For me, Ecobuild was a flying visit. I had just four hours on the first day to get around and see what I could before hopping back on the train to Sheffield. While the whole of Ecobuild is fascinating for me, the project for which I work is based around solar PV, so that’s the quarter where I spent most of my time.
I work for Sheffield Solar, a research project at the University of Sheffield, where we carry out systems level research into solar PV. Performance analysis and mapping of UK PV generation profiles is our daily bread, and we are always looking for data, so Ecobuild is a great place to see what’s going on and establish new connections. I’m just going to walk you round some of the highlights of the exhibition for me.
Sola-X provides a combined inverter and battery storage system. In addition to the storage component, these systems can also control electrical items in your home to optimise the self use of your PV electricity. Another benefit is that they have a switch so that you can turn your lights back on in the event of a power cut. I was very impressed with the price of the systems which is an order of magnitude lower than a few years ago. This shows that battery storage should rapidly become viable, as an integral part of a home generation system, if the electricity charging framework could be adapted to incentivise self use of generated electricity.
Next stop was the Autarco stand. They have an integrated offering for domestic PV customers where they specify and badge all parts of the PV system, so that they can guarantee the compatibility of the components. They also carry out an assessment of the generation potential for a site and guarantee your yield on that basis. If your system fails to generate at the level which they quote, they will refund you for lost generation, at a rate of 15 pence per kilowatt hour. They do not carry out any installations of their own, so can be geographically spread. This seems like a good model for ensuring that PV customers do not fall prey to cowboy installers.
After this I was lured into the Solar Trade Association (STA) stand by an high-tech looking PV-powered car. This is the UK entry for the pan Australia event which sees vehicles running purely on the sun racing through the country. The car is driven by a highly efficient Gallium Arsenide array on a solar tracker in the back of the car. The team reckon they should achieve 70 kilometers per hour in the car.
The STA were showing off itsnew logo on their stand, and launched their new website on the first day of Ecobuild. They have been very busy recently responding to the changing legislation for the industry and setting out their own recommendations for degression to provide a stable and sustainable PV industry through to parity.
On to REi, the Renewable Energy Investments group, who lease commercial roof spaces for PV systems, in return for cut price electricity for the building owners. They were shocked at the very small amount of PV installed at the University of Sheffield estate. Perhaps the estates department need to know more about the potential of their buildings for energy generation.
After this it was off to the political debate where there was cross party representation on whether low carbon electricity is a vote loser. Ed Davey kicked off by saying he was proud of the achievements of the coalition government in this area while maintaining that an integrated European policy was key to its continued success. Baroness Bryony Worthington said that the government had damaged renewables with fracking and nuclear. Natalie Bennett said more consistency in energy policy was needed and that the future should hold no fracking or nuclear. Peter Lilley defended his position as a scientist who believes that any benefits of climate change mitigation will be outweighed by the upfront costs and therefore its just not worth it. Professor Paul Ekins and Ed Davey challenged this, stating that it is prudent to insure against risks, and that the risks from climate change are significant.
After that I just got some time to look around some of the great innovative low carbon building technologies which are being exhibited before dashing off for a train.