Broken solar panels cost councils ‘thousands’

Defective PV cell system forces hike in local authority energy bills

LOCAL councils have wasted thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money due to inactive solar panels, according to local solar energy expert.

Chris Verney, who is also a Bishops Tawton parish councillor, said the solar system at the Civic Centre in Barnstaple had not been working for the last 18 months, costing Devon County Council and North Devon Council around �10,000 in energy bills.

Mr Verney, who runs Barum Solar Heat, said: “The councils should put their own house in order before cutting our goods and services on the front line.

“County engineers are aware of the problem, having made periodic tests and inspections, but have chosen to ignore it.

“They have a very poor track record with respect to the actual maintenance service they carry out on their properties. Council tax payers should be getting good value for money.”

Mr Verney estimates that thousands of kilowatt hours’ revenue have been lost from the 56.6 kW peak solar system.

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He says that the system is capable of generating around 43,600 kWh a year, and that current energy costs are between 9 pence and 15 pence per kWh.

The solar panels at the Civic Centre were installed in April 2005 and funded using public money from the Department of Trade and Industry, now the Department of Energy and Climate Change. The work was commissioned by the district council.


Since then, faulty photovoltaic (PV) panels were removed and replaced at the expense of BP Solar. Also, part of the system had to be removed and replaced to facilitate the installation of new windows.

The building is owned by Devon County Council and part-rented by North Devon Council.

Mr Verney also pointed out that the building does not presently export electricity back to the grid.

He said: “The building is mostly unoccupied on Saturdays and Sundays and as such there is very little electricity demand. These two days could be earning money at the latest feed in tariff rates.”


The county council said that based on current electricity tariffs, the potential maximum saving was actually in the region of �3,600 per year.

It also said that the system didn’t export electricity back to the national grid but while the buildings were less occupied during the weekends, there was still a relatively high level of electricity consumption due to mainframe and alarm systems.

An export meter is needed to export power back to the grid and wasn’t installed as part of the original commission by the district council.

“We’ve since investigated the possibility of transferring to a tariff that would allow us to feed power back to the grid, but we’ve been told by Ofgem that we’re not able to do that,” said a county spokesperson.

“There has been progressive rise in the additional load on the electricity system since its construction because of additional demand from all the occupiers of the building – North Devon Council, the magistrates’ court, police, in addition to DCC.


“Various work has been done over the years to keep up with additional demand on electricity. A rolling programme to upgrade the system began in 2005, requiring match funding from the other organisations that use the building.

“Part of that upgrade was the installation of a Powerperfector which has saved energy.”

A spokesman for NPS South West, who manage Devon County Council property, said: “Since being notified of the fault, NPS has undertaken a number of investigations and has now established a solution that will be incorporated into the programme of rewiring which is scheduled for March 2011.

“To resolve the photovoltaic fault requires a shutdown of power to the Civic Centre thus it has been planned as part of other maintenance works at the building to cause minimum disruption to the occupiers.”

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