After talking about it with a friend I wondered if it was possible to pull together a buying group to block buy solar panels for hot water. I had heard of schemes like this in the former eastern bloc, to buy cars and fridges, and wondered if I could kick start similar to help avoid the pressure selling that was going on in our area at the time. The idea found a route about two years later when the Transition Town Lewes group launched the Wiki site. This open source tool let me create some very simple web pages around a scheme I called ‘Heat More Greens’. These new pages included information about solar power for hot water technology, a discussion thread and asign-up process. I also put up an ‘Initiatives’ page on which Heat More Greens or any other home-grown project could be listed. After a few weeks, and with support from the Transition Town community, some 30+ households had signed up to Heat More Greens.

After a while I was approached by the then recently formed Ovesco, a not-for-profit company wanting to know if the list would consider moving into a grant scheme instead of block buying panels. As I understood it, this entity had been formed by the Transition Town Lewes Energy Group and had subsequently won the tender to administrate EEC grants on behalf of Lewes Council. While not what I had originally intended, and likely to shorten the list through meeting the grant eligibility criteria, this felt like an appropriate next step. The grant scheme was for smaller houses and also favoured low income households normally prevented from buying into these kind of technologies. I circulated details to the list and those wanting to pursue this route had their houses surveyed. At the time these grants helped meet quite a high proportion of the installation costs (dependent on the circumstance of the applicant) with some provision also for cavity insulation and loft insulation, both of which were pre-requisites. My involvement in the process ended at this point and I was unaware of how many houses actually ended up with panels, but did hear that 10 or so went ahead.

Since installation in February 2008 our solar panel pump has run for 2535 hours but given fluctuation in prices and my poor maths, I cannot give details about payback curves and apologise if you have read this to get this information. That said, I hope this summary helps demonstrate that when we to try and make a difference as individuals, we are inevitably also acting in concert, which in turn can make all the difference. My only concern is about affordability – let’s hope that solar technologies including PVC and solar for hot water can soon be rolled out affordably, so that anyone on any income can act on environmental issues while benefitting from the most abundant energy source there is.

Andrew Manson

The checklist

  • Provided your house is NOT a listed building and NOT in the conservation area, NO PLANNING PERMISSION IS NEEDED.
  • If you live in the conservation area, but intend to use a roof facing away from the street NO PLANNING PERMISSION IS NEEDED.
  • Whichever company we go with will need to do a site survey of the property ahead of installation.
  • Un-shaded roof space facing South, South West or South East are obviously best.
  • Solar water heaters are incompatible with combination boilers – you need to have a hot water cylinder for the panel to feed.
  • Many suppliers indicate that a 100 litre tank is sufficient to do the job.
  • There are grants available but we need to get an expression of interest first from those wanting to take things further.