, depending on the time of day, and at the time of writing they are:

12.30am to 4.30am: £0.075 / kwh.

4.30am to 12.30am: £0.3061 / kwh.

To add to the complexity, I am on an old ‘feed-in-tariff’ which subsidized my solar install (long since discontinued, but I still luckily get it). This pays me an inflation-linked rate of £0.65/kwh for generation (regardless of what I use) and a ‘deemed export’ additional payment of £0.0185/kwh. Another way to phrase this, is currently I earn £0.67 per unit produced.

Of course, I earn that as a payment from the feed-in-tariff provider, but also this reduces my own consumption. If we assume that roughly a third of the power I produce offsets energy I would have used (as some will be peak daytime summer when I’m outside or not using much power anyway), then I can add a third of the price of a unit bought to each unit produced to reflect this saving.

So that gives me roughly £0.77 per unit produced, or given my production of 1,600 kwh per year, an income from the current solar setup of £1,244 per year. Not bad. Can I do better?

I cannot (due to shading issues) realistically add more solar panels, and I would need planning permission for that anyway, but could swapping out the 10 panels I have make sense? The output from solar panels is now a lot better than when I got mine about 11 years ago. My panels are MPE215 PS05 schuco panels. The ‘module efficiency’ is 14%. AT 12 years, the output guarantee is 90%, so they are already 10% down on the output I would expect. On the plus side, I have solar-edge inverter and optimisers, so I am squeezing the best possible output from each panel right now:

If I upgraded the panels then I would still keep using solar edge, so this benefit is not significant in deciding to upgrade. However, if I *did* upgrade it would finally be time to do the obvious, and get a solar storage battery (lithium-ion). This is something I would love, as it would reduce my electricity bills to almost zero throughout the summer (at least the peak usage…I would still use scheduled charging on the car to fill up its 85kwh battery during off peak hours. Trickle-charging the car during the day manually is just too much messing around…).

So what would the economics look like if I had battery storage and new panels?

Firstly, I would 100% lose the feed-in-tariff, as you cannot change an existing install. On the other hand I would qualify for a smart-export payment, but its trivial, and would require me to export power! whereas with battery storage I’d simply use that power to top up the car and likely export almost nothing. On a peak day, I generate a maximum of about 12kwh (perhaps 18kwh with new panels), and the car battery is 85kwh. its unlikely I would have an option to earn anything at all from exporting energy.

So it comes down to how much extra power I would generate (and thus avoid paying £0.30/kwh on), plus how much I would save by being able to time-shift the power. Actually the economics are not good…

When I generate a unit of power now, I ALWAYS earn £0.77. If it displaces peak power usage, its earning me £1.07. If it only displaces off-peak (car charging) usage, it earns me £0.84. The real problem is that with new panels, all I can ever do is get credit for the energy I would not use, so £0.30. Unless new panels were FREE and also generated 200% more than the current ones, I cannot make the economics work, even assuming that the battery is FREE, and the time-shifting and scheduling of stuff works perfectly.

The real elephant in the room here is the old feed in tariff. It did a fantastic job encouraging demand, in that I was the first person in this village to install solar, and helped encourage others to do so, and enabled the industry to scale up. However, people like me are now effectively trapped in a valley of economics, where we are basically paid too much to generate power on old panels to bother upgrading.

In an ideal world, I would be able to keep the tariff even with new panels, although I understand that might seem cheeky. I do find it pretty frustrating that I am incentivized to keep producing 2.1kwp of power instead of the 3.15kwp I could generate with new panels.

What if you don’t already have solar panels though?

Assume your usage pattern is the same as me, so your consumption of power is roughly 474kwh per month, or 5,688 kwh per year.

If you do no time-shifting of demand, that would cost you £1,706 per year. lets assume you have a suitable roof for a 4mwp installation, and can thus produce double what I do, plus 50% for increased panel efficiency. That means you produce 4,848 kwh per year, but spread in a bell curve. Leta also assume your consumption is constant, and a battery allows you to perfectly demand-shift during a given day, so no generated power is wasted. lets assume an export ‘smart export guarantee’ of £0.05 and a power purchase cost of £0.30. (I’ve assumed a similar curve of solar generation to my own setup):

So in this setup, normally your annual bill would be £1,706 but reduced down to £583.50 by having solar panels. Thats an effective saving of £1,122.90. Is it worth doing?

The energy saving trust assumes an install of this size costs £5,400. The big kicker would be the battery. I think to make best usage of it, you need to be able to store 66% of a peak days generation in the battery for usage later. So thats a 12kwh battery, which costs about £4-5000 extra. This leads to a break even point after 10 years.

However, if you assume no battery, and that you cannot load shift 50% of your usage we get this:

So now we are buying power even in summer, because we use some in the evenings, so our total energy bill is £1,025.40 instead of just £583. We saved £681 a year. Payoff time assuming £5,400 install? 8 years. This assumes unshaded south facing like my example, although your output may be higher, as I have some shading from trees outside of peak months…

So should you install solar panels? *it depends*. There are so many factors at play right now. The energy price cap in the UK is likely to go up another 50% in October. Running that through my spreadsheet means payoff time is in 4 years. WAY better. If energy prices rise even further, its super compelling.

Conclusion: if you live in the UK, Solar panels are a no-brainer investment assuming energy prices DO rise in October (hint:yes) and do not fall. Domestic battery storage remains a hard sell, although if prices of battery units themselves come down, they may become a lot better.

YMMV. Things to take into account:

  • If you have a big roof and can go bigger than 4.2kwp, then do so. A big part of the cost is install & inverter. Panels are cheap
  • The extent to which you can shift demand, using an EV charger, or timed dishwasher/washing machine will depend on if you have a smart meter and a suitable tariff. (get one)

Solar farm: The rough economic model

As you may know, I’m hoping to build a solar farm. In fact we are pretty far down the road of doing it. The current status of the farm is:

  • Grid connection quote accepted and £50k deposit paid
  • Lease agreed and waiting on final signature by landowner
  • Planning application applied for, currently being edited, waiting for final approval
  • Panels ordered and 10% deposit paid

To recap: This is hopefully a 1.2MWP solar far, (about 3,000 panels) in England, with a small element of battery storage (likely 256kwh or maybe 512kwh of battery). It will be grid-tied, and will sell electricity to the grid using a power purchase agreement (PPA).

So how do the economics of all this work? Well basically you spend a huge amount of money up front (maybe £1.2million) and then recoup that investment, with hopefully some profit, over the farms lifetime, which is often calculated at 25 years but is likely to be 40+. Thus the spreadsheet for the whole project looks like a catastrophic loss, easing gradually over time into a decent profit as the years tick by. Here are some rough numbers (but not *that* rough, as I actually have paid some of this now…

Up front Costs:

  • All the various bureaucratic nonsense involved in a big planning application: ~£30,000
  • A quote for a grid connection: £3,600
  • Initial fee to landowner (one-off) £10,000
  • Solar panels, inverters and installation: ~£680,000
  • Grid connection: ~£150,000
  • Battery: ~£240,000
  • Total up-front cost: ~£1,200,000


Now lets look at the ongoing costs:

Ongoing Costs (per year)

  • Rent to landowner: £5,000
  • Insurance: £2,000
  • Maintenance: £4,000

There are also some other costs that its easy to forget such as…

  • Accountancy for the company £660
  • Energy trading software subscription: £420
  • Cost to replace all the inverters once: £1,200

The Economics

So is this profitable? Well… it depends. Hopefully! Basically its a bet on the long term wholesale price of energy. In the UK we have an ‘energy price cap’ which a rather economically illiterate government introduced as a popular measure to prevent people’s fuel bills going too high for their political comfort. Of course, we could invest in more infrastructure and better insulation but…nah. Anyway, this is thankfully not a concern in the world of energy generation because the wholesale price is uncapped, and has been skyrocketing.

In normal years, the fact that the price of solar panels has shot up and labor costs have shot up too…would be devastating to the economic case for solar farms, but luckily wholesale energy prices have been crazy high too. This was BEFORE the Russia-Ukraine war, which has pushed them up even further.

The bad news is… the figures I have may all have to go up because of rampant inflation. However, assuming they do not, the break even point is now:

  • 13 years at a wholesale cost of £60/MWH
  • 9 years at £100
  • 6 years at £140

Right now, PPA (purchase power agreements) are super-high at around £200, but this is unlikely to last, especially with so many big new energy generation facilities coming online. The situation is very complex because supply side we have these factors:

  • Closure of old nuclear plants
  • Opening of new nuclear at Hinkley point
  • Potential new small nuclear power
  • New wind farms coming online
  • New large-scale solar coming online

Meanwhile on the demand side we have:

  • Rollout of electric cars in the UK
  • Phase-out of gas boilers in favor of air source heat pumps
  • Phase out of gas-for-power as we strategically move away from foreign gas reserves to home-generated power.
  • The push for Net Zero / Climate change concerns.

So when it comes down to it, this is a BIG BET, that the demand side outweighs the supply side. I think this is a good bet, but its still a risk. if it pays off well, it might be a very profitable investment, but if that happens, I’m not going to feel guilty about it. It could easily go wrong, and actually LOSE money, so there has to be a risk-premium attached to locking up this money for 25-40 years (effectively the rest of my life).

I’ll do an updated post once I have more information, especially if we actually get planning permission, and a signed lease and then firm battery quotes (because that means the rent is definitely fixed, and I have a real battery quote, not a guess).

Why you SHOULD get a smart meter

In the UK, we are in the middle of a smart meter rollout. Basically energy firms keep pestering their customers to get a smart meter. The government is encouraging this. Many people I know are very negative and grumpy about this, probably because they are, in general, cynical about government initiatives, and have a hostility towards electricity companies. Plus there is a ton of silly conspiracy theory bullshit to select from.

Getting a smart meter is involved because you need some space around your existing meter to install it. This means for people like me whose meter was crammed into a box, you have to do a staggering amount of work to make a (free) smart meter install possible. I did it anyway. This blog will explain why.

Firstly…what is a smart meter? Its basically an electricity meter that connects via the phone network to a wide-area-network and can report your electricity usage in half hour segments remotely. This means nobody has to come to your house and ‘read’ the meter. Its also digital (at last) instead of an old fashioned 1950s style monstrosity with a spinning disk and analog readouts… Smart meters are fitted for free by your electricity company. My install was way more involved than that for tedious reasons, not least because I have a solar panel array and also an electric car charger. Thus my setup now looks this complex:

Top left is a fusebox (consumer unit in modern-speak), top right another fusebox (for the solar panels). Middle left is the solar panel generation meter for calculating my feed-in-tariff from the government, the white box to the right is the smart meter, and to the right of that is the black box with the main power fuse for the house. MOST people’s houses have far less complex electrics than this!

Why does the government want us all to have smart reasons? Well there are two reasons. One is talked about, another is fiendishly complex, and you have to do a lot of reading about energy markets and the national grid and talk to solar farm installers to work it out. Lets start with the first reason.

Smart meters make you save energy

This is the official reason we all need one. It sounds like it must be nonsense, but its actually super-true. I’m someone who is OBSESSED with efficiency and knows a lot about energy efficiency, and the smart meter effect even works on me. You get a remote gadget like a tiny tablet that shows you your current energy usage, and how much you have spent so far today. You can also get an app for your phone, which is tons better and displays pretty graphs and goes into a lot more detail, but ignoring that for now the in-home-display unit is actually quite cool.

Why do smart meters come with an In-Home Display? | Blog | Bulb

The display even has a tiny, not-oft-seen icon that lights up to show you when you are exporting power back to the electricity grid, should you be fortunate enough to have solar panels and generating more than you are using. This is an immediate sign that you should charge some laptops or phones or put the dishwasher on :D

Cynically, you might think that just ‘knowing’ how much power you use will achieve nothing, but it really does. We can see the massive spike when we put on an electric heater, and an even bigger spike if I plug in my electric car. If you look at the more fine-grained data on the smartphone app, you can see every time you boiled a kettle. Just seeing the massive difference between using one appliance versus another makes you think. And energy prices having shot up means those numbers are about to get way bigger.

So this reason is all about social engineering. Show people WHEN they are spending most of the electricity and they will make smarter decisions. Dishwashers running half empty are a waste of energy. Leaving an electric heater on when you are not in that room is a big waste of money. As people realize this, they will adapt their lives in subtle ways that reduce their energy consumption.

This is the main reason given, but its only part of the puzzle

Demand shifting and protecting the grid

Almost all western countries electricity grids are the same. There are a few super-huge power stations, normally in coastal areas, or remote areas, then a big fat network of pylons carrying the power to local substations, which then run cables to each house. I missed a few steps there, but generally that is the layout. Also most grids are OLD. population density is higher since the grids were built out, but the layout has remained the same. Until recently its kind of worked ok. Before I explain why its not working so well now, here are some technical details.

The UK electricity grid runs at a certain frequency. Its *roughly* 50 HZ. In fact, there are real-time-websites that let you see the current frequency of the grid. Right now it is 49.965HZ. This is really important. Its important because a lot of electrical equipment, especially really expensive electrical equipment, will absolutely freak out and fail/catch fire/explode if its much above or below that frequency. The frequency depends on the balance of supply and demand.

What that means is, that some organization (in the UK its national grid plc) has to keep turning power plants on and off again, to ensure that supply matches demand closely enough that the energy grid frequency remains within a narrow band. If they are going to fail to achieve that, they have to take drastic action, like closing entire sections of the grid off, in other words a power cut. This is a VERY big deal, so its to be avoided at all costs. How do they manage this?

Its generally not been too bad, because demand for energy is pretty predictable. The national grid checks weather reports, to see what temperatures will be (to determine the need for heaters or fans/air conditioning), predicts that supply, and then schedules power station output to match it. This sounds easy, and it is…for certain types of power. Britain gets about 15% of its power from nuclear, which always runs flat-out, which means the flexibility has to come from other sources. In our case, thats gas-fired power stations, which can be turned on and off fairly quickly.

This has been happening for decades and everything has been fine. What makes it work even in cases of extreme demand is that we also have cables connecting us to France, and other countries that let us export power (rare) or import it (more common). However its starting to get tricky, really tricky, its starting to get unmanageable.

Renewable energy has entered the chat

Renewable energy is awesome. I’m a true believer, I’m even building a solar farm. But it brings challenges. Renewable energy is cheap, and environmentally awesome, but its variable. Some days its cloudy. Some days its windy. This introduces instability into the grid, meaning its MUCH more likely that we sometimes have way too much energy, and other times we have way too little. This can be accounted for and managed…but its introducing huge complexity.

FWIW, the national grid has put in place LOTS of ways to manage this. They all have exciting names and acronyms like ‘Fast Frequency Response’ and ‘Load Shedding’ and ‘Peak Shaving’. Its a whole super-involved ecosystem of trying to manage, in real-time, to keep that demand equal to supply while handling multiple different energy types, and demand spikes, and free-market energy trading systems.

You might think that electricity has just gone up 50% in the UK and that this is a big deal. Haha. You know nothing Jon Snow. Lets look at the real charts behind the headlines, that nobody outside the industry even looks at:

BTW, if you are on a long term fixed price energy tariff, you are paying the equivalent of about 50-60 on that chart. So…. looking forward to a potential trebling of energy prices? maybe even a quadrupling? But although this chart should alarm politicians, its not the one that alarms people trying to balance our grid with renewables. here are some more fun charts:

Electricity is traded in half hour chunks. No idea why, so 48 on the X axis is one day. You can see that the electricity price on the wholesale free market in the Uk yesterday ranged from £-50 to £229.90 per megawatt hour, in a single day. This is NOT at all unusual. This chart is an outcome of some desperate attempts to match demand to supply. Talking of supply:

This is what they are trying to balance. Nuclear is 100% inflexible, and must run all of the time (for economic reasons). Wind and Solar do their thing, and then we try and balance the rest by exporting/importing using the interconnectors. The thing is… we still cant do it, so we need to change the demand as well as the supply, or the whole house of cards will collapse…

Demand Management

If supply is an absolute random number generator, you need to change demand, otherwise we are in trouble. The grid already has systems in place to do this in both directions. You can be paid a regular flat fee by the grid, to agree that if they REALLY need to, they can turn off your electricity. This is for big factories and aluminum smelting plants, which draw huge power. If what you do is super-time-critical, this is unattractive, but for some industries its perfect. Thats load-shedding.

Another method is to create a market for energy storage. This is a real thing. The solar farm I am building will also have a 500kwh battery. Thats like 7 or 8 electric cars. The options available to you when you have battery storage are myriad, and very complex. This is where peak shaving and firm-frequency response come in. Peak-shaving is basically a way of smoothing out a sine wave by storing energy when you have too much, and releasing that energy back when you have too little. Some solar farms or other renewable systems can do this. Its especially helpful for solar farms because typical solar output looks like this over a day:

Thats my solar output yesterday. The thing is…if you scale this up we have a huge huge problem. The problem is this: The electricity grid cannot cope.

Remember my earlier description. The grid is old, and designed for a small number of big phat power stations. Incredibly high power and capacity cables run from sites like Sizewell nuclear power station to big cities like London and Birmingham. This works fine. But the cables that go out to all the smaller towns and the rural locations with wind farms and solar farms? These cables suck. They have no capacity to add further generation. They are ‘constrained’ in energy-industry-speak. Upgrading these cables costs a FORTUNE, and I know that, because I’m making a bank transfer today of £50k as a down-payment on an upgrade to some cables for my solar farm. Even if you are happy to pay, in many cases the grid upgrades are just catastrophically hard to do, and slow to do, and we don’t have time for that. We NEED to add renewable energy faster than we can upgrade the grid.

Save the grid!

In a situation where you cannot upgrade the grid, you are left staring at that solar chart thinking “hmmm…if only this was more predictable…”. Like this:

This is peak shaving. Take off the peaks and fill in the troughs. Its still not a flat supply, but its capped at a much lower level than the natural peak. If that natural peak would overload the grid, then we can still connect our big solar farm, but we use peak shaving to put less of a ceiling on our grid output. Plus the grid loves us…because they get a way less ‘spiky’ energy supply to contend with.

To make it clear: when the chart is red, we are sending some of our power to the battery. When its green, we are draining the battery.

Thats peak shaving. Firm-frequency response is different. Thats when the grid pays you, as a battery owner, to reserve usage of your batteries, with no-warning, if they suddenly need to dump power in it, or to whip that power back if they suddenly need it back. This happens on a VERY short timescale (think seconds or less). This is how they can keep that frequency where it should be.

How does this make me want a smart meter?

What I’m describing there is how renewable energy companies can make money, and how the energy industry is coping with renewables. But this also can affect us. To put it bluntly: we are not, and can not build enough batteries to keep up with the demand for frequency response issues for quite a while. For the foreseeable future, we will need to expand the size of the economy that we can do demand-management on. That means that individual home owners need to get in on the action.

Right now, my electricity company charge me £0.24 per kwh of power. If I want it now, its £0.24. If I want it at 3AM, it £0.24, so I frankly don’t care when I use power I KNOW I have to use.

Luckily I have 3 weapons at my disposal that will allow me, as a smug smart meter owner, to ‘haggle’ with the energy company. I own a dishwasher, a washing machine and… *drumroll* an electric car. I NEED the dishes washed today, the clothes washed today and the car charged over the next 12 hours, but I dont REALLY care the exact time any of this happened. So make me an offer…

Star Trek Minus Context on Twitter: "" / Twitter

I don’t plug my car in every day, it doesn’t need it, but if I knew that I might get an offer of power for £0.01 /kwh at 4am tomorrow, I’ll fill my car up to the max. That suits me fine, and it suits the desperately-balancing grid even finer. Its a huge win-win, and smooths out some of those crazy price spikes. This sort of thing is ONLY possible with smart meters.

I’m about to swap to a different tariff, for EV owners, that gives me nighttime power at 75% off. This suits me perfectly, I’ll schedule the car charging and other stuff to run during those off peak hours. Excellent. Good for me, and good for the grid. And yes…EV owners are a minority for now, but a rapidly growing one. A big EV has an 85-100kwh battery, which represents a HUGE chunk of your electricity consumption. If everyone ends up with an EV, and we can all have the charging times auto-negotiated with the grid, thats a big win.

Notice that this is NOT ‘vehicle-to-grid’, where your car acts as a grid-connected battery. Thats a different, and interesting issues, but we don’t even need that. What we need is just to have ‘smart’ usage of electricity. We need to do localized peak-shaving in our communities so that the draw from each community is smoothed out and manageable.

The need for this is even greater when you consider rooftop solar. In an ideal world, if I’m on holiday but its sunny, my solar panels can charge my neighbors EV or run their dishwasher, without that energy ever needing to leave this village and put a strain on the main trunk-roads of the grid. It CANNOT put a strain on the grid, because the grid is already creaking like crazy.

Climate change is driving us to have more electric cars AND more renewable energy, meaning we demand more from the grid, just as it becomes more unstable. Smart meters HAVE to be rolled out to everyone ASAP, and I decided to get ahead of the chaos and the crush by getting mine early. If you live in the UK you WILL end up with a smart meter, and it will likely save you money. There is no real reason to avoid getting to the front of the queue before the queue explodes in size. It took me 3 months to get mine. Electricity prices have risen dramatically since I applied…

Solar farm development update: panels

I know it seems that there is no progress on my solar farm… but there is. I last posted about it in october, and despite the pandemic and Christmas, there has actually been some progress.

To recap, there is a list of things you need to do in order to build a solar farm:

  • Get planning permission
  • Sign a lease with landowner
  • Get an electricity grid connection quote
  • Order panels and optionally a battery
  • Actually build out the farm

In theory, you would get planning first, and do nothing else, because ALL the other things are super expensive, so if you fail to get planning permission, its all money wasted. However, planning can take months to prepare and maybe 2-3 months to actually get, so that adds 2-3 months at the START of the project. You then may need to wait 6 months for a grid connection, and 3 months for panels to be delivered (given current supply woes, normally easier).

So if you do everything in the right order it could easily end up dragging to over a year from the start before you actually put a single post in the ground on-site.

Frankly, we need to hurry this shit up. There is a reason we now say climate emergency. We need to get extra renewable energy capacity operating right NOW. And also, I hate waiting for stuff, and find the process to be stupidly drawn out, so I am pushing to go faster and faster. As a result here is where we are:

  • Lease is signed at my end (still awaiting final bill from lawyer and countersigned copy.
  • Planning permission has been applied for, and paid for (about £9k….just to APPLY for permission).
  • A grid connection quote was paid for, and we have it, but have not accepted yet (its a six figure sum, will wait for some feedback on planning, if not full permission).
  • Panels got ordered this week.

This is all pretty good progress. Building out the farm will take maybe 8 weeks. I’m hoping to get planning permission on the first attempt, hopefully in the next 8 weeks, so some time in April with any luck. Panels are expected to show up at the start of Q3, so in July.

This means that if we get good planning feedback, we can take the risk of agreeing to the grid connection earlier (maybe March?) and that then starts the clock ticking on that. Even assuming a rapid (ha!) 6 months for that, we will not get a connection until August/September.

This whole project is a minefield of timelines, because its a situation where the actual useful operation of the farm is dependent on the slowest/latest part of the process. No point in having an installed farm with no grid connection. No point in having a connected farm, with no panels. My gut feeling is that we end up with planning permission, panels delivered, everything else delivered, even the battery, and we end up with a farm, sat idle and not connected because we are waiting on the grid.

If you think being charged a six figure sum for some upgraded powerlines would get you super-fast priority, then you would be wrong. Frankly the grid is just not designed to handle this at all, and the companies seem to have no tight schedule enshrined in law to ensure new power generation gets connected on a short timescale.

But anyway…

Progress at last, and it means my spin off energy company is no longer a small side project. We ordered over 3,000 panels, and they are BIG ones (410 watts each), and the total weight is 70 tons. I’m not sure how many truckloads or container loads 70 tons is, but its certainly not trivial.

For those technically interested, the panels are from QCells (South Korean), 410watt. Black (monocrystaline) They are 20.9% efficiency (which is pretty good). After 10 years they guarantee 93.5% output, after 25 years its 86%. This is pretty standard for high quality panels.

I’ll do another update when another chunk of stuff happens, probably when we say yes to the grid connection, or planning goes through. You *can* get a partial refund on a grid connection you agree to, but cancel if everything fails (ie: you only pay for works they have currently carried out). I think agreeing early will be prudent, because I strongly suspect that the connection costs are pretty back-loaded, with real costs not being incurred until workmen are out on site installing new poles and building a substation.