Solar panels. Solar PV. Solar water heating systems = Solar panels + solar energy. Solar thermal: solar power & solar hot water. CoP / LCA.
Disclosure of environmental performance of micro-renewables such as solar water heating.
Is there too little of a good thing?
Certain renewable energy facts are scarcer than fleas on stone statues. Why is this? Solartwin customers have recently approached us with two types of questions concerning non-disclosure of environmental performance in micropower / renewable energy technologies. Here is a brief paper which I hope is interesting.
1 – Operational energy Coefficient of Performance (CoP).
- Q – How much electrical or other energy does the system have to use up in order to operate over a typical year?
- Q – How does this consumption compare to the total energy delivered by the system?
- Q – How do these figures compare to those of other microgeneration technologies?
(The Solartwin answer to these three questions are: none, none, top. (Data came from the Energy Monitoring Company)
Savvy green consumers are blogging that it would be useful if suppliers of solar PV panels, solar thermal panels, micro wind etc were actually required to publish typical data to answer these questions. At present only heat pump suppliers seem do so as a matter of course. 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. This was on homes where local wind levels were low.
2 – LIfe cycle analysis (LCA).
This moves to a wider perspective. It builds on the CoP concept above. It answers questions like these:
- Q – Over a normal expected life of [xx] years, how long does it take for the materials and energy invested in the 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?
(Bath University’s answer to these three questions about Solartwin are: two years to pay back, yes, ask us for the report: the lead flashings on the roof were a significant water pollution problem. We have now got rid of them in over 90% of installations.)
I have put a paper seeking to answer these questions as a requirement of standards in to some people who I think are involved with CEN (European) solar standards. After all, the methodologies needed to answer these questions have been with us for decade and the costs of getting answers are not exorbitant. I think that there is no good reason for the consumer not to have these questions answered.
Being self-regulating, the majority of the renewables industry seem a bit shy of collecting and publishing data which would be of consumer interest relating to the sustainability of microgeneration technologies. Unfortunately at present, the CEN (European) solar committee and UK’s Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) both refuse to address such issues. And it concerns more than a few people that few or no consumer bodies are represented on the MCS steering committee, which meets 2-4 times a year. Strategic consumer representation here would be useful.
If Europe’s renewables industry is not prepared to objectively justify its own environmental reasons to exist, how can it claim to deserve credibility, let alone subsidy?