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  • November 6, 2013 - Notice to Solartwin customers - Letter's from Stenfield & Co - A number of Solar Twin Ltd customers have been in touch this week to query a letter they have received from legal firm Stenfield & Co. - The content relates to Solar Twin Ltd's liquidation, and claims that customers "undoubtedly paid more than... More →
  • July 12, 2013 - Renewable Heat Incentive Updated - Solar Thermal to have Heavy Support - The Government have today released the Renewable Heat Incentive: The first step to transforming the way we heat our homes. If you are looking to buy a SolarTwin System contact Genfit. "the scheme will be open to anyone in these groups who installed... More →
  • May 27, 2013 - DECC announce they are doubling the RHPP grant for solar thermal from £300 to £600 - Solar Thermal Panels Receive Huge Renewable Heat Premium Payment - Solar Thermal has received a huge boost, it's a great time to buy a Solartwin Product. - Greg Barker tweeted about the scheme - - Big uplift for #RHPP Vouchers to put a shot in the... More →
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  • January 17, 2013 - Crackdown on aggresive solar selling - YouGen, a leading consumer body serving the renewable and energy efficiency sectors, is calling for a change in the law after a review by the Office of Fair Trading revealed unscrupulous selling tactics by solar and other energy efficiency... More →

News: Environmental Performance Claims Inflation in Solar Thermal. Amendment Proposal to MCS.

Filed under: Latest News

Performance overclaiming in water solar heating – should it continue in UK with apparent Microgeneration Certification Scheme consent?

Improved consumer protection is again proposed by Solar Twin Ltd. A waste of public funds by the Renewable Heat Incentive potentially overpaying £31M to users of mains pumped solar heating is highlighted and a solution proposed. Environmental life cycle analysis of microgeneration systems is also proposed to MCS.

Microgeneration Certification Scheme formally asked to upgrade documents and standards such as MIS 3001 to prevent widespread performance overclaiming and to deliver more helpful consumer information for green technology customers.

A decision document identifiying widespread performance overclaiming in solar thermal which also asks for wider environmental and operation costs information for green consumers has been submitted to the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS). MCS is a regulatory gateway which is owned by the Department of Energy and Climate Change which is designed to promote best practice in renewable energy and to protect the consumer of microgeneration systems such as solar water heating systems. Unfortunately MCS has yet to deliver the goods to the consumer in some areas. Below is the main part of the document, which seeks several improvements to MCS.

Pre-purchase microgeneration consumer information provision: increasing economic and environmental transparency

Coefficient of Performance in Microgeneration / LCA.

Document for Microgeneration Certification Scheme Steering Group 2010.

Contents:

A. Specific Proposals to MCS SG.

B. General background.

C. Example 1: Narrow focus. How Operational Coefficient Performance Impacts on Net / Gross energy performance prediction in solar thermal and microgeneration.

D. Example 2: Wider view. Standardised environmental appraisal of microrenewables using Life Cycle Analysis (LCA)

E. References on CoP and LCA.

A. Specific proposals to MCS Steering Group.

1 That MCS agrees a phased timetable so that by the completion of this timetable, before any purchase decision is made, as a generic matter, all microgeneration consumers are informed in writing of:

1.1 Typical Operational Coefficient of Performance (OpCoP) of their chosen type of microgeneration system in terms of both energy and carbon.

1.2 On the basis of one agreed, valid and standardised Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) methodology compliant with ISO LCA Standards EN ISO 14040 / 14044 to estimate to consumers, for a typical installation:

1.2.1 Energy payback time

1.2.2 Carbon payback time

1.2.3 Embodied energy

1.2.4 Embodied carbon

1.2.5 Plus, if any deviation of more than 20% in any area is likely, a quantitative summary summarising how and why the consumer’s particular installation is expected to deviate from such a typical installation in each these above four areas.

1.3 The full typical installation LCA report should be available to the client, if requested.

Note that the process of LCA and its outputs can be a separate, stand alone product report, unconnected to any current MCS / MIS product / solar keymark product accreditation or testing contract.

2 Focussing on solar thermal only: (there are other-technology specific as well as more generic implications which are not developed here):

2.1 MCS, as a matter of urgency, amends one sentence of MIS 3001, as suggested above, so that domestic solar thermal performance estimations remain based on SAP but so that net energy rather than gross energy is quoted to the client.

MIS 3001 needs to be amended to say: 4.4.4 Be accompanied by an estimate of net annual energy performance calculated as follows: For domestic installations, using Appendix H and table 4f of the Standard Assessment Procedure for Energy rating (SAP) methodology.

2.2 After an agreed implementation timetable, the information listed below should be given to all solar thermal customers.

2.2.1 Not just the annual mains power consumption but also the likely cost of this (if any),

2.2.2 Any annual or other safety inspections, such as of high pressure cylinders under building or water regulations, plus typical inspection costs (if any),

2.2.3 Scheduled maintenance visits, frequency and costs (if any),

2.2.4 Typical antifreeze life expectancy and replacement cost (if used),

2.2.5 Typical pump life expectancy (if a pump is used, and it is less than a minimum warranty period of, say four years),

2.2.6 water hardness control requirements and costs (if any).

Similar consumer focussed information may need to be developed for other technologies. In this way, MCS will set a clear timetable for implementation of the provision of additional useful consumer information.

In conclusion, it makes sense for an growing environmental industry such as ours to take a lead in promoting transparency, particularly environmental transparency. Too often, taking a lead on environmental disclosure has been the role of industries which have been viewed as dirty, such as waste management and fossil fuel industries.

The unique big-picture regulatory oversight which is afforded to MCS, enhanced with the overarching and cross-technology nature of MCS provides the UK with an unmissable opportunity to take an international lead.

This paper asks MCS to give microgeneration consumers real common-currency comparisons not only within certain environmental technologies but between them, as well.

Here is an incredible opportunity for MCS, as a UK-government owned regulatory innovation, to lead the world. The rest of this paper provides background information.

Thank you for taking an interest.

B. General background to CoP and the LCA context.

First of all, Gideon Richards is to be thanked for inviting me to take the generic aspects of this matter forward to MCS in the form of a paper, to which I offer to speak, if invited to do so.

Why write this paper?

It is probably true for many readers that the best decisions are made using high quality, quantitative, accurate and appropriate factual information – in a unhurried environment allowing for a confident conclusion.

But how many decisions regarding the purchase of microgeneration technology occur in this high information quality context? From speaking with thousands of customers, I think that many have a long way to go. So here’s how MCS might help them.

This is a proposal for delivering high quality quantitative, accurate and appropriate factual consumer information (in areas such as money, environmental quantities such as energy, and carbon) to MCS customers, before any purchase decision is made. (This proposal does not address the environment where the actual decision making process happens.)

Using specific illustrations, some of which can then be generalised, this paper tends, in places, to focus on solar thermal. However, most principles are generic to all microgeneration systems.

A rhetorical question behind this paper is: if  the microgeneration industry, as an environmental industry, is not seeking to objectively quantify – in detail – its products and its own environmental reasons to exist, how can it claim to be credible?

A good position from which to introduce this paper is the “Welcome to the Microgeneration Certification Scheme” home page at http://www.microgenerationcertification.org/ which is now referred to in three parts:

1/ Here, the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS), describes itself as having:

support from the Department of Energy and Climate Change, industry and non-governmental groups as a prime method for making a substantial contribution to cutting the UK’s dependency on fossil fuels and carbon dioxide emissions.

This paper asks for broad support from all member organisations of MCS to enable consumers of microgeneration to make better buying decisions,  decisions which are assessed not only in the currency of money, but also in relation to the two main environmental currencies which MCS specifically mentions: fossil fuels and carbon dioxide.

2/ The Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) describes itself as:

the only certification scheme to cover all microgeneration products and services

This broad comprehensiveness, coupled with MCS’ other claims of consistency and reference to standards, makes MCS such an ideal place from which to implement consistent standardised consumer information criteria to enable such buying decisions to be made in an informed, quantitative and confident way.

3/ The Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) also describes itself as:

an independent scheme that certifies microgeneration products and installers in accordance with consistent standards. It is designed to evaluate microgeneration products and installers against robust criteria providing greater protection for consumers.

This paper, if it were to be successful in its request of asking MCS to set an agreed and clear timetable for implementation of the provision of additional standardised consumer information, will help to provide microgeneration consumers not only with performance information but will also deliver greater protection for consumers against vague, misleading or inflated performance claims – whether these be in the currencies of money, energy or carbon.

Interestingly, these three currencies can often be interlinked and consumer perspectives upon them can vary in the depth of focus. Sometimes the big picture is sought. At other times, details are needed.

There now follow two examples of how these three currencies interlink along with suggestions of how better consumer information will deliver benefits not only to the consumer but also to the environment and to the states which choose to adopt MCS.

The first example is narrowly focused and is closely related to relation to MCS and looks at where a small but significant change in MCS standards relating to the correct reflection of the inputs to coefficient of performance could boost transparency, benefit the owner of MCS and drive up the environmental efficiency of microgeneration. The second example looks more broadly. It compares three types of microgeneration technologies using commonly available, standardised life cycle analysis methodologies.


C Example 1: Narrow focus.

Coefficient of Operational Performance Impacts on Net / Gross energy performance prediction in solar thermal and microgeneration.

Appreciation of issues like net and gross energy are vital to the wider Operational Coefficient of Performance concept, into which this section naturally flows. Here is an example of how MCS could be improved, by moving at least incrementally towards the big picture.

Today’s microgeneration consumers risk being misled because MCS is over-simplistic in its solar thermal energy calculations. This generally causes exaggeration of performance.

There is a mathematical omission in the MCS solar thermal document MIS 3001’s energy calculations which means that the RHI may overpay around 31 million pounds to solar water heating users over its budgeted £860M life. This overpayment may be worth £270 per RHI claimant, based on the RHI consultation figures and SAP’s 75 kWh per year figures on the electricity consumption of typical solar heating systems.

To resolve the problem all that is needed is a tiny revision to 2 lines in the solar installers specification, MIS 3001, is required. A mere 13 characters need to be added. The revised document should then read, when amended:

4.4.4 Be accompanied by an estimate of net annual energy performance calculated as follows: For domestic installations, using Appendix H and table 4f of the Standard Assessment Procedure for Energy rating (SAP) methodology.

Given MCS’s laudable aims,  to be a prime method for making a substantial contribution to cutting the UK’s dependency on fossil fuels and carbon dioxide emissions it is reasonable to expect MCS to seek to calculate actual net energy savings correctly and not to support its overestimation in its official documentation.

It makes sense for DECC’s RHI to reward system net energy gain rather than gross thermal gain in isolation from any parasitic electricity consumption. It also makes sense for MCS to deliver more accurate net performance estimates than today: MCS solar thermal estimated current performance data should stop being misleading.

Here are further technical details on this subject. Skip over them if you want.

The solar installer standard MIS 3001 allows the over estimation of the energy performance of solar water heating systems by allowing gross performance instead of net energy gain to be quoted by installers. It is possible that RHI payments may be based on these over-optimistic figures.

Because of this performance inflation it seems that around £31M of RHI funding risks being mis-spent because the MCS solar thermal installer document MIS 3001 legitimises this performance inflation of typically 8%. Inflated energy performance predictions are used for MCS and consequently will be used for RHI funding. The performance estimation requirement of MCS document MIS 3001 states that solar water heating systems shall:

4.4.4 Be accompanied by an estimate of annual energy performance calculated as follows: For domestic installations, using Appendix H of the Standard Assessment Procedure for Energy rating (SAP) methodology.

The effect of this, if DECC were to use SAP’s gross thermal energy performance estimation figures as a basis for subsidy would be around 8% overpayment on most RHI payments for solar water heating installations.

This “parasitics” figure, used by electrical equipment, of around 75 kWh has been verified by two independent (DTI and EST) field trials, but it has never been properly taken into account by MCS, even though SAP takes it into account. The MCS solar thermal meetings are aware of this overestimation but despite discussions on the subject there is no record of a divergence of opinion on the matter ever been reflected in the minutes of the MCS WG. Its omission suits over 90% of the solar thermal industry to omit this parasitics figure. Introducing such a change in MIS 3001 in the name of improved accuracy balance may be strongly resisted by certain interests.

Now, if potentially millions of pounds of public funds are likely to be spent, via the RHI, on the basis of deemed MCS performance estimates, it may be time to address this matter as a one of urgency and importance. Why is it important? Because the sums of money involved run into millions of pounds.

At a small scale, and on a per customer basis, over 20 years of a proposed RHI timescale, this overpayment is worth 75kWh x £0.18/kWh x 20 years, which is an overpayment of £270 over this timescale. Might this substantial sum be overpaid in error? It is hoped not.

As for the national picture, if, for example, 50% of the recently announced RHI funds of £860M were to be spent on solar thermal, of which 90% of installations were mains pumped, at 8% of overstatement energy benefit per year, then, assuming a 20 RHI year over payment of 18 pence per kilowatt-hour on 75 kilowatt-hours, this equates to an overpayment of  £31 million, all caused by the deliberate decision (a decision where I was the only dissenter) by MCS to omit parasitics and any mention of pump power consumption table 4f of SAP from MCS document MIS 3001.

Besides this matter’s possible impact on public finances, on the credibility on MCS and of DECC as the owner of MCS which functions as the gateway to the RHI, this energy accounting error also brings competition impacts since genuinely zero carbon solar water heating systems such as thermosyphon and PV pumped systems will be unfairly disadvantaged by 8% in terms of price/performance in UK’s highly competitive solar thermal marketplace. Of course, fairer competition is not the only issue. From the perspective of the public interest, it seems to be unacceptable that this energy accounting error can continue to be made and it is hoped that the above proposed change in wording be adopted before any RHI-details announcement is made.

Here follows: MIS 3001’s original wording on this performance estimate subject (with a proposed amendment as an annotation) plus the non-mentioned table 4f of SAP showing the apparently omitted 75 kWh pumping figure.

Besides the inflation of performance and the risk to the public purse, there also seems to be a wider consumer context of this omission having been accepted by MCS and not revised ever since its solar thermal document MIS 3001 was first published.

A seemingly consequent problem is that mains pumped solar thermal systems have also been widely over-promoted: mis-described and mis-marketed as zero carbon when they are not because power stations emit CO2 while generating the electricity required for their pumps. Dozens of websites also mis-describe such systems as delivering free hot water when this is not the case either, since this electricity normally has to be paid for.

The REAL code were formally alerted to this type of mis-description (carried out by some of the solar thermal industry’s leading members) as long ago as April 2010. So far REAL have not confirmed to us that action to suggest that these exaggerated performance claims (operating in currency terms of both cost and of carbon) are to be replaced by more accurate ones, such as low carbon solar or low cost hot water.

To date MCS (and its member, the REAL Code), by letting such blatant environmental opacity gain ground, appear to have missed an opportunity of providing greater protection for consumers, to quote words from the welcome page of the MCS website. These claims are both institutionalised and commonplace. There exists some industry resistance to change, so if the MIS 3001 energy calculation were to be promptly changed from gross heat energy to net total energy, this MCS located change might deliver to REAL the signal which it needs to resolve this sensitive matter.

Widening the picture again and stepping back a bit further, of course, this specific gross or net operational energy case focusses on solar thermal only, not to any other technologies. It also only on operational energy use, not the energy used to actually made the technology something which will be addressed in a moment.

This gross / net energy case study nevertheless illustrates one available opportunity for providing accurate costs and energy information that a consumer-focussed MCS could give.

The operational coefficient of performance (OpCoP) is a generic concept across all microgeneration and renewables and it is, to some extent, similar to the financial concept of rate of return on investment, or of  interest on a loan. It is just as important too.

So, which CoP is best?

  • The higher the CoP the better. For water heating, an OpCoP of 1:1 from a heat pump is pointless: you might as well just use an immersion heater. Ideally, an infinite OpCoP is desirable. An infinite CoP is what sunny south facing windows will give you, provided that you can use the solar heat energy which arrives via them. An infinite OpCoP is also available in solar water heating systems which are thermosyphon gravity pumped or PV pumped.

Moving into OpCoP in microgeneration.

  • If someone says to you that their domestic heat pump has an average annual energy coefficient of performance of 3 : 1, this means that it delivers three times more heat energy than it uses in its motors and compressors and associated electronics. So for every kilowatt-hour (unit) of electricity which it burns up and which you pay for, it delivers three times that amount of heat to your home. Great provided this is sustainable. Of course OpCoP applies just as well to wind turbines, photovoltaics, and water turbines, some, but not all of which may burn up electricity all day to run their electrical controls, displays, power conditioning units and inverters, even when there is no wind sun or water about to run them.

The very same OpCoP concept applies to solar water heating.

  • A leading mains pumped evacuated tube solar water heating system has an OpCoP 1:13. according to independent studies: side by side testing of eight solar water heating systems. Appendix C9 of this report, for example, shows that a leading evacuated tube system consumed 82-92 kWh of bought in energy for every 1000 kWh of energy it delivered. This gives it an average CoP if 11.4 in terms of energy.

It is interesting is that OpCoP can also be described in terms of carbon, as well as in terms of energy. (It can also be done financially, of course.)

  • How much carbon do you have use to save a tonne of carbon? is the question here. The answer depends on the relative carbon intensity of the electricity used for pumping, compared with that of the sometimes different fuel which is saved by having solar water heating. Given that mains gas is the commonest water heating fuel in UK, we shall look at its relative carbon intensity here. In the side by side report referred to earlier, it is stated that the carbon intensity of gas is 2.5 times less than that of electricity.

Operational or whole of life perspectives?

  • So the 11.4 energy OpCoP of these solar heating systems translates into a carbon OpCoP of 1:4.6. on the face of it, not so good, but still very positive. But this only looks at the operational side. What if the technology uses energy to make it? Of course all do, so you start with a negative balance sheet here. So, as a consequence there are breakeven times to be asked about. At this stage we have only been looking at operational CoP. The actual energy or carbon impacts due to their manufacture or installation have not been included. To do so involves widening the scope once again to look at life cycle analysis of microgeneration technologies. Bath University have studied matter this extensively. They report that 15% of the total lifetime energy delivery of a solar electric system is accounted for (ie negated) by its energy of manufacture and disposal and that for a solar water heating system the figure is three times better, at only 5%. A summary of some of the Bath University research on life cycle analysis of micro-renewable energy systems is discussed later in this paper.

Infinite OpCoP is available for some microrenewables.

  • Are there solar water heating systems which may have an infinite OpCoP in terms of energy or carbon? Interestingly, the answer is yes. You just need to get rid of the mains electricity supply. Thermosyphon (gravity pumped) and solar electric (PV / photovoltaic) pumped solar (such as Solartwin) can have a zero operational energy requirements. So their CoP is infinite and they have no carbon clawback. This approach obviously pleases green consumers. It is interesting that grants schemes do not seek to reward the delivery of high OpCoP in solar. Perhaps solar thermal should have a grant eligibility threshold for state aid of say 1: 20 or better? Adopting this approach would green up the solar industry pretty quick!
  • Over the life of my proposed new renewable energy technology, if you load all its life cycle and operational energy and carbon costs up-front over, say, a 25 year lifespan, how long will it take to pay back? is an example of a consumer question which MCS must show itself as being eager to answer – with the assistance of LCA. So what is LCA?

D. Example 2.

Wider view – standardised environmental appraisal of microrenewables using life cycle analysis (LCA).

It is time, now, to widen the perspective.

The challenge of getting a clear and total costs-benefits analysis of microgeneration energy is one which many customers raise. So, looking wider, but still within the solar thermal technology sector (at present), besides providing annual figures for

  • Gross useful heat energy production,
  • Electrical energy consumed, if any,
  • From which a net energy performance estimate can be given

perhaps MCS suppliers could also be required to tell the solar thermal customer, again at the pre-purchase stage, what the likely operation and maintenance implications are in all major areas such as:

  • Not just the annual mains power consumption but also the likely cost of this (if any),
  • Any annual or other safety inspections, such as of high pressure cylinders under building or water regulations, plus typical inspection costs (if any),
  • Scheduled maintenance visits, frequency and costs (if any),
  • Typical antifreeze life expectancy and replacement cost (if used),
  • Typical pump life expectancy (if a pump is used, and it is less than a minimum warranty period of, say four years),
  • water hardness control requirements and costs (if any).

Plus key environmental indicators such as:

1. its operational coefficient of performance (OpCoP) in energy and carbon terms

and

2. the likely number of years to total system energy (and carbon) payback, based on life cycle analysis.

Resourced with such information, the microgeneration consumer could make a much more informed choice than at present – and suppliers of technologies which do well under such criteria would also thrive and our environment may also benefit more.

Here is a recap of 1/, operational coefficient of performance, as a narrower concept to start from. This OpCoP figure, usually a percentage (such as 5-15% for solar thermal) is also known as energy clawback. Some questions asked by potential microgeneration consumers might be:

Q – How much electrical or other energy does my microgeneration system use up in order to operate, over a typical year?

Q – How does consumption compare to the total energy delivered by the system?

Q – How do these figures compare to those of other microgeneration technologies?

Savvy green consumers are blogging that it would be helpful to their decision making if suppliers of solar PV panels, solar thermal panels, micro wind etc were actually required to publish typical data to answer the OpCoP question. At present it seems that only heat pump suppliers do so. Readers may be aware that when Energy Saving Trust looked into micro wind turbines, they found that the control box in some installations used up more energy than they generated – on homes where local wind levels were low.

On its home page, MCS refers to consistent standards, but unfortunately consistency is conspicuously absent in the case of OpCoP. For example OpCoP is required to be communicated to consumer sof heat pumps while it is not required to be communicated to consumers of solar thermal. How are consumers expected to make informed cross-technology comparisions, let alone compare within say, solar thermal products? This inconsistency needs to be regularised by the publication environmental information including of OpCoP in terms of energy and carbon for solar thermal. This follow naturally from the energy performance calculation correction which was proposed earlier.

Life cycle analysis (LCA) informs factors such as “energy breakeven time”. This is the number of years of use of their chosen green gizmo which is required to reach energy breakeven as part of a life cycle assessment.

To illustrate the usefulness and simplicity of LCA, some results of three product life cycle analyses (micro wind, solar thermal and PV) are presented next. [Two short extracts omitted here for copyright reasons]

Source: INTEGRATED APPRAISAL OF MICRO-GENERATORS: METHODS AND APPLICATIONS S.R. Allen, G.P. Hammond, H. Harajli, C.I. Jones, M.C. McManus and A.B. Winnett.

LCA data is rich with useful and consumer-oriented information.

For example, the graph shows that the displaced energy payback period of PV is about 4.5 years from the date of installation commissioning. For solar thermal, it is three times faster, at about 1.5 years and for micro wind, the time could range from just a few months to several years, the figure being dependent on the wind resource where the turbine is actually sited.

As another example of the usefulness of LCA to consumers, the table shows that the 15 sqm PV installation outstripped the other two microgeneration technologies in terms of energy delivered, during its operational life, delivering over three times the energy of the 2.8 sqm solar thermal system but that the CO2 (greenhouse gas) emissions associated with its manufacture and production were eleven times higher than the solar thermal system.

But would LCS actually fit with MCS? The answer is yes comfortably. Here is why.

An off-the-shelf LCA software package called SimaPro was used for this study. It is a commercial package developed at the Institute of Environmental Sciences (CML), Leiden University. The software enables the manipulation and examination of inventory data in accordance with the ISO LCA Standards EN ISO 14040 / 14044.

As one of three corporate participants and technology suppliers in this study, (supplying the solar thermal system for analysis), we were required to list all the components in a typical, entire, solar water heating system, to take it all apart, to name and to weigh every single material material accurately, eg stainless steel, aluminium, silicone, polycarbonate etc, to describe its sourcing (eg raw or recycled) and to summarise key processes including manufacture. This all becomes the inventory referred to above. The entire inventory data collection process took less than one day and was surprisingly simple to do.

Bath University then inputted all the data into their software (which hooks up to a huge database on environmental impacts) and then asked us a few follow up questions by email. Then they ran the program which delivered their LCA analysis.

Standardised LCA like this can offer both simplicity and affordability for suppliers to MCS.

The methodology of LCA is highly standardised. It evaluates all the environmental burdens associated with a product or process over its complete cradle to grave life-cycle. This requires the determination of a balance or budget for the raw materials and pollutant emissions (outputs) emanating from the system. Energy is treated concurrently, obviating the need for a separate inventory of embodied energy. LCA is a product or system-based form of environmental auditing which is often geographically diverse; that is, the material inputs to a product may be drawn from any continent or geo-political region of the world.

Thus LCA offers a universality which is highly suitable to MCS.

LCA was codified under the auspices of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) at a series of workshops in the early 1990s. These largely defined the standard framework for LCA, forming the basis of the internationally accepted ISO 14040 series of LCA standards. These standards were modified, and condensed from four to two standards, in 2006.

Basing a new MCS transparency requirement on just two ISO standards, as a free standing and separate product requirement, seems to be a reasonable and achievable proposal.

LCA moves up to a much wider perspective: it hugely extends the CoP concept and answers important consumer questions like these:

Q – Over a normal expected life of [xx] years, how long does it take for the materials and energy invested in a microgeneration device to reach break even, in terms of energy (or carbon)

Q – Have all the environmental impacts of all its components been fully analysed

Q – What are the likely pollution impacts of this product on air, water, land, biosphere etc?

There are no good reasons for the microgeneration consumer to be denied having these questions answered, but nevertheless the blockages persist. After all, the standardised methodologies needed to answer these questions have been with us for decade and the costs of getting answers are reasonable. But the majority of the renewables industry seems to be reticent about collecting and publishing too much data which would be of consumer interest relating to the sustainability of microgeneration technologies.

As a supplier of equipment who has taken these factors into account for over a decade I am still hearing senior industry players telling regulators, no, that such crucial questions should be not asked – let alone answered.

If, you as a consumer, set out to invest thousands of pounds in green gizmos, surely you don’t want it to buy it on vague, perhaps eco-blingy impulses. Surely you deserve to be told whether its energy breakeven time is one year or seven? Also you need to know whether your energy saving gizmo uses mains electricity (and, if so, how much) when there is no sun or wind or local streampower available.

Consumers can not be expected to close their minds to these important questions for ever. It is hard evidence they want, not blind faith. They suspect know – that they are being kept in the dark – by us – who are the supposed green goodies. The credibility of this industry must be based much more on openness – standardised third party information based on EN ISO 14040 / 14044.

If our industry is not prepared to objectively justify its environmental reasons to exist, why should it ever claim to deserve credibility, let alone subsidy?

There is a need for MCS to start requiring technology suppliers / installers to start publishing some basic generic environmental performance indicators of their systems. Such indicators could include: (a) coefficient of performance, (both in terms of (a1) energy and (a2) carbon) so that people can know which technologies use how much mains electricity to deliver how many times more renewable energy.

Also (b) life cycle analysis, so that people can know after how many years of operation the environmental impact (such as (b1) energy or (b2) carbon) of different types of kit takes to break even.

You can already compare some technologies. Thanks to a study done some years ago by Bath University, we have established that our PV installations must generate power for about 4.5 years before an energy breakeven point is reached, while for solar thermal only 1.5 years are required.

Microgeneration customers really like to know this kind of information. It helps them (and Government) to made good decisions. Our customers are asking : how green is my system?” We are pleased to be able to tell them.

Sadly most Microgeneration suppliers remain unable to tell them, even though the some of the standard ISO methodologies which can be used for answering such questions (at modest cost) are over a decade old.

This information deficit can easily be filled.

E References.

1. INTEGRATED APPRAISAL OF MICRO-GENERATORS: METHODS AND APPLICATIONS S.R. Allen, G.P. Hammond, H. Harajli, C.I. Jones, M.C. McManus and A.B. Winnett. University of Bath, Bath. BA2 7AY. Department of Mechanical Engineering also International Centre for the Environment (ICE) and Department of Economics and International Development. United Kingdom. 2008.

2. Video. 7 minute commercially focussed video against mains pumping looks at parasitics / coefficient of performance in solar thermal and lists the pros and cons of mains pumped and non-mains pumped solar heating systems. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rby2GdXHTn0

3. Video. 6 minute commercially focussed video looks as the DTI funded side by side tests of eight solar water heating systems conducted by the energy monitoring company and the 17%-23% carbon clawback of some SWH systems. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJbkGH-ctlc

4. EN ISO 14040 Environmental management  life cycle assessment  principles and framework, International Standards Organization, Second Edition.

5. EN ISO 14044 Environmental management  life cycle assessment  requirements and guidelines, International Standards Organization.

Pre-purchase microgeneration consumer information provision:

increasing economic and environmental transparency.

Document presented to the Microgeneration Certification Scheme Steering Group 2010. Written by Barry Johnston.


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For speed, and for the sake of the environment, Solartwin offer feasibility checks and fixed price solar quotes by phone.
Unique in the world, Solartwin's phone survey now also uses online aerial photographs of your roof in most urban areas!

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0844 567 9032

Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive Released

Solar Thermal has got the great government funding through the Domestic RHI which it deserves! Solartwin Solar Thermal panels have just become not only a cost cutting and very green option to heat your water but now you will receive additional funding too! The Domestic RHI rates – Released April 2014 Ofgem have produced a […]

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Notice to Solartwin customers – Letter’s from Stenfield & Co

A number of Solar Twin Ltd customers have been in touch this week to query a letter they have received from legal firm Stenfield & Co. The content relates to Solar Twin Ltd’s liquidation, and claims that customers “undoubtedly paid more than you should have and it is highly likely that you will have been […]

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Renewable Heat Incentive Updated – Solar Thermal to have Heavy Support

The Government have today released the Renewable Heat Incentive: The first step to transforming the way we heat our homes. If you are looking to buy a SolarTwin System contact Genfit. “the scheme will be open to anyone in these groups who installed an eligible technology since 15th July 2009” so if you have a […]

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DECC announce they are doubling the RHPP grant for solar thermal from £300 to £600

Solar Thermal Panels Receive Huge Renewable Heat Premium Payment Solar Thermal has received a huge boost, it’s a great time to buy a Solartwin Product. Greg Barker tweeted about the scheme – Big uplift for #RHPP Vouchers to put a shot in the arm of the market ahead of full Domestic #RHI tinyurl.com/ktxz3o2 — Greg […]

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Solartwin DIY reviews

SolarTwin Reviews from Reviewcentre “Review Centre is a community of real people, just like you, sharing their product and service experiences. Our community of reviewers are a passionate bunch who want to help you discover what’s right for you.” (Review Centre) We are well rated on review centre, this shows the excellent product quality of […]

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