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Why Construction And Solar Could Be The Best Of Friends

A look at how Solar PV could be more widely intergrated into construction projects, if it was better understood by the construction sector.

We are seeing uplift in new build properties using PV as part of the energy package, but it still tends to be driven by regulation compliance rather than a desire to include it. Most house builders that we know who have included solar on their homes put on the bare minimum to comply with local planning or SAP calculations. This keeps the cost of the system down, but doesn’t necessarily help the future homeowner. I would say that currently there are 3 distinct barriers to having solar fitted on new build homes:

1.    Cost

2.    Nervousness of ‘new’ technology in construction

3.    Aesthetics

 

Cost

The cost of Solar PV has dropped significantly over the last 5 years due to the global cost of production falling. However, with the reduction in tariffs in 2011/2012 there has been a perception with the public (which in this instance includes the construction industry) that solar is expensive with limited subsidy support. The truth is very different however, with current material costs being between £600/kW and £1000/kW depending on the type of system. With the Feed In Tariff included in the payback mechanism, the householder could expect to see their investment repaid within 7 or 8 years, with another 12 to 13 years of pure profit. This profit is on top of the energy savings that will be enjoyed during the lifetime of the system. When this is looked at within the cost of a typical housebuild, £2000 - £4000 isn’t a disproportionate expenditure for solar.

 

A savvy developer will also see the opportunity to ‘upgrade’ the solar package on a new home in the same way that a high end kitchen or bathroom can be an added extra. A builder could deliver compliant levels of solar as standard, but with the option to extend the system to the maximum allowed by roof space. This could give the builder another opportunity to boost their margin on the finished home and enable the customer to see their development as a cut above the others locally who don’t include revenue streams in their offering.

 

New Technology Nervousness

Although many people will be familiar with the concept of Solar PV now, it is still a niche area for construction. Builders who are up against tight schedules and deadlines to complete their projects, see a requirement for solar as a hindrance if they don’t know who can help them with their need. This instantly creates a mind-set of “I’ll just do what I need to do” which can lead to paying over the odds for a solar package and a reticence to understand better for next time. This is one of the reasons EH Smith has had so much success in working with construction clients in the area of Solar PV. We are a known, trusted and respected company to our construction customers and we can take the pain out of having to deal with a solar requirement. The world of solar is very different to the world of construction in many ways and in our experience builders don’t want to be blinded by science. It is very easy to get carried away with solar and start offering a range of snazzy products, where in reality a builder just needs a simple solution to achieve what they are looking for. Once you can understand that Solar is very simple to install and requires very little ongoing maintenance, it can remove a lot of the initial nervousness around using it. When all is said and done, it’s just another building material!

 

Aesthetics

A common complaint around Solar PV is the idea that it doesn’t look very nice. Beauty, I suppose, is in the eye of the beholder but there are several products which overcome people’s objections to the aesthetics. There is an option to have panels mounted within the roofline rather than mounted on top of the tiles, which gives a much more refined look to the property. There are panels which have black frames, black back sheets and black cells so they blend in much better to certain roof types versus the traditional silver framed panels. It is also possible to get solar roof tiles which cover the whole roof rather than having a particular section. There is obviously a cost difference between these options, but at least there are options. 25 years ago, people were complaining about satellite dishes appearing on houses. Now they are so common place, they have blended into the scenery. Solar panels will be like this too I’m sure. It won’t be long, especially in the new build developments, when the houses with solar will look more unusual than the house with solar.

 

As with all technologies, solar continues to progress in its efficiency and flexibility. There are other technologies rising through the ranks too to help support solar in homes for energy efficiency and control. Battery storage for example is one of the hot topics in our industry at present. It is still in its infancy and remains a costly option, but with the rise of electric vehicles the technology will develop further and become more cost effective. It is also possible to get whole house energy management systems which link through websites and apps to intelligently switch appliances on and off depending on whether the sun is shining on the solar panels or not. All of these things will become familiar to many home owners over time. House builders have a real opportunity to integrate them into their offerings early to set themselves apart and future-proof their own businesses.

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A look at how Solar PV could be more widely intergrated into construction projects, if it was better understood by the construction sector.

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