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Solar power in a conservation area: how solar slate tiles pleased the planners

Posted by Tasha Kosviner on 15 April 2015 at 2:15 pm

Whenever I see a petition designed to get solar panels removed from village roofs, I get a little twitchy.

Not only is this, in my view, the worst kind of nimbyism, these petitions invariably cite the ugliness of the panels as a reason for their removal. How unsightly, I wonder, will these villages be when climate change-related weather extremes have caused lawns to shrivel, trees to fall and floods to uproot roads?

Nonetheless, I am prepared to admit that despite the positive action they represent, a solar panel is not a thing of beauty.

So when I heard about reader Tony Booer’s solar slates, I thought I’d like to find our more.

Tony installed the tiles on the roof of a double carport, adjacent to his converted barn home in 2014. The 175-year old barn is a listed building in a conservation area so when it came to highly visible renewable energy systems, Tony had to get clever.

We wanted the roof to look good, work well and to enhance the nature of the property – and so did the planning department,” Tony told me. “The main challenge was to try and explain to them that this wasn’t going to be a standard bolt-on roof array (which would never have passed the planners).  We were at pains to point out the differences, but even so when the official planning application came out, the installation was still described as ‘solar panels’.”

While the tiles Tony chose, from the Solarcentury C21e range, work in exactly the same way as solar panels, the difference is only aesthetic. Instead of being bolted on like traditional panels, the tiles are inset into the existing roof, replacing some of the conventional roof tiles. They look like slates, even fitting onto the existing battens, so there’s not much disturbance to the roof and they match the old roofline. When you look at the roof from the side, they are completely invisible.

Permission was finally granted, and the three kWp installation has just finished its first year of operation. So, has it lived up to expectations?

“Absolutely,” says Tony. “We’ve just completed the first year of generation, and we got 2,750 kWh in that time.”

When it comes to feed-in tariffs, the tiles earn a generation tariff of 14.9p/kWh, and an export tariff of 4.64p/kWh with payments due to last for the next 20 years. Tony expects this to generate an income of £9,500, a figure which will just about cover the installation costs. He also expects the savings he makes from drawing less power from the grid to amount to around £4000. Although Tony says the motivation for installation was more about reducing his carbon footprint than generating an income, he was pleased when the fitters sold the old slate tiles they had removed to a reclamation yard, thus further offsetting the cost of installation.

A ground source heat pump and array of other energy saving measures such as LED bulbs and high spec insulation have since added to Tony’s energy saving picture.

So what advice would Tony have for others considering solar slate tiles?

“I think the most important thing is to see the solar tiles in the larger context of energy conservation,” he says. “There’s really no point in doing this if you haven’t done some of the other, more basic, things like insulation, changing lightbulbs, having better heating control and so on. The other thing is to do your homework.  It’s relatively straight-forward to compare technologies on paper, but a working system needs to be installed correctly, and that’s something you can only really do once.  So pick your installer carefully and seek out recommendations. And don’t forget to talk to the neighbours so they understand what you’re doing and why.”

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