Taking the PV road

Photovoltaic cells, or PV, may be a comparatively new form of power generation but it has already attracted its fair share of myths.  One of these is that the further north you are within the UK, the less it is worth investing in PV.

That the myth has arrived is understandable, that the myth persists is down to a general misunderstanding of the way in which PV works.  Essentially, the photovoltaic effect comes from the direct conversion of light into electricity at the atomic level.  This means that PV cells don’t actually need sunlight to work; they will still produce some energy on a cloudy day.  Of course, the more light they get, the more energy is produced, hence the recommendation to site PV cells in areas which maximise the sun’s rays, but the essential ingredient for PV power generation is light.

This means that those living in Scotland are just about as likely to benefit from PV as those in Kent.  Yes, Scotland is further north and this means that in the winter the country has fewer hours of daylight, but conversely, in the summer the daylight hours in Scotland far exceed those in the south of the UK.

Having researched the available evidence, Fife Council came to the conclusion that PV generation would be a viable alternative energy production process.  First gaining Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) registration, Fife Building Services installed a 2.8Kw peak PV system on a sheltered housing complex.  Predicted to produce 2,343 Kw of energy in the first year, the system far exceeded expectations, yielding 2,521Kw in the first six months alone.

Following this successful pilot Fife Council have installed a further 54 systems on Fife housing stock.  These PV arrays not only save on mainstream energy generation, the tenants benefit from lower electricity costs helping to reduce fuel poverty.  In addition the payments which the Council receives through the FIT scheme and from selling excess energy back to the grid will enable them to recover their initial outlay and invest in further projects.

The success of the PV scheme has encouraged Fife Council to look at other energy generation technologies such as wind and solar thermal.  As a result of the PV exercise the Council have learnt a number of important lessons, chief among which is that “it doesn’t always pay to install the cheapest system, but to make sure there is diligent research to provide the most efficient and reliable system available.”

Fife Council was the first in Scotland to gain MCS  Registration and its pioneering work is showing the rest of Scotland that PV technology can make a real difference in the community; both in saving costs and helping to mitigate fuel poverty.  The Council is therefore a worthy recipient of a Green Apple award.