How do you decide whether or not to install a microgeneration system?
Posted by Paul Balcombe on 25 October 2012 at 2:43 pm
Microgeneration systems can be more environmentally friendly and generate cheaper energy (most of the time, taking into account the life span of the system) than their normal alternative: gas boilers or electricity from the grid.
This makes microgeneration an appealing prospect for some and the number of installations of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels in particular has increased significantly since the Feed-in Tariff (FITs) started. However, microgeneration still only accounts for around 0.2% of domestic energy supply.
There are the high installation costs, of course. FITs make the return on investment better than an ordinary savings account, but some people just can’t afford the upfront costs needed to buy and install it. There are ways around this though: rent-a-roof schemes give those who can’t afford solar PV access to free electricity, although they wouldn’t get FIT payments. But people are often worried about the effect this will have on the saleability of their house. There are many other factors that put people off the idea of installing microgeneration systems too, e.g. long payback times, worries about maintenance costs or decreasing system efficiencies.
I’m currently conducting some research at the University of Manchester to better understand these issues. I’m particularly interested in how different sections of the UK population are attracted to, as well as put off by, the very different aspects of microgeneration products. By this I mean that some people may be more driven by the financial aspect, or by the desire to be more self-sufficient in energy provision; others may also be attracted by the lower environmental impacts associated with these systems compared to the conventional fossil-fuel systems. These differences make microgeneration products more or less desirable to different people. One example of this is with different age groups: most microgeneration owners are between 45 and 65 years old, meaning that something about the technology is less desirable to other age groups.
If we can find the key differences between age groups, or between other segments of the population, we might find some easy wins: simple changes to the industry, to government incentives or to industry regulations that might deliver marked increases to the contribution of microgeneration to domestic energy demand. What changes would work best? Grants instead of FITs? More secure maintenance contracts? Or something else?
If you’re interested in learning more and taking part in this work, please click on this link to do the survey (it takes about 15 minutes).
About the author: Paul Balcombe is a post graduate student at Manchester University
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