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20 SME DEVELOPMENTS


annum, which for four double bedrooms would be a significant saving on ‘normal’ houses – especially when accounting for the money paid out under the Feed In Tariff (FiT), and the fact that the gas bill is non-existent.


As he showed off the solar panels, placed discreetly along the front roofing tiles, Nic lamented the recent changes in Government policy “that will halt builds like this in the future,” namely the ending of the FiT on 31 March this year. “We got there just in time to qualify for FiT payments, which is worth around £70 per year. If you install a system like this now, though there’s lots of financial benefit to generating, storing and using your own electricity (more than £300 per year at current electricity prices), unfortunately there’s no FiT payment.


Further eco elements of the properties include recycled plastic roof tiles and composite decking, LED lighting, and a home chargepoint for electric vehicles, all allowing residents to live comfortably while potentially reducing their carbon footprint dramatically.


Though it lacks the highly-insulated hemp structure of the firm’s previous schemes, the building also still held up extremely well in terms of U-values, with the BRE approving the site and awarding it an A+ rating.


MAKING MONEY OFF THE GRID The whole-house energy system provides many more benefits than just its ecologi- cal offerings, particularly in helping potential residents to exist ‘off-grid’ thanks to the solar array. “Pretty much most of the day – especially if it’s particu- larly sunny – you can run just off of the solar panels from morning until the following morning, working off-grid,” said Nic. “Even if the weather’s bad, you could still be off-grid until night time.” “As well as being very efficient, the system’s very intelligent,” Nic explained. “It works everything out for you, and you can see what it’s doing through the app.” The developer pulled out his phone to demonstrate this, the app showing home was producing 1.6 kW, fluctuating up to around 2 kW – it being a relatively cloudy day. The battery was at around 29 per cent (by 11:30 am), so, said Nic, “if it stays like this, by about 3 pm we should have the full 14 kWh stored.” The app also showed the system inter- mittently sending some electricity back to the grid. “If the loading is too much,” explained Nic, “it’ll send some back, even while you’re still charging the battery.” The builder estimated that energy bills are going to cost between £600-800 per


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He continued: “So if anyone wants to do this in the future, there is less incen- tive for them. It’s a real shame, and unless they re-introduce something, then I think not as many people are going to do this.” More positively, since our visit, there has been hopes that the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG), the Government’s replacement scheme for FiT set to take effect by 1 January 2020, will tackle this likely downturn in adoption to some degree, but at the time of writing the information was not final.


BARRIERS TO BUILDING


Even though the build was completed in time to make use of the FiT scheme, the remainder of the build was no easy task. Nic described some of the barriers to building he has experienced as an SME, exploring some of the issues that appear to mainly have arisen over the last 10 years.


The recurrent theme, as so often seems the case, was the planning system. It took the company two years and eight months to get planning which, with the project taking nearly five years to complete from start to finish, meant that over half of the time spent was in the planning stages. “It is an absolute nightmare,” said Nic, having worked with planners for over 30 years. “There’s a lack of resources; they haven’t got enough senior planning officers, and because of this, micro sites just aren’t their focus – in order to meet


“MICRO SITES JUST AREN’T [PLANNERS’] FOCUS – IN ORDER TO MEET GOVERNMENT TARGETS THEY TEND TO FOCUS ON THE BIG STUFF”


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