This is the next blog post in our irregular series from the Cornwall Insight team on their experiences of installing or owning various energy assets.
Like my colleague Ed, I took the decision to invest in solar in March last year as energy prices were making front page news. So yes, my interest in solar was primarily financial, although I’ve not shied away from being a little smug about ‘doing my bit’ and sharing the data, requested or otherwise. Going live in October I enjoyed the last of the summer rays, still self-serving 18% of the Reade household consumption in December! Impressive, given the sun’s irradiance by that time of year. My journey started two years ago – my neighbour was getting a quote and frankly, what’s good enough for John is, well, competition for me. Quote suggested a ten-year payback. Unsurprisingly, neither of us progressed.
Roll forward to late summer ‘21, I was working at an energy supplier enthusiastic about the renewables transition. However, there was an eerie mood in the room; energy prices were rising relatively fast. A tariff and accompanying hedge that would usually last a month or so was selling out fast. Price comparison websites resembled airport departure ticker boards. By November I was out of a job as my employer was forced into administration by a set of cruel circumstances. Grim times, but on the upside I managed to land a fantastic new job at Cornwall Insight.
In spring 2021 I received a marketing email from Nationwide, to consider investing in solar. My building society suggesting energy products? I trusted them and I was also aware they’d invested in the business that would ultimately design my system, so I decided to go for it.
Step 1. Go online to MakeMyHouseGreen and get a quote.
Step 2. Have a call with the team to refine the design and discuss payback.
Step 3. Installer eyes up the roof in real life.
Step 4. Pay deposit, look forward to July install.
I went as big as I could squeeze on my roof, which was eleven 365w panels, Solis inverter and 4.8KWh of Pylon batteries. All recommend by MakeMyHouseGreen; a more optimal design than I’d expected.
Back to the commercials – the payback period hadn’t changed much. Yes, energy prices had risen, but so had hardware costs. Furthermore, adding the cost of batteries diluted the theoretical savings, however, I was now better informed. I have an unfair advantage with access to the best forecasting minds and tools in the country. Adopting solar and batteries into our life, if not just about minimising usage from the grid, is about adapting our family lifestyle to shift demand. For any new homeowning EV owner this is patently obvious. Charge the car when the sun shines or on overnight cheap rates. The same applies to the home. While I can only feed the kids on schedule, I can do the dishes, wash my clothes and charge the battery when the sun shines or I’m fast asleep on low rate. Unfortunately, I was also painfully aware our forecasts were indicating higher power costs for the long term, the upside being that the payback period was shrinking rapidly. Longer term, I’ll be looking to use excess generation for heating home and water, or maybe even automate battery charging.
July came and went. So did August and September. I needed the mains power line to the property to be sheathed to give scaffolder safe access. Such was the demand on the local network operator, we had to delay. Eventually I had to sort out my own scaffolding. In hindsight, it was a minor blip on an otherwise seamless journey. I only mention this to make the point that anything to do with buildings is rarely straightforward, so expect the unexpected.
All in all, a straightforward and painless experience. Well except for the kids, who missed out on the Costa del Sol, as Dad spent Costa del “family holiday money” on Costa alota Sol’ar. For completeness, we also invested more in insulation and a shareholding in a co-operative windfarm. The unexpected upside is I can now speak to our consumer clients on asset investment, PPAs and DSR with a personal vigour I hadn’t anticipated.
Why did my building society suggest solar? Knowing I’d be writing this, I was curious to find out more, so I asked. Thus followed a conversation with their PR and Proposition teams, who kindly explained. Nationwide is a ‘mutual’ organisation, which means they were founded on, and continue to serve a social purpose, which is also why I ‘trust’ them. In conversation with proposition manager, Ian Cheatle, I learnt a lot about how one of their objective is to support members with life in general. They identified a customer need and problem; cost of living and fear of stepping into home solar retrofit.
The economic consequences of the energy crisis are well documented, so instead I’ll focus on the fear factors Nationwide identified as challenges. The usual suspects with any change: cost, complexity and uncertainty, all play out. Understandable, given stories of property damage, unscrupulous installers and general lack of recognisable brands. The install market is highly fragmented, which has eased somewhat with established brands including energy suppliers providing a front end. Here’s where Nationwide come in to present a compelling proposition of brand trust, coupled with a positive user experience from the MakeMyHouseGreen platform. For homeowners the economic case is simple to model, albeit downplayed to manage savings expectations. The benefit of trust enables a brand to move into new markets, much like Cornwall Insight has moved to advise transport clients on the energy market. For Nationwide, there is potential a halo effect from association with progressive ESG action. Nationwide ran this as a pilot to gain learnings, which is now closed, but longer term it will be interesting to whether Nationwide could weave in financial products into a similar proposition. I used a combination of savings and a personal loan, longer term I would like to see a value share from lower cost of capital for green projects. As for their own consumption, Nationwide is progressive in their energy consumption, for example committing long-term power supply agreements with renewable generators. More information here.
Writing this early-February during a cold snap, I’ve enjoyed a few hours of free heating thanks to good midday sun looks. I can reflect on how installing solar has been a positive personal journey; it’s helped me to better understand the industry I’ve chosen for my career, appreciate the value of energy in everyday life and how that will evolve. Thoughtful stuff indeed, and I’m already reaping financial benefits – what’s not to love?
If you want to know how we can help or at least explain the acronyms to steer your organisation through troubling times email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Why not even come along to our Energy Net Zero forum?