A proposed change in planning legislation could herald a quiet revolution that would see Ireland generate 5% of its electrical needs from its rooftops.
The proposal in the Programme For Government to remove the current restrictions on solar panels of 50% of roof space, or 12m2, could see each household form a two-way relationship with the national grid according to Joe Freyne, CEO of energy technology firm Swyft Energy.
Solar PV (photovoltaic)and battery storage technology allows householders, businesses and farms to generate their own clean energy, saving up to 70% on the cost of an annual electricity bill.
It is currently the most attractive option for many households who want to make a conscious contribution to a green future.
“If the proposed reform is implemented, the Irish solar PV market will follow a similar growth trajectory to Germany where 8% of electricity needs are supplied by rooftop panels,” said Mr Freyne.
“Ireland is comparable with Germany – which is one of the largest solar powered nations in the world – in terms of sunlight hours and PV production.
“Even in so-called low-light conditions, on cloudy or rainy days, or at dusk, quality solar PV systems keep producing relatively high output – and pay back their purchase cost in the first seven to nine years of a 25 year-plus lifespan.
“The key to capitalising on this energy when it is needed lies in the use of a battery, which captures the excess electricity generated by PV panels to power your home in the evenings.
“At Swyft Energy we integrate our solar PV systems with a smart programmable battery which is able to charge at night from the national grid, using electricity that is statistically more likely to come from a green source such as wind.”
An EU directive is in force that gives citizens the right to sell electricity back into the National Grid, which will create a revenue stream for households and businesses.
“The Government has a clear choice when it comes to setting this feed-in tariff for microgeneration,” said Mr Freyne.
“It needs to be high enough to incentivise a strong take up, so that it will be net positive for more households and businesses to convert to solar PV and produce green energy.
“When Germany and the UK introduced feed-in tariffs, their solar PV markets experienced massive growth.
“In Ireland, this will create green jobs and mean huge opportunities for businesses, schools and community structures, which have large amounts of roof space, to generate income by selling back into the grid.”
After starting out as an online marketplace for tradespeople two years ago, Swyft Energy identified a need for technology in the energy controls market and developed a successful online platform which simplifies the installation of energy products.
Based at the Rubicon Centre in Cork, Swyft Energy has grown to 30 employees in two years – ten of whom work in technology. Its nationwide installation team includes electricians, registered gas and solar PV installers.
“We have an 80-strong nationwide network of installers and the next stage of our platform development will enable a customer to get an instant quote using artificial intelligence technology, based on the size and orientation of their house.
“Homeowners will also be able to build customised solar PV packages online to suit their requirements.
“Solar PV has to be viewed as a long-term investment with a minimum estimated lifetime of 25 years – for example a 2KW system that costs €5,000 will produce savings of up to €400 per year on the average electricity bill, or €10,000 over 25 years.
“A solar PV system can also increase Building Energy Rating (BER) and, as a result, improve the list price of a property.”
A study conducted by Trinity College Dublin’s Department of Economics on the price effect of BER in the Dublin residential market found that a one point improvement in the BER scale yields a list price increase of 1%.
“As an example, we recently installed a six panel solar PV system with fully integrated smart heating controls into a three bedroom semi-detached property in Cork, resulting in an improvement in BER from a C2 to a B2 rating,” said Mr Freyne.
“This three-point improvement on the BER scale is equivalent to a potential 3% increase in the list price of the property or €10,500.
“The total cost of the system was €4,999 after grants, so if the homeowner was to sell their property they would realise a potential profit of €5,501.
“The SEAI offers grants to homeowners installing Solar PV and battery storage – provided you meet certain installation criteria and your property was built prior to 2011.
“The grants is worth up to €900 per kWp of installed power up to 2kWp and €300 for every additional kW of power installed up to 4kWp, provided you install battery storage.”