Grand Designs + Solar Panels = Epic Fail

Grand Designs Logo with FAIL stamp

Note to Grand Designs: “Do your bloody homework!”

Today’s top solar tip:

Please don’t look to Kevin McCloud or Grand Designs for advice on solar power!

Now don’t get me wrong, I love Kevin McCloud, he seems like a top bloke. And Grand Designs is one of the few things I actually watch occasionally on the gogglebox.

But they really need to do their research when it comes to solar.

The UK episode on ABC1 last week showed that they don’t have a freaking clue about solar power.

On last week’s episode a pair of Londoners with about as much taste as Kath and Kim, decided to destroy the ambience of a beautiful London mews by building a faux-mews house on the end of the existing, beautiful, old terrace.

So that the house “fitted in”, they clad the front of the house with acrylic tiles that mimicked 150 year old London bricks. Yeuch!

Then they decided to dig a hole bigger than Olympic Dam underneath so they could fit a dancefloor, spa and an enormous  gold sofa in to the resulting artifically lit, white-washed bunker.

But the most ridiculous part of the whole design was their solar power system. Here it is:

vertical solar panels

Don’t try this at home: vertical solar panels.  Pic: Channel4

Spot anything unusual about this solar panel array?

Yes, you got it!  They have mounted them vertically and close to the ground in the midst of lots of trees and other buildings.

These solar panels are not going to get a whole lot of sun for 2 reasons:

a) it is 40 degrees from the ‘ideal’ 50 degree tilt for London to maximise annual solar yield.


b) The killer:  the shading issues on vertical solar panels mounted so close to the ground are a nightmare, as can be seen from the picture above.

Due to the crappy UK weather, solar panels over there need all the help they can get to make them viable. Their positioning needs to be as optimal as possible. Mounting them in such a compromised position will likely make these solar panels a very bad economic and environmental investment.

But here’s the part of the program that was pure greenwashing:

In one scene, the otherwise eminently sensible, Sir Kevin of McCloud says:

“With these solar panels this home almost powers itself…”

Sorry, Kev, but that’s Buuuuuulllllllshiiiiiit!

bullship stamp

Yep, that’s what it is

But enough of my ranting. What does the science say?  Let’s crunch the numbers and see how much electricity this particular solar system is going to generate:

First we need to establish which direction the panels are facing. Remember – these panels are in the Northern Hemisphere – so South is optimum.

I did a little googling and found a Google Map image of the house. The house is the one on the end of the terrace. I’ve drawn a red arrow coming out of the wall with the panels on it. It faces South West:

aerial view of the house

The solar panels are facing South West.  Pic: Google

Armed with this information, I head over to the fantastic tool PV Watts and enter some more information about the cheeky Cockneys’ solar system:

1) The location of the house on the planet (I simply used London’s lat/long).

2) The size of the system. Looking at the photo there are 24 panels. They look to me like 165W panels, so 24 x 165 = 3.96kW.

3) The angle of the panels (90° from horizontal).

4) The direction they are facing (SW or 225° clockwise from North).

pvwatts input screen

The input screen on PV Watts

Then I pressed the “calculate” button and saw this:

pvwatts results

The results: approx two fifths of rock all

This is telling us that the 4kW solar system will generate 1926kWh per year. Or 5.28 kWh per day.

Kevin, mate, this 230m² home, most of which is underground and requires shed loads of lighting, not to mention the illuminated dance floor, indoor pool, sauna and electric heating, is likely going to use 30-50kWh per day. 5kWh per day from the solar is hardly going to make a dent in that!

And that’s assuming there’s no shading.

Nothing kills solar power like shading. Now it is impossible to quantify how much of a shading problem this particular solar system has without a site visit. But looking at the photograph, it definitely has a shading problem. Look at the top left hand panel. It is almost 50% covered in shade:

close up of shaded panel

That bit of shade could kill 80% of the system’s power.

If the solar panels are using a conventional, central inverter, then that single panel has probably lost 70-80% of its output. And because all the panels are in series, it is like someone stepping on a hosepipe. Every panel will lose its flow of electricity whilst that panel is in the shade. The result – bugger all electricity – just because one solar panel is shaded.

And at other times of the day that shading will probably be much, much worse. Because the panels are vertical, they get the most sunlight as the sun is close to the horizon. But when the sun is low in the sky, it casts the most shadows. Kind of obvious and kind of a big problemo.

Let’s be really generous and assume that shading only reduces the power output by 50%. That gives us a grand total of 2.64kWh per day.

To put it in perspective, that is probably enough to power their fridge (yes- I’m assuming they have got a big blingy fridge to match the style of the house).  Oh, and the system probably cost them well over $15,000 (there are no solar rebates on the purchase price in the UK).

In other words this particular solar system looks like a big fat FAIL on both economic and environmental grounds.

Perhaps when the owners get their first power bill they will realise that simply sticking solar panels on your home without any thought for their orientation or shading is just plain daft. It this house ‘almost powers itself’ I’ll eat my hat on YouTube!

About Finn Peacock

I'm a Chartered Electrical Engineer, Solar and Energy Efficiency nut, dad, and the founder and CEO of I started SolarQuotes in 2009 and the SolarQuotes blog in 2013 with the belief that it’s more important to be truthful and objective than popular. My last "real job" was working for the CSIRO in their renewable energy division. Since 2009, I’ve helped over 700,000 Aussies get quotes for solar from installers I trust. Read my full bio.


  1. I remember that episode. I think it was more for looks than anything. Some people are a bit dopey like that. Considering what they did with the rest of the house….

  2. I saw it, too. Given how much they wasted on the rest of the design, it’s probably just a drop in the ocean. One of the less inspiring places covered by GD! The funny thing to me is my 1.75KW system will supply me the same total annual power, ie. 2MWh… for $1600.00 installed. And that still means a 5yr payback. Let’s think of them as ‘decoration’ and we can all put our hackles down! 🙂

    • Wish I could produce 2MWh per year from my 2kW system… lol

      • Dear Craig, if you run a 2 kWh system for 1000 hours, is your total energy output not 2000 kWh? As 1 MW is 1000 kW, then what is wrong with stating 2 MWh? Is that not the same energy output as 2 W for a million hours or a million watts for 2 hours? I think so!

      • Why could you not produce 2MWh per year?? Obviously you read it as 2MkWh not 2MWh. You would only have to produce 5.5kwh per day to get to 2MWh per year. You have to remember the k in kW stands for thousand so a 2kW system is 2000W. Therefore 2,000,000 Wh divided by 365 (days in a year) is 5479W or 5.479kW. as you can see 2MWh in a year is no hard feat at all as you only need to produce 5.479kW per day which should be reasonably easy.

      • Theo Bekkers says

        My 2.4KW system has produced 3.1MWh in the last 10 months

  3. justmyopinion says

    take a chill pill mate! they paid for it not as if it came out of your pocket
    their lost not yours. although, I do agree with you.

  4. Great article! and I thought solar power was boring!

  5. Whilst the units are certainly not in the right position for the peak power/sun benefits I dare that even if they were on the roof they weren’t going to get much sun well not in the UK anyway. Then of course there is always the problem with high rise shielding.
    However there is a point to be considered I.e That in the UK the sun sits a lot lower in the sky for longer periods than say West Australia. However having experimented with solar powered hot water systems I do find that the traditional North facing panels lose out in the winter period. I.e. In summer there is an over abundance of hot water and some solar gain is wasted. However with a more tilted south westerly facing unit it does improve the gain during the winter months to give a more rounded warm water supply (and less Electric/gas booster use) rather than a scalding over boost during summer.
    Of course if you have a big family North facing can be the better option to grab as much as possible for all those long teenage showers in the summer.
    If shade wasn’t a problem (and it isn’t for some newer units) I would say that what they have and based on an entire year it may be as good as it gets providing the smogs of yesteryear don’t return. It is also an awfully big fridge that uses 2’5 KW. and even then only intermittently and a lot less than our warmer climes. Mind you its still ugly and the reflection might just fry the passer by.

  6. Finn: you may want to be more fair and mention bypass diodes. And, given that London is at 51 degrees north, you might also want to mention that vertical is better than horizontal.

    These people are nut jobs. But taking your argument to its histrionic extreme, any solar installation in London is an epic fail, since the sun can’t get through the overcast most of the time, and nobody should be allowed to install solar anywhere but the Sahara desert.

    Domestic solar is about more than kWh. In many cases it’s about making a statement to your neighbours about your values. It’s probably a lie in this case, but the dance floor is more of a crime.

    • Actually, the Sahara is a terrible place for PV panels, as they are less effective in higher temps. Optimal temp, from my poor memory, might be about 25C. It’s about LIGHT, not heat.
      There seems to be an installer in my victorian town who keeps installing arrays full west!

    • Yep solar is about making a statement coz without the subsidies paid for by those without panels they’d be unviable on opportunity cost alone. To that you can add depreciation and the cost of having the panels cleaned

      Now that the subsidies are being wound back the folly of allowing this indulgence is becoming clearer. Go solar by all means but make it work financially by doing it on a larger community wide scale

      • Get yourself some solar panels and then eat your hat, mate.

      • Tell that to the shell-shocked tax-paying WA punters hit by Colin Barnett’s Muja Power Station stuff-up, John. Had that half-billion bucks been committed to household solar, we’d be millions ahead… .

        • Don’t believe everything you read. The Western Australian Government has set up a system where if a power station doesn’t produce power when it says it will it has to pay large penalties. For a 200 MW unit it’s about $200 000 for not being available for 24 hours. The high cost of the Muja AB refurbishment was because it was several months overdue and had to pay the massive penalty costs. Who owns Muja Power Station? The Government! Who gets the penalty payments? The Government! So it was the Government fining itself. In theory a big cost but in reality quite small. A “beat-up” by the newspapers.

          • The government fines the government? Thanks for explaining the insane idiosyncrasies of the existing monopoly. I have NO political perspective here. The initial Lib initiative was _brilliant._ The backflip was just silly… and doomed to failure. All we needed to do was project a class action and it folded, more quickly than we expected. The Libs got it right. Then they got it wrong. Yes, it was expensive to implement… . Collier got his sums woefully wrong… and WA’s coffers are now depleted, due to some ludicrous policy imperatives. Solar power was presumed to be an easy target by a treasurer who, frankly, is an enigma. Repeatedly forgiven by our premier, for some unknown reason, Buswell muddles on. Given the task of managing Australia’s most viable economy, he hasn’t yet begun to grasp The Big Picture. Supremely confident (like a bull in a china shop) he’s almost certain to further damage the state’s credit rating. We just can’t afford any more financial blunders, Colin. *It’s time to cull The Big Fella.*

          • Theo Bekkers says

            The Govt promised to refurbish Muja for $100M. They spent $280M, when they fired up unit 3 it blew up seriously injuring a worker. It turned out that no one had considered that the 47 year old pipes might have some corrosion..
            In June, the government decided to mothball two of Muja’s four turbines and instigated a review into the viability refurbishing the facility.

            Including a $150 million bank loan that state-owned corporation Verve Energy was left with a result of a botched joint venture deal with Inalco, the government has spent $290 million on the station in the past three years.
            The Energy Minister Mike Nahan has told Parliament that based on the report’s findings, the government has decided to complete the project, and maintain its decision to sell at least half of Verve Energy’s share.

            “While there will always be risks associated with thermal power plants, particularly those of the age of Muja AB, I am confident this is the best course of action given the independent advice received,” he said.

            Mr Nahan says the government estimates the project will cost an additional $45 million to complete, taking the total cost of the refurbishment to more than $335 million.

            How many solar panels do you get for that much money?

          • Excellent summary, Theo. Thank you.

          • Theo, by my calculations, at 5 bucks a watt, you get 67 Megawatts of solar panels for your $335 million. But you also don’t need to buy coal, emit 5.5 million tonnes of CO2 per year, or C14 for that matter.
            A large scale ground installation may even get panels at 2 bucks a watt, which would be 167 Megawatts while the sun was shining, which I hear it does in WA occasionally.

  7. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a journalist contacted the owners and asked how well they work and have they got any statistics from bills etc and could he have a copy. Then you could do a proper analysis of it. You could ask questions such as are they in series?, do they tilt at all? how much are they affected by shade? etc.

    Then again any mug can hit up a couple of websites to do this report.

  8. Got four kilowatt solar (4.4 inverter) Dec 2011, cost $5,000 from Solar Gain with wise use (and it’s not difficult) My bills so far are around 33% or what they were before I installed the system.I have got back around $1500 so far and avoided the fairly steep power cost increase of a few months ago.

    Sample Savers. Pool pump on during the day.
    Washing machine starts around mid day.
    A roast can be timed to cook before you get home.
    Sprinkler system can only be part saved due to water board operating times but I’m working on it.
    48 volt battery system coming soon with 48 to 240 volt inverter.
    For refrigerator over night usage and a dupicate LED series of low voltage lights.
    separate from the mains system. Basic supply but no power failures to worry about.
    A $62 dollar bill this two month period whereas all previous (before solar) were nearly all around the $200 mark.
    Greatest savings occur when equipment used during solar generation otherwise you need to give them 2,5 units to get one back for night use.


    • Dennis, I’m confused about your final statement. I have a 1.5kw solar system in Qld. I get a total rebate of 50c per kwh I feed back to the grid and at night my electricity costs me 23c per kwh. Therefore I use most of my electricity at night to give me the highest rebate and the lowest bills. Since installing about 3 years ago I average a $100 credit every 3 months to my electricity account. It would seem to me that you could do the same.

    • Ahhh – but what really happens when dopey state governments pay large tariffs based only on what is pumped back into the grid is that everyone switches everything off during the day, get paid to generate, then switch it all on after 10pm when power is cheaper.

      • Luke that’s what the government wants us to do. Coal fired units are used as base load stations because they are cheap, but they can’t vary load easily. Gas turbines can vary the load easy, but are more expensive to run. The government likes people to use power evenly, rather than a massive peak in the day and low load at night. Having coal fired units with no load causes problems.

  9. Germany is full of vertical solar panels. And they have a lot more than we do. It’s a little thing called Lattitude, Look it up.

  10. as above says

    If London were in the Southern hemisphere at Lat 51 degrees it would be on Aukland Island in the Arctic ocean, hundreds of Kms South of the southern most tip of NZ. A quick look at a World Atlas will show that verticle pannels are not all that silly. K. McLeod’s building would look a lot worse with an array of pannels on the roof!

    • Correcto. says

      Erm, I do believe that the Arctic Ocean is in the Northern Hemisphere, thousands of kilometres _north_ of London. I’m not entirely sure where Aukland Island is either.

  11. Ted Bundy says

    get a life dickhead!!!!!!!!

  12. Like your thinking mate. Don’t let these other comment put you off. Way too many prancing balerinas in the construction industry anyway, and when they get their way they build underground dancefloors. I am yet to see anyone prove your calculations wrong

    • anthony playground says

      they should change it to an underground dungeon – less lighting required (and they are becoming very popular).

  13. Killer What says

    I think you’ll find that the “shaded” area of the panels you’ve circled is the reflection of a tree branch.

  14. Why are we still talking about this. Get a life. The suns gone in.

  15. Some interesting comments.
    What I need to know, is it still worth having solar panels (set up correctly) in Sydney in terms of economics and environmental effects to heat a house. I have a north facing 3 bedroom brick house with (spare the bagging from the staunch environmentalists) a swimming pool. I have gas and will never have air-conditioning. Who would you recommend to fit this?

  16. Apart from the agro; Finn what makes me question your advice is how they would implement your advice. Could they have put the panels at the angle you suggested without the shade or would they have to loose house space? In an ideal world there are no trade-offs. In the real one, it all trade-off. For many, if not most houses, the ideal arrangement will not be possible. Grand Designs is often about how pople make best in the less than best situation, and pushing the boudaries of envrionmental design ahead McMansions with no trees to spoil the view of someone elses roof.

  17. This is eco-Nazism at its zenith. The system has an overall negative impact in both power use and economics. The panels have a use by date and take a lot of power to make. If the power required to make and install the panels exceeds the total lifetime output, it is a negative exercise. If the cost of panels + installation exceeds the (unsubsidised) lifetime energy savings, it is a negative economic proposition. The figures are quite conservative-the real electricity generation will be considerably lower than that stated.
    Conclusion- this is Green tokenism at its best. Interesting that the ultra greens think this is what we should all be doing, even though it has a significant negative impact. To all those in “feel-good” land, eco Utopia is a con.Perhaps the ultra green brigade will curb electricity use by having less people?

    • What a load of shit. I’m an electrical engineer and know that generating electricity using a photovoltaic system (i.e. solar panels) can be very beneficial in terms of economics and the environment. We don’t have an endless supply of coal, and we probably have less than a hundred years left of crude oil. So is it going to be better to pollute the planet unnecessarily at the detriment of our own habitat, or would it be better to find cleaner and more sustainable ways to generate electricity now?

      Conclusion: Your view Jim is short sighted capitalism at its best. The amount of energy used to manufacture a solar panel in a factory would be much less than the overall output of a properly installed and oriented to the sun solar panel over 15-20 years. If you are really that concerned about whether a solar panel can output more energy over its lifetime than the amount of energy used to manufacture and install it, then why aren’t you campaigning against bottled water? The cost of bottled water per litre is more than petrol/diesel per litre, so the cost in transporting bottled water is more than the cost to get that water out of the ground. My reason why you wouldn’t be complaining about this? Ah, economics! Bottled water companies get to make a profit, pay taxes, and make profit driven idiots like you happy.

    • Yep I’m with the other John – you’re talking angry, ignorant nonsense.

      A decent PV system pays for itself in about 5 years so even were we to assume a mere 10 year life, you’re ahead of the game for 5 years out of 10 while power prices will continue to climb at a rate well above inflation. We’re paying 40% more in Brisbane than we were 3 years ago. PVs are plummeting in price too. Forget the polarised slogans and name calling for a second and forget about the possibility that we might be having negative effects on the planet. Consider nothing but the financial costs and benefits to you. If PVs use otherwise unusable space on your house and repay your investment 2 or more times over, a wise person would consider them carefully. It would be unwise to ignore any financially positive option due to political considerations.

  18. Ok, so big Kevs line about the house powering itself is a tad over optimistic’ but hey, this is entertainment right- give us a break? Actually, as alluded to by previous commenters, the configuration used seem to be the best possible, given the site orientation and latitude.- so this seems article is smarty pants, but not so smart after-all.
    Want to contribute something useful, tell us the embodied energy in the setup, the payback period, and if and why the owners would have benefited the world by burning coal instead – if indeed that’s what your calculations show

  19. Finn, facts always beat theory and assumptions. Particularly when the theory comes from somebody attempting to display scientific knowledge whilst not possessing enough of the facts to do so.
    Fact 1: Their objectives are not the same as yours. Whilst you appear to only support solar power if/when it is 100% efficient, these people are not expecting unrealistic results. Extravagant claims made for an entertaining TV show should not be taken so seriously. These people were attempting to do more than simply find cheaper electricity. They were certainly not trying to build the most efficient solar installation possible. Function was only one of their objectives, design and beauty were more important to them.
    Fact 2: Design and artistic appeal have value. Whilst you might not value the beauty of their chosen design your opinion is entirely irrelevant as you were never asked to either judge or purchase the building. Simply calculating whether the solar panels pay for themselves through saved electricity charges is ignoring that artistic value. If function is the only thing that matters, houses would look extremely ugly.
    Fact 3: You display more arrogance than intelligence when posting the US national debt as an example of the house’s electricity bill, yet totally understandable as any proper research would have revealed most of your assumptions as incorrect and forced you to retract your original views. I’m guessing you simply couldn’t bring yourself to admit you were wrong eh? That would spoil the fun you had showing off your (misguided and half-informed) intelligence.

  20. Q. Why do you keep saying “vertical” when the panels look like they are “horizontal”?
    Q. Why did you assume a series connection? It would be very strange to have ALL the panels in series wouldn’t it?
    S. Nevertheless…dumb people, dumb house…with a disco dance floor…ik!

  21. It’s probably actually an environmental burden (not boon)for them to have such an inefficient solar system, given the embedded energy and materials required to create the solar system. If that were the case, he has every right to be cranky.

  22. Asianplumb. says

    The owner of the adjoining terraces should have had a lynching party out as soon as they started to deface not just the one residence they owned but the entire block s a whole. There’s always some moron that has to paint his/her home some poxxy blue to remind them of their home back in Greece or the gypsy caravan or circus tent they were born in with total disregard to the extent of devaluation they have on the entire neighbourhood.

  23. dude – you did the math !

    reminds me of my committee where the chairman was all fired up to spend $95,000 on LED light bulbs – to ‘like totally save money’, etc. until I explained my calculations showing they would save $700 a year in electricity – with a payback period of – never …

    he was feeling so inspired with the colour and movement – gee he was annoyed to hear facts !

  24. Train Spotter Down Under says

    The panels are in an ideal position for the main beam of the passing trains at night to work their system. Bet you all missed that one!

  25. It’s a compromise solution. Ideal angle in london is Latitude 51degrees plus. If major elec load profile is daytime heating you could add another 15deg to that getting an ideal angle of 65deg. Which is closer to vertical (90) than horizontal (0). In a mews house most parameters are fixed. Can’t change direction of wall and can’t change roof profile. Better on wall than flat roof! Efficiency will be poor but the owners aren’t poor and probably don’t care.
    Grand Designs is a good show and a great collection of ‘epic fails’.

    • anthony playground says

      I wonder if you could just use a reflector with a light sensor and tracker system to reflect sunlight onto the solar panels (cost about $300 to set up and could be a powered by a 12v system). Maybe they could paint something nice on the back of the reflector – or sell advertising for the ppl on the trains to see (make some money) 🙂

      If that doesn’t work….. just burn the house down for the insurance…… or don’t….. whatever 🙂

  26. We need to see the facts about the power they are producing and ask why they were wall mounted in that way, before jumping to conclusions. On the surface it does look sub optimal.

  27. It might be a fashion statement, but I guess paint would have been cheaper or even rendering.

  28. We’ve provided 1.5kW systems to most of our rentals (in addition to SHWSs). Most tenants report zero power costs, even on the one home where panels face west. Reflective window tinting helps too. Solar electricity is worthwhile, or we wouldn’t have installed it…

    • Please may I rent from you?

      • At the time of installation, we’d calculated on interest rates being around 9.54%, Fiona. When rates fell to less than 6%, we put our ‘savings’ back into each rental: SES, SHWs, reflective tinting, and air conditioners (where there were none, initially). There were tax benefits in doing so, but the chief beneficiaries were our (great) tenants. That probably hasn’t been our most generous provision. Our greatest ‘gift’ to those who look after our rental homes is to not raise rents at all during a _tenancy._ (Note that I didn’t say ‘…during a lease’.)

        Ideally, a lessor values good tenants highly… and rewards their care of a rental property, by providing them with incentives to remain. Because our rentals are homes we’d enjoy living in ourselves, we have queues of applicants when a house does become available. The best thing an applicant can bring to the desk is (an) outstanding rental reference(s), which will prove accurate after referee-checking. A great rental history can mean tens of thousands of dollars saved during a tenancy!~ 😀

  29. Colin Spencer says

    You should do a calculation based on the idea of PV film laminated into glass panels and installed on all north facing windows of the Rialto building. That would be a fascinating outcome. All vertical panels, but high exposure.

  30. I laughed when I saw that photo. I’ve built and installed solar panels, starting with the individual cells. Firstly, solar only works for at most 20% of the time – 6 hours/day, 300 days per year, and probably less considering the weather in the UK. The panels are very expensive, and just don’t produce enough electricity to justify the cost, even under ideal conditions and installation. This installation is a joke. Certainly, shade on a few panels can be a problem if bypass diodes aren’t used, but any shade means loss of energy (along with bird droppings -they have to be kept clean). Add the cost of maintenance (normally ignored – panels and inverters break down) – and it’s a very costly exercise.

    • SV, Singapore says

      I agree that those panels are very poorly-placed. You _do_sound like a disgruntled ex-installer, though!
      We’re delighted with all the SES we had installed… and they’re a depreciation claim annually.

      • Colin Spencer says

        This year China has excess production of panels and associated equipment. A 56 panel commercial system has a monthly lease cost about $60 less than the average energy savings they give us. But, our cost per kw/hr from the grid is about to increase from 21 cents to 32 cents. So our savings will increase dramatically. When Kevin’s ETS comes into effect a year or so from now, the price per tonne on the European market is expected to rise as far as $Aus40 per tonne. Our cost per kw/hr then could rise to 60 cents. Our PV power will pay for itself every 12 months or so then. You just need a big roof Looking forward to the new generation of Lithium iron batteries with a beryllium anode, they could be the answer to storage of solar.

  31. Glenn Phillips says

    and what happens when that expensive Convertor breaks down? You can be pretty sure it won’t be repaired, just replaced, and at how many thousand dollars ?

    Anybody who thinks that an inverter is going to last 25 years, even 20, I think is dreaming. It’s an electronic device running at very high current and voltage levels. It will break down.

    • Colin Spencer says

      Glenn, my system has 56 panels over 4 strings and two inverters. Warranty is for 15 years, and the total cost was only about $11,000 Mass production of panels and associated equipment has made systems available at ridiculously low prices. So much so, that the EU has threatened China with “dumping penalties”. (Never mind the fact that the Chinese factories were mostly set up by German solar companies in the first place). Later in the year, I am considering putting a third inverter with another 28 panels and setting up for 3 phase. Still waiting for clever battery storage options.

  32. SV, Singapore says

    Tax write-off. Depreciation schedule is five years, anyway. Adds value to each rental. Happy tenants, happy owners… 😀

  33. glenn phillips says

    that’s an incredible system ! Sounds like about a 12-14kW system. You must have lots of roof space too. Not sure how you did it for $11,000 judging by the Ads I see. I am concerned though by the long term reliability of the convertors mainly. I would assume any replacments would fall outside of any Govt. assistance.

    • SV, Singapore says

      Do you mean inverters, Glenn? Are you (my) ex-uni lecturer living in Perth, BTW?

    • Colin Spencer says

      @Glen: The total estimate was about $16,000, but you then deduct a friendly discount and take off the subsidy for commercial solar systems, and that brought the lease value down to just under $11k. The first power bill arrived yesterday, showing a reduction for the quarter of about 25%. The normal bill is around $1,300. The system has been switched on for only half a quarter, and being winter here, not many sunny days. Looks like cracker of an investment, to me. The other plus, is that my mate’s firm only installs commercial solar, experienced and skilled installers, and no problems. Our smart meter hasn’t been re-programmed to send back to the grid yet either. The only nasty on the bill, was about $80 in “carbon levy”. Now that they have learned to tax one of the smallest major component of air, and people accept that nonsense, what hope is there?

  34. Glenn Phillips says

    sorry, wrong terminolgoy. Never been to Perth!

  35. Glenn Phillips says

    That’s a good deal but I am in no position to get a price like that. No mates in the trade, no tax rebates. No space for so many panels either. It’s winter here also (SE Melbourne) and my power bill runs about half of yours. So i am saving already. LOL

    • Colin Spencer says

      @Glenn. Umm. Mate. I am not far from you. Come over for a look on a weekend. Redbox winery in Kangaroo Ground.

      • Glenn Phillips says

        would love too but Kangaroo Ground is a bit of a hop from here. Although i get up to Templestowe area occasionly to see my sister, so might get in touch then.
        But sounds like you have a fanstastic roof area for it. I put in solar hot water 2 years back. Hard to tell exactly but i estimate it saves about $50 / mth in sunnier weather.
        Not much space left for many electric soar panels.

  36. I had no choice and had to install my panels facing west (house is east west and there was too much shading on the eastern side) west also had shading which I realise is not great – not my trees! I attempted to make up for these negatives with a big system (big roof) so I opted for 22 panels. Been pretty happy with the panels dong well for themselves and covering the bills (in NSW so with rebate)

  37. Russell Westbrook says

    You misspelt its as it’s.

  38. Grammar Police With Nothing Better To Do... says

    ‘Sir’ should have a capital ‘S’.

  39. I counted 25 panels and 165 watts care small panels how do you tell watt (pun intended) size they are

    • When I started the process of converting a school (and later our rentals) to solar electricity, I was buying 122w panels. The next phase involved 125w panels….. and later, 150w panels. The last panels we had installed (on our rentals) were 180w. There’s a high probability that those 25 you’ve counted are no greater than 180w, although 200w panels are now available. At present we’re keenly awaiting the production of 300w panels. Hopefully this will mean far fewer panels required, as a team of installers, wearing harnesses, declined to quote after examining the height and pitch of our home property roofs…

      • Finn did his calcs on 24 panel and 165watters. How do you tell what size they are from a photo. I’ve been installing solar systems for 2 yrs now all with 250w panels, they seem the norm now and have been for a while??

  40. umm i am pretty sure this was only one of the places the panels were put….pretty sure they also put them on the top of their garage and roof too. And the wife ended up buying an electric car that was powered solely by the house so……

    • Finn Peacock says

      Yes – in the Grand Designs Revisited shown (in Australia) a couple of weeks ago they had added some panels to the roof.

      Back of a napkin calculation in front of the telly using her car specification (electric Peugeot):

      If she drove the average distance annually for a UK driver, then all the panels on the whole house (walls and roof) would produce enough energy to charge her car every week.

      But then they would not be able to produce any of the power for the house. And that house looks like it needs a lot of power! So saying that the whole house and car was 100% solar was a wild exaggeration methinks!

  41. All Kevin McCloud said was “With these solar panels this home almost powers itself”. He does not claim it fully powers the house only some of the house. That quote alone is not enough to claim that the Grand Designs show approves what the people are doing to the house or if they recommended it, because if you remember they try their hardest not to influence the build design in anyway no matter how stupid it is. So don’t accuse of them of needing to do more research as they have not claimed anything themselves its all the builders. Grand designs is just a show that follows the progress of a house from the design stages through to completion, they are not fact based show they are a reality show. Stop picking on small things and just enjoy the show as a whole and not let one little thing upset you, because it is a pretty good show

    • Anyone looking at the photo might wrongly assume the optimal location for panels is a vertical wall. It’s not. Finn Peacock acknowledges that he enjoys Grand Designs, as opposed to the general medium itself. We enjoy McCloud’s program, too… but having a great deal of experience with solar electricity, solar HWS and passive solar design, we agree that (regardless of whose SNAFU this is) the initiative is not only less-than-optimal, but needs to be called for what it is… an expensive mistake… .

  42. “And because all the panels are in series, it is like someone stepping on a hosepipe.”

    Series? I doubt it. 25 x 12v = 300 volts DC. 25 x 24v = 600 volts DC. Domestic inverters typically use 24v DC input, so panels would be 24 volts and wired in parallel. This would still have an impact on output, as a shaded panel draws rather than outputs current, but it’s not a problem to the extent that you describe it.

    The crux of your argument is correct, though. They’d have been better off investing the $16K in a term deposit or something and using the interest income of about $1200 a year to subsidize their power bills.

    I hate it when american web servers tell me that I have made spelling errors when I haven’t. Subsidise. Suck on that, yanks.

    • Best solution so far, the whole exercise is to save money.

    • @Dave,

      The output from a solar panel is a bit more complicated than a battery. The voltage and current is not a linear relationship so the inverter controls the operating point to maximise the power output. This part of the circuit is called a maximum power point tracker. If one cell is out of whack it sets the whole system out even if the panels are in parallel. Also Solar inverters do not use 24Vdc input: that is just the type of inverter that you use for converting battery to 240Vac in camper vans and the like. And so on…

  43. Even if power was free in the UK I wouldn’t live there.
    Finn, what is the loss in efficiency of solar panels as they age? Say, over 10 years.
    Also, how could a solar panel, in its serviceable lifetime, ever produce enough energy to recoup all the energy that was used to manufacture it?

  44. blahblah1233445 says

    Mate, the house is in london, its in the northern hemisphere, so the sun rises in the SE and sets in the SW. and during the summer you will get a lot horizontal light as the sun will set due west. Its not optimal but its not the wrong way round either.

  45. Space is a premium in london and they have created this underground. For them,this is a dance floor. In Australia we call it a rumpus room. Imagine the noise of the rail~line , at least the solar panels will reflect some of that noise and provide a double skin of sound and temperature insulation. A further positive is the thermal mass of the ground should keep the house cool in summer and warm in winter, much like the underground dwellings in Cooper-Peddy. They still have space on their roof for more solar panels later or evacuated solar hot water tubes, or skylights or a rooftop garden.

  46. I can’t believe that in all these comments about this installation, no one has pointed out the orientation of the ACTUAL VISIBLE SHADE AREA of the buildings we can see on the ground in the Google Map image of the house. Gaging from the distance it extends out from the wall and the angle of projection, none of the technical data offered-up by anyone here changes the fact that it is glaringly obvious that the side of the building where the panels are is in COMPLETE SHADE at the time the picture was taken, and it doesn’t matter what time of day or year that was – it means that those panels are in complete shade for a substantial portion of daylight hours. Some people just seem too proud to concede it is a dumb project!

  47. Newsflash Finn – they are not cockneys. Cockneys come from the East End of London. & only from that suburb. But thanks for reminding me why I hate Australians & their cockey arrogant ignorant cretinous smart-assed full of themselves BOGAN culture !

    • “Cockneys come from the East End of London. & only from that suburb… and like garden gnomes remain there indefinitely.” A Brit using ‘smart-assed’ rather than ‘smart-arsed’ as an insult? Nope, you’re a Yank, son… or a wannabe… . 😉

    • Colin Spencer says

      Well, you got that wrong, Sunshine. We have heaps of Cockneys around the outskirts of Melbourne. Lovely people they are too. It is such a pleasure to see them.

    • I didn’t know that the ‘East End’ was a suburb…? I thought it was an area that included the suburbs such as Bethnal Green, Poplar, and Stepney (amongst others)…

      I agree with SV,WA; you’re either a Yank or a wannabe. But certainly not a pom.

      • P.s : Incidentally – that reply was directed at Sam’s comments (i.e. “Cockneys come from the East End of London. & only from that suburb…”) not Finn’s article…

        And – if you’re wondering – I’m from Peebles originally.

      • Finn really proves he’s a Chav, the original Bogan with his anti Australian rant.
        Makes me proud to be an Australian, at least a lot of us take pride in our language and grammar skills.

  48. A curious thing about solar panels, people I know who have them
    thinks they are great, people who don’t have any say they are rubbish.
    Who is right?

    • Colin Spencer says

      Power companies are not in the business of selling less power to you. They are even less enthusiastic about buying power from you when you generate more than you use. Those are the two negatives that annoy people trying to make solar an economic choice. When cheaper power storage is possible, one of the greatest positives is that people who have installed good solar systems will be able to choose to go off grid. Imagine the pleasure it will give them! Priceless!

    • Theo Bekkers says

      Same with politics. Some people think that universal healthcare is a must-have, others think that people who can’t afford the current system should go away and die rather than be a burden on the society.

      My experience has been positive. I have 14 x 195 watt panels. My consumption of electricity over the last months has cost me $110. The previous year, with six 175 watt panels, cost me $1234. My additional investment in the system was $2600.

  49. Here;s room for thought I have a about 6 freinds that live full time in a place called ‘YARRAWONGA’,they all have Solar,each and every one of them tell me that they have credit with the,not one has had to pay for Electricty for the last two years,some have very large homes to smaller homes.I am going to move their myself to retire and only have Electricty NO GAS just Electricty,this way I will only have to pay for water and Rates……..For those that don’t know were Yarrawonga is it’s on the border of Victoria And New South Wales……

  50. Colin Spencer says

    Retirees don’t tend to use a lot of electricity, so you may not need a huge system. You can use LPG for the normal cooking work. Elements take a fair bit when on full. As does an electric oven. The microwave can cook most things anyway. What about storing what you don’t use? Instead of lead/acid batteries, you can now use Zinc Bromine solution seems to be a good idea. However MIT is coming up with other options that are 10 times as effective as the current standard in batteries. Storage is what I want now. I already have a 56 panel system.

  51. The UK is in the northern hemisphere so what is so bad about the southwest orientation. Are you suggesting they should put the solar panels on tier northern side??????

  52. David Webb says

    Australian experts telling others how to do a job. That’s the reason they pay triple for everything down there. LOL

    • A solution that ‘s one third of the price and completely useless in its outcome is not value for money. People like you keep Walmart in business

    • younare the reason your economy is stuffed, the ignorant and arrogant nature of Europeans is staggering, perhaps the combined brilliance is why the European Economy is so buoyant – NOT.
      Grow another brain cell you amoeba.

    • If we do pay triple, it’s because our builders build to a strict standard and quality is not skimped on, unlike so many shoddy overseas installations that fall apart after 12 months.
      I’d like to see European builders try their luck here, they wouldn’t last.

  53. Triple? Examples, please… .

    • Finn Peacock says

      Well, I did pay $16 for a pint of Hobgoblin Ale in Melbourne last week!

    • Well come on, have you ever been outside Oz? Services and products are extremely expensive compared to both Europe and America. Why do you think Ford and Holden are closing, despite the massive amounts of money that has been put in by the government.
      Back to the subject, I find it amazing that these panels are stimulate in the UK and Germany here the climate is much more suitable, but our power companies have the opportunity to make it as hard as possible for people to have them installed by enforcing all kind of rules and regulations. I thought that the environment mattered here, but it is all show.

      • arqua_petrarca says

        Ford and Holden are closing largely because people are not buying Commodore and Falcon type of cars so much anymore…..

  54. Smooky pooky says

    The most disturbing (and hillarious) part of this article is how much emotional energy you have put into caring about this. How about they just didn’t have any solar panels at all. Would that make you a bit happier and a little less grumpy?

  55. Very occasionally we spot a system installed in a less-than-optimal position. One of our own rentals even has SES installed on a west-facing roof, as the solar HWS was located on the north-facing roof at the time of construction. This solar-electricity system functions at around 70% of the efficiency we’d achieve on the ‘north roof’. The tenant still pays nothing for power.

    The case of the house featured above, with vertical solar panels, demonstrates the most inefficient use of this technology. (I guess burying the panels might have been worse!) Were the owners warned against locating the panels there? Was it a case of solar-at-any-cost, to serve a (misguided) green principle? Certainly passers-by would be much more aware of the owners’ green credentials (after they’d recovered from their initial shock) than if they were ‘hidden’, unseen on the roof! 😉

    There’s always a _possibility_ they were wrongly advised about the ideal location of the panels.
    I’d be more than ‘grumpy’ with the retailer/installer if misled on such a critical issue… . 🙁

  56. Just confirms my opinion of Kevin as a complete idiot. All you have to do is watch the program where he designed a housing estate that turned out to have more faults than a 1960’s East German car.

    • Lance Chambers says

      Oh so true. I saw that and hung my head in shame. What a total mess. Kevin lost all credibility to me after that.

    • Lenin does not give advice and has said he does not like all the homes they film. There have been plenty of dumb owner/builders on his show. Certainly not boring.

  57. My thought is they should have installed the panels on tilt frames on the walls, thereby obtaining the optimal angle for their locale.

  58. Im thinking you all have too much time on your hands. What idiot would put solar on their house anyway. Better off bending over and getting PVed from behind. The government is out to screw everyone over who has had it done anyway.

  59. solar panels operate on a RAID base like computer serv ers these days so if 1 panel is not getting light all the other panels still operate at full capacity has been like for about 3 years now

    • Finn Peacock says

      Only if you have microinverters which are still very much in the minority. These are definitely not not micro inverters because the Grand Designs Revisited screened a year or so later had shots of the central inverters in the garage.

  60. Given this investment I’d be interested in a personal response from the owner.

  61. Ron Spencer says

    It most likely the only place they were allowed to install them

    • You might be right Ron, but I have just spotted a few other things. I don’t know much about this subject but maybe it is a compromise in a bad situation.

      According to the pic above maybe that side is the only side allowed to have the “ugly” panels, for street scape considerations.

      If you look at the awkward orientation of the layout it is one of two faces that would get power, apart from the roof, and maybe the best choice. With the angle of the sun so low in winter, when most heat is needed, would this face get more sunlight. The panels on roof would be sharing too little sunlight, and the angle of the other side of the building, that looks more shaded, is different than the side with the panels. The angle of one if these sides to the winter sun is going to be more optimal. But looking at the shadows and orientation on overhead view, is this right, shouldn’t the other side of the building always be in shadow?

      Anyway back into it, will it supply the whole house with energy. What sort of panels are these, what efficiencies, did they spend heaps to get a more efficient system? Next, unlike us, the people in those countries really know about insulation, with thousands more f tears practice. Now, this is the one mostly underground, further insulation (except for the water table)? So adding negligible heat loss in those levels, and some small amount above ground, with every electrical appliances and light adding to heat, as well as body heat, they may even have to cool the lower levels in summer as heat will be passively accumulating in a insulated design, anyway that can be vented upstairs. The indoor pool is also an excellent heat source. Lights, wasn’t that the one with lots of leds and maybe fluorescents and bright white walls which make it look extra bright. On a pro video camera you can turn the exposure up to make the shoot look bright and cheerful. Let’s just add in very efficient appliances as well, and normally you would rely on passively thermal heating (100% efficient) rather than inefficient solar. So there would be receptor windows and dark areas on walls/roofs to trap heat from where it can be heat exchanged.

      Now, stepping back and looking at Kevin’s claim it could “almost” power itself. Well if he meant that 4kw could almost do it, he might be right, but that 4kw would be sometimes of the year in sometime in the morning, let alone the less optimal times of day and year, nighttime, and if you light up the floor and place for a party. I would think, that a 2kw+ budget could do a very high efficiency version of this house (obviously if you want a 1kw of computing power and an extra 1kw of peak fridge etc power, then it is going to be more like 4kw+. If he thought 4kw would do it, we can forgive him, he is an architect.

      I think the biggest problem is he was trying to be a celebrity for a few years, looking for things to be seen doing. I didn’t see much of that low cost housing estate, but there seemed to be classic mistakes, and I didn’t like the layout so much. If he had been experienced in designing lots of those things for years, he probably would have made a better job of it. Not to mention the other series. But I’m glad to see him back on grand designs. As far as this solar thing here, remember he didn’t design it, only reported on it. So he is just a presenter/reporter, maybe the designers thought they had done their sums right.

      Let’s assume a storage system is there for power all day, sleep time might have less than 50-100 watts usage per hour, 5-9pm, and 6-8pm peak usage, the rest of the day the fridge and hot water might cycle, depending on who is at home. So, maybe less than a 1kw an hour on average living frugally, maybe 10-20kwh. Just the house by itself without humans actively using energy, maybe it can get buy on the solar. Almost, without humans…. 😉

  62. Frankly, this is an excellent demonstration of the real value (nil) of the whole solar power cell scam i.e. a sleight of hand to confuse and befuddle the unwary. It’s the same with wind turbines. On a cold still night neither produce power. And what they produce at other times is uneconomic compared to traditional power production. Where solar and wind really pays off is for the subsidy hounds producing and distributing them to the gullible. Uneconomic to create and install in relative terms, it’s a scam which costs the balance of the community dearly by pushing up the price of traditionally produced power – otherwise they couldn’t be sold at all.

    • Colin Spencer says

      The only outfit missing out in the whole scheme of things is the one using brown coal to generate power. Demand is lowered at the generator during peak times. In Qld. a coal fired power station was moth-balled a year or so ago due to decreased demand. Before massive uptake of solar in Sth East Qld there were system overloads during hot sunny weather. Solar has ended that, and given the generators a breather.

    • Finn Peacock says


      Thanks for the comment.

      As just 1 example: My home state, South Australia, generated 27% of its power consumption from wind last year. Soon it will be 50% from renewables, mostly wind and solar.

      Renewables are powering significant amounts of homes and industry, if you actually care to look at the data. It just has to be deployed intelligently and efficiently, and not as part of a greenwashing campaign. Which is the point I’m trying to make with this post.

      Best Regards,


      • Really admire your patience, Finn. Fossilised comments like that one are generally (re)buried by moderators. Those of us who have invested in solar (for community buildings, rentals, etc) remain convinced it’s more than worthwhile. Interesting to note also that many of the wineries in SWWA have installed immense solar electricity systems to power their operations. Those who comment on a lack of sunshine during the night haven’t _quite_ got their heads around sale-to-the-grid… . 😉

      • Amongst other disadvantages, it’s also the amount of power required to create wind and solar units which is disproportionate to the outputs of these so-called `alternative’ units. The energy intensity (outputs/cost) of these units is low compared to the energy expended to create them. The fact wind powers 27% of South Australia means nothing. It simply reflects the depth South Australia has sunk into costly uncompetitive power production – which the consumer base are paying for. You will have no manufacturing left in the state in a very short time. It’s because the relative cost of using `alternative’ solar and wind power production methods, compared to traditional base load power production, is disproportionately expensive. It’s is only the subsidies which those selling this snake oil are after, and makes what is effectively a Ponzi scheme (i.e. feed in tarrifs) appear to work – for a time. This is greenwashing at it’s worst, and it can’t last. There may eventually be genuinely new methods of power production devised, but they are in the (far?) future.

        • Correction Line 2 above: …”The energy intensity (outputs/cost) of these units is ++high, and indicates a high price or cost required to convert energy into GDP. Additionally, the solar/wind unit’s cost of creation is high in terms of energy used”.++ The fact wind powers 27 %…

          The error is regretted.

        • Finn Peacock says


          You are just plain wrong. Sorry.

          Let’s have a look at the conclusions of an October 2013 report by those tree hugging commies who work for Citibank:

          The cost of wind energy (levelised cost of energy of LCOE) is not just cheaper than new build fossil fuel generation in many markets, it is also competing with the existing wholesale electricity price in a number of large markets.

          More details here:

          Best Regards,


          • Whenever someone seeks to justify their position by cutting and pasting dubious comments from other forums I know they have run out of steam. Barrie Harrop does it all the time on the WSJ The cost of wind energy without subsidies to drive up the cost of traditional base load power production, is prohibitive, and electricity produced from wind and solar could not be sold on the national electricty market without the subsidies to push traditionally produced power prices up. The nature of the scheme devised to make this happen is a Ponzi scheme, pure and simple, and it will fall over at some point because it’s uneconomic. The sooner the better for consumers, the later the better for those who are enjoying the snake oil – while it lasts. Base load power needs around the clock production. Wind produces no power when the wind doesn’t blow; and solar produces no power at night or when it’s shaded – as you correctly pointed out regarding the shadow on the ridiculous vertical solar array. You cannot escape facts.

          • Finn Peacock says

            Er no, I’ve cut and pasted the conclusions of a report by Citibank. Pretty solid analysis.

          • The simple truth is we need all forms of energy production where they are most effective, i.e. coal, oli, nuclear, wind, solar, etc. But you cannot sustain a modern society driven exclusively by wind or solar – they just aren’t up to it by themselves. But the subsidies are a danger to all. Technology may create a technical fix which will solve the energy production problem, but in the meantime something as simple as LED’s can significantly reduce consumption until that fix coomes along.

          • Whenever anyone, discussing energy, uses the term ‘run out of steam’, I know they’re firmly entrenched in the 1880s. 😉

          • Basing your argument on Citibank only confirms my view. Banks will alway support anything of this nature provided they get their cut of the arrangements. They don’t care if it falls over, as we have seen on many occasions starting most recently with the Global Financial Crisis. You may as well base your claims on an assessment by Ali Bab and the Forty Thieves.

          • Logical: “The simple truth is we need all forms of energy production where they are most effective, i.e. coal, oli, nuclear, wind, solar, etc.” Ah, those simplistic truths… . What a time to ‘spruik the nukes’ when two likely-to-fail mop-ups are in process, attempting to limit damage likely to last tens-if-not-hundreds-of-thousands of years… . And your simple truth “…the subsidies are a danger to all…” pales to laughable insignificance beside _that_ predictable risk.

            Yes, LEDs are part of the solution, particularly those which are movement-activated, ideal in pantries, above steps and stairs, in hallways, garages, entrances and exits. Low-powered, but highly effective, they sense one’s presence, activate… and stay lit while you’re moving and 20 seconds later. So far, we’ve fitted them only to two homes (main home, holiday house) but as tenancies end, we’ll retrofit them at all rental homes.

            Those who see coal and nukes as viable are as credible as 19th-century whalers spouting the lighting and cooking merits of whale oil… . 😉

    • Errrm, he pointed out the inadequacies of a poorly designed installation, that does not follow well known and understood princpals for maximising solar energy production. I have solar, it is well sighted, no shade, and it works very well for me. Power companies are already hurting because solar is so widely deployed and picking off their profits.

      • Merver: “Power companies are already hurting because solar is so widely deployed and picking off their profits.” True. How else does one explain the WA Government’s decision to limit tariff rebates to 5kW? You have to empathise with those forward-thinking school communities which fund-raised to install large systems, to be advised, retrospectively(!) that their 7kW systems would be denied the tariff rebate… . Buswell’s later attempt to deny 70,000 WA families _any_ rebate, despite ten-year contracts with those families, smacks of the same dirty-tricks financial mismanagement. (They later backflipped, due to the likelihood of class action… initiating a parking fee at train stations, instead… .) In a state with just one electricity utility, larger solar installations effectively reduce state revenues… hence the decision to ‘limit their power’… and deny them the tariff rebate… .

  63. Peter Dasey. says

    Your sums are all wrong Finn, get your own facts checked before making comment.
    There are 25, yes 25 panels shown on the wall. NOT 24!! You just lost me.

    • Finn Peacock says

      Hi Peter,

      Thanks for the comment. Which picture are you looking at? I count 24.

      24 Solar Panel Sitting By A Tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G

      • LOVE IT! 😀

        very nice article, good personal touch and i feel your passion for solar mate.

        I can see why Finn got quite worked up, not sure about it in other countries but here Down Under, we have quite the few cowboy solar companies popping up here and there trying to take advantage of our consumers. They’re just in it for the short term profits and like Houdini, some just vanish into the thin air. In the above case, the owner of the house probably got ripped off the same way…taken advantage of because of the lack of knowledge and probably a bedazzling sales pitch.

        Solar is great for the economy and the environment…if it’s done right…even without govt rebates or incentives…or some have called the scams (above), solar isn’t the cause for rise in ur utility bills…that’s the work of the Carbon Emissions Bill…which i personally believe is a necessary step for our future generations…unless we invent something to move a few billion people to a new planet…

        above is all personal opinion…also im not a greenie or a tree hugger…just believe in seeing things from different angles and lights…and what might be logical…

        Yours Sincerely

    • ooopsie Peter. That’s a little embarrassing.

  64. Not everyone thinks like an engineer, or is nuts about efficiency.
    In fact it is often best to keep engineers away from normal people.

    I installed PV systems for over 30 years.
    There are many factors to consider when designing and installing a system, and some of these factors are specified by the client. Some clients may value input from their architect.

    In the same way that some people buy a ‘Toorak tractor’ when a car may be more efficient, others have solar system priorities other than just maximum efficiency.

    A solar system can sometimes be a work of art, rather than just a machine.

    Am grateful for your efforts to educate, but perhaps best to also offer empathy….

    Stay cool


  65. I agree…it’s more greenwashing lies. Presenting a utopian environmental solar driven magic bullet and expecting this innefficient and costly example to apply to the rest of society. When will the system pay itself off and how much power can be credirted back to the grid?

  66. uncle barnaby says

    Look at the Google map picture. Isn’t that a great big shadow I see on the ground between the house and the railway tracks?

  67. Just to be clear the fact that the house is mostly underground will lead to much reduced heating and cooling costs, but obviously being London it’s mostly heating. On other Grand Designs they have shown special (German manufactured) glass which has almost no heat loss – more than double or triple glazing which is standard in the UK. They showed one house in the Hebrides (3 hours of sunshine, max, in winter from 20 degs above the horizon) which due to specialised glass and sealing was expected to have an electricity bill of less than $100 a year (may have been a diesel generator though). It’s possible the London homeowners have a similar set up in which case the electricity is only required to power the lights, fridge and (obviously) massive full wall tv + disco floor.

  68. Melbourne Photographer says

    I love my 1.5kw solar system that gets a fair amount of shade. It means my annual leccy costs me just $350. The system has nearly paid for itself in 3 years. It’s an absolute no brainer. Australia should be at the forefront of solar usage but too many people have their heads in the sand.

  69. Colin Spencer says

    With over a million homes fitted with pv solar systems already, and a large number of industrial systems being installed as well, there is no debate on Solar to be had. We all need to be on Google and reading up on the latest developments with power storage. There are some great research projects in Australian universities being completed at present which will offer large capacity storage at low cost per kw. Those of us who do not trust the network owners and power retailers will be very tempted to fit up power storage when it has a lower cost per kw/year. All of the energy saver innovations will be an important part of that process. Disconnect from the grid just as soon as you think it is financially viable. I will. About 40 years ago, I had a conversation about this with a Victorian SEC engineer, but he was talking about each home having a natural gas fired fuel cell and being off-grid. He had the right idea, in my opinion.

    • Independence from the grid is an interesting proposition. My cousin (after whom we named our second son) has powered his 640-acre property with solar, wind and a diesel generator, for more than 26 years now. Battery failure has been the main issue during that time.

      In my view, being on-the-grid is a much more practical solution. The problem, of course, is that it’s not in the interest of your power supplier to pay you, if coal and gas are ‘cheaper’ alternatives. As power costs rise, it may become more economical to just abandon the grid. (Anarchy! Love it.. .)

      Having equipped most of our rentals with solar electricity, solar HWS and reflective window tinting, we’re waiting for the next quantum leap, ourselves. We’ve seen several minor advances during the last decade, but expect there’ll be some really major breakthroughs soon. For us, these might include higher wattage for solar panels. We’ve watched panels progress from 122w to 250w, so it’s not inconceivable that 300 – 350w panels may be produced soon.

      I know this wait-and-see proposition isn’t ideal if you’re in the business of marketing larger, less-powerful panels right now, but that’s our position… .

      • Finn Peacock says
        • Thanks, Finn. I’d have expected something that _size_ to be one kilowatt, at least… ! What we’ve observed, in the last decade or so, is panel physical size remaining constant, while output increases. When I started buying them, for a community project, they were 122w. When I went to add a few more, a year later, the same size panel was a tiny improvement, to 125w…. but in the years which followed, the same size panels were, progressively, 150 – 180w… then 200 – 225w. Most we placed on our rentals were 180w… but our local installer has shown me 250w panels _the same size_ as those 122w panels I was buying a decade ago.

          Our roof configuration is difficult… our main home is a series of very high pyramids locked together. Installers have run for cover when considering the best way to tackle the problem. They apparently baulk at wearing harnesses and they’re reluctant to install a dozen panels up there. What we really need is six panels each 300w or so… or five around 400w. Four around 500w would be ideal. Unfortunately, Topsun’s huge 410w panels aren’t suitable for installation on any of our north-facing triangular roofs.

  70. Joel “Haratu” Reid says

    Could it be that they have positioned the solar panels to receive afternoon and evening light which is when they are more likely to be using power? If you are not getting paid much for returning energy to the grid then it makes sense to have the panels facing westerly so you use the power from the panels when you get back from work as opposed to when you are not home. Especially since in London the sun is also visible quite late in the evening during summer.

    If you are getting paid less for energy returned to the grid than for energy from the grid then there is little point directing them at a noonday sun unless you stay at home all day.
    Just a consideration.

  71. Easy to see why – Peter Dasey@December 12, 2013 at 11:35 am, hasn’t offered an apology to Finn as anybody who can’t count up to twenty four as sure as hell wouldn’t know how to construct an apology.
    Saving the picture and then increasing its size would have clearly shown you that what you perceive as a solar panel is in fact a window.
    Hope you don’t choke on your humble pie…!

    • For goodness sake, it’s just a counting error, not the end of the world. Don’t be so bitter and twisted.

      • Treadly, Unlike your soft approach to accept Peter Daisy for his knee jerk preparedness to castigate Finn based on his own flawed perceptions, I’m afraid he deserves the rebuke offered. You would do better to defend someone who deserves defending.

  72. Rob - Architect says

    There is a lot of things Grand Designs gets wrong about the way houses are built, most ridiculously to me being the way they present the owners as ‘project managers’. Most houses as you would know are designed and built by a team of consultants.

    The show is therefore about dramatically presenting concepts and is not really about realities. You’re right to bring the realities to people’s attention. I’m not sure though presenting this in such a’ Current Affair’ style does credit though to your professional standing.

  73. Last quarter I generated 1799 kWh over 89 days which is more then double of what consumed 665 kWh during that same period. I have good fortune as I have a long expanse of roof facing the north east with no shade problems with the biggest array possible. And in the Blue Mountains of NSW there is plenty of sunshine.

    Now Origin are selling me electricity at 24.66 cents per kWh (c/kWh) so one would assume that is the market value of electricity. So according to my calculations I should be earning $279.64 per month from Origin. At the very least, my last electricity bill should be a big fat $0.

    Oh no. Origin have done a doozie on me as I only earn 6 cents per kWh for what I generate – not even close to the market rate??? And instead of taking what I consumed from what I generated, they take it from the grid. So while my bill is less, and I am an energy provider, being charged the full rate of what I consumed and given less then pig feed for what I generated. My bill was $140.86!!! Ripped off!!!

    According to their maths, I’d have to generate 4-5 times more than what I consume to have a nil bill. This is just sheer bloody outrageous extortion. May as well power my next door neighbours while I’m at it…

    As soon as I can, I’m going off-grid and battery farming all I generate and I should be close to never paying an electricity bill for life! Now that will hurt Origin and the energy suppliers!!! I am energized to tell the system to go jump.

    It just pisses me off as now I’m reliant on all the anti-green components of batteries – it’s not my fault.

    • Don’t know what kind of metering system you’re on, Dean, but we were advised to insist on A1… and decline a Smart Power meter. An ex-colleague related a similar experience to yours. She had A1 metering, then had a 1.8kW solar system installed. Synergy suggested they have a Smart Meter installed… and _her next bills actually rose._ They went back to A1 ($60, I think) then the bills all went down. Most of our tenants enjoy _free_ power. Friends nearby pay nothing. And these are relatively small systems…

      Could metering be part of the issue, I wonder?

      • Theo Bekkers says

        You certainly need to evaluate your time of day power usage very carefully before you change to Smart Power.
        I’m on Smart metering and during the last year I bought 15% of my power at peak, 17% at shoulder, 13% at weekend and 54% at off-peak. This resulted in a saving of $204.37 compared with the A1 rate.
        I work at my power management, reading the meter every day rather than waiting for the bill. My savings for smart power the previous year was $149.89..
        Over the last three years I have reduced my total power consumption (purchased units plus units not sold) by 27% and my bill for last year with 14 x 190W panels was $99.
        You need to be smart to have to have a smart meter. If you on the A1 rate with a modern meter you can still see what your time of day usages are. If your Off-Peak is less than 35% of your total consumption I would advise against going “Smart”.


        • Very true, Theo. Sounds as though you have it working well for you… .

          All of our ‘current’ SESs are on rentals. Unfortunately, few tenants apply the vigilance you’ve described. At one residence, in fact, two successive tenants misled us that ‘their’ system was registered for tariff rebate. Four years into a ten-year contract, we learned that _neither_ had applied, even though we completed all but their signatures on the forms for them… and promised to refund (minimal) fees on their behalf! Sometimes there’s no helping people… . 😀

          At every other rental, the A1 system has been a resounding success, but reflecting on our present tenants, it’s likely there’s only one family who would use Smart Power ‘smartly’. I’d consider switching their meter over, but they’re building… and leaving us sometime in the new year… .

  74. You have to remember Finn, the UK (at the time of filming I am assuming due to production lead times) had a very attractive FIT scheme running for 25 years. This in comparison to any other investment for your average UK punter, meant even marginal poorly producing systems like this offered an acceptable return on investment.

    You calculate 2000kWh per year. At a FIT payment of 0.55p lets say around £1000 per annum but tracking CPI for 25 years is nothing to be sneezed at, with an original outlay, of say $10000, at the time. When money in the bank earns you less than 3% an 10% ROI is a major incentive to do something like this.

    Therefore, I find your ‘I know more than you’ approach here, diminishes your own credibility. There are many people like you, with strong opinions in the solar industry, you have made more money than many, i’m sure but, how many solar systems have you really sold and installed?

  75. Lloyd Kennedy says

    I live in Sth Aust where there is Plenty of Sunlight and Plenty of Scammers also, I held back from Jumping In on the SP Scheme as I was told too many Lies by Salesmen who said my Meter would be spinning backwards, with a 3kw system, I wouldn’t have a elect bill….ever again etc. I know I may have Missed Out on the Great Rebate Schemes etc. but I will wait until the Cowboys and Liars are found out, Then talk to Owners who tell me the Truth about How Much it Cost, How Much Power their system is Producing, How Much they are Getting Paid for their Power and How Much their Total Bill each quarter is. I have a friend down the road who got Solar but after 12 mths Still has not received his First Bill ! I would like a Stand Alone System as a Back Up rather than Being Part of the Grid as when there is a Black Out the Solar System also Shuts Down and I know the Reason too. But a Freezer Full of Xmas Food etc Is very Important to me so whats the Uses of a System that Can’t Save you when you Really Need it ? I may have to wait another Ten Years till the Chinese start importing those New Cheap High Wattage Panels ? lol. Or Just keep Reducing my Elect Usage ?

    • Colin Spencer says

      As a solar lay person myself, Chris, I think you are being wise and that what you are thinking is the best way to go. I believe that ultimately you will find that solar is a good investment, even now with all the shonky TV deals and so on. When efficient and cost effective power storage is available, you, I and plenty of others will consider going off grid. We can even buy an 8 kw standby generator for a few hundred dollars these days. There are some pretty good solar engineers about, including those who run this page, I think. As and when you are satisfied with the information available, you will go for it. I did, because a mate runs a commercial solar business and I got a good deal. 56 panels, two inverters and expert installation for about $11,400. Looking forward to the effect on the power bill, when the supplier finally arranges for the smart meter to be programmed for feed-back. Been waiting 9 months now, and we have lodged the paperwork 3 times so far. I might have a chat with a judge in chambers about the situation in the new year.

  76. I arrived home one day earlier this year to discover all our clocks displaying incorrect times and my computers all shut down. Without ANY warning I had a not so smart metre installed in my house. I rang the company and asked WHY only to be informed it was basically for my benefit so I could take advantage of off peak rates. Now the fun started. “When is off peak?”, I asked. “When it is not peak time.” they answered. This conversation went round and round and at NO time would they provide me with an actual time when peak became off peak and vice versa.
    Victoria, I believe, even introduced a law that made the state NOT LIABLE for any fires and resulting damaged caused by incorrectly installed not so smart metres. Now that shows confidence in the product.
    My brother in Adelaide installed solar panels. First 2 months he received $60 rebates each month and THEN, he had a not so smart metre foisted upon him and suddenly he started getting power bills again.

    I wanted solar panels for many years (first enquired in 1992) an am only now financially able but find that any excess power generated is going to be sold for 4 or 5 time the cost of what I get compensated for. It is NOT fair or right.

    Power rates skyrocket. Water price skyrockets. Against the wishes of the majority govts insist on FRACKING which is known to be harmful to the environment and the pollies keep get richer. I am tired of the continual rectal pain from politically intrusions.

    Finally, Kevin McLeod is not an architect. A later episode in his series show that he designs light fittings (please excuse the non technical term) so what the hell makes him an expert on house design and aesthetics? I still like the show though. To quote someone from long ago “I don’t know much about painting, but I know what I like”.

  77. Its hardly Kev’s fault. He is just the presenter of the show.
    He generally doesn’t give any advice/input into these so called Grand Designs.
    Having said that, should it have been featured on the show? Perhaps not.

  78. Question:
    Is it optimal solar panels in the northern hemisphere to face north or south!
    In Southern Hemisphere it is north!
    What should it be?


  79. Hi Theo
    I remember you from the cycling forums, I hope you are well.

    Regarding the $290 million spent by the government, how much of it is actual real costs and how much of it is penalties for not being on the grid on time?
    Boiler tube blowouts occur quite frequently, it’s one of the main causes of unscheduled outages. The real cause of the problem was that the units were allowed to run down prior to the units shutting down, as they never thought they’d ever be used again, a bit like not spending money on an old car that is a rust bucket. Those boiler tubes would have to be replaced eventually anyway, but they decided to do them all at once. It’s very rare for anyone to be hurt by a boiler tube bursting, in fact it’s often hard to detect when one has burst and it’s only a drop in water levels that indicates it has happened.
    You have to keep in mind that a few years ago there was a shortage of power and the government was looking for all the power it could get. I prefer solar panels too and I can’t see that there will ever be another coal fired power station built in Western Australia.

    P.S I’ve worked at Muja Power Station for 35 years.

    • Theo Bekkers says

      Hi, yes I’m that Theo Bekkers. As far as I can see, the $290M was real costs.
      The station was first commissioned on 21 April 1966. Currently six of the eight turbines are running (Units 3 to 8). Muja has four 60MW units (Stages A & B), two 200 MW units (Stage C) and two 227 MW units (Stage D). The four smallest unit and least efficient units, Stages A and B, were closed in April 2007. In June 2008 it was announced that these older generator units would be recommissioned, due to a state wide natural gas shortage.[1]

      Note this next part.
      According to the National Pollutant Inventory (NPI), Muja Power Station is one of the biggest emitters of air pollution in Australia, including high emissions of beryllium, fluoride and particulate matter. This is based on data gathered in the 2006-2007 reporting year. With the closure of the oldest and least efficient units it is likely that air emissions have dropped significantly.
      Carbon Monitoring for Action estimates this power station emits 5.56 million tonnes of greenhouse gases each year as a result of burning coal.[2]

      In 2012 during the attempted recommissioning of stages A and B, an explosion occurred in Unit 3 at the refurbished A B area due to corroded piping.[3] A man was burnt, though the station continued to operate (Stage C,D) during the incident. An Australian Manufacturing Workers Union officer state secretary Steve McCartney had hailed the lack of casualties as “a miracle”.[4]

      On 25 June 2013, after spending $250m (AUD) on the planned recommissioning of units A & B, Premier Colin Barnett announced work had been postponed indefinitely, citing that these older generators are “mothballed”.[5]
      The Premier Colin Barnett has told Parliament no further work will be done on the generators for the time being, “The government has made a decision with respect to Muja A and B units; three and four continue to operate, units 1 and 2 are basically mothballed,” he said.[6]

      The synergy website says
      The four coal-fired generating units at Muja Power Station, Stages A and B, are being refurbished.

      Stage B, comprising units 3 and 4, were completed and commissioned in early 2013 and Stage A, units 1 and 2, is scheduled to be commissioned in early 2014.

      Muja AB has a generating capacity of 240MW. These units were shutdown in April 2009 (after the Varanus gas crisis). The units will operate as mid-merit peaking plant with a 10 to 15 year lifespan.

      The units are being fitted with pollution reduction equipment which will virtually eliminate the emission of particulates, a by-product of burning coal.

      That doesn’t mention the beryllium or fluoride. They must have accidentally forgotten to mention the major pollutants. But they are going to stop those big bad particulates.

      check out crikeys take on the “secret loan” to complete the project


  80. Colin Spencer says
  81. Patricia Little says

    We purchased our 4.8KW (20 x 240w panels) system in November 2010. Not fully installed and operational till 4th of march 2011 (generated 32KW that day). Original invertor had to be replaced! The first 10 months we had issues with the electricity company not providing us with an account. When I queried why was told you are in credit so why are you bothered! We changed to another company the original sent a cheque for refund then sent us an account telling us they had miscalculated and we owed them 18c!
    In the two years since we changed company we have had $1500.00 refund and no power bills. Due to frost we don’t have solar hot water but heat pump for hot water. We are not power misers so very happy no bills in 2 years. We have also paid for only 1KL of water in 4 years as we have two 22,500 Lt rain water tanks (bad luck about the supply charge). I am looking into solar AC for when our unit needs replacing. The council in it’s wisdom allowed subdivision of the block next door as a long narrow block rather than hammerhead as it should have been. All the others in the street can only be subdivided as hammerheads. So the house on that block is close to our roof line but it will cost $2000.00 to move the lower panels not sure the outlay will be worth it. We have covered over 25% of our initial costs (friends paid 50% more than we did 2 years earlier for the approx. same size system more panels as smaller wattage than ours). I do as much as I can at night to reap the benefit of only 29c KW power then. Patricia in Sth Aust

  82. I have 24 panels and a 5 kw dodad and the last bill was $135 credit ????? rather than a $570 bill !!!.

  83. I’m not impressed by the somewhat hysterical beat up by an Australian commenting on a location in Europe where different condition prevail than in Australia.

    Firstly the latitude of London is 51.5 degrees North. That means the panel, to be optimally placed, should be 51.5 degrees up from the horizontal (i.e.38.5 degrees up from the vertical). The optimal angle is thus more vertical than horizontal. Secondly the earths tilt on its axis is 23.4 degrees hence the ‘optimal angle varies between 51.5-23.4 = 28.1 degrees in summer and 51.5+23.4 =74.9 degrees in winter.

    In other words the 74.9 degree Winter optimal angle is nearly a 90 degree vertical wall as they in fact used.

    Europeans because of the difficulty of the conditions tend to be more sophisticated with solar: vacuum isolated solar thermal tubes were common in Germany when I was there 20 years ago in 1991. It is in winter that Europeans require most of their energy and given the lack of a viable battery storage technology it is simply cheaper to oversize your solar and optimize for the winter. They don’t loose that much power from mounting vertically as one might think.

    Furthermore given restrictions in roof space, roof pitch angles, roof height regulations, shading effects on neighbors vertical wall mounted photovoltaic makes a great deal of sense and may be the only option.

    Photovoltaics generates a considerable amount of power from diffuse radiation during cloud cover and snow on the landscape may even increase this significantly. Diffuse light even penetrates snow on a roof however also note that vertical mounting also eliminates the snow problem and the cleaning problem. I suspect multiple inverters were used on this installation, thereby eliminating the shading effect.

    One Austrian colleague had a geothermal heat pump in his family home with a COP of 5:1 made by reticulation glycerine/water pipes 1m down in his bag yard. Only 5kWHr of electrical power could generate 25kWHr of heat which is almost enough to heat a complete home.

  84. Finn,
    Regarding parrallel installations using the micro inverters, how is 50 hz phasing synchronisation achieved between the panels.

  85. Vishwa Reddy says

    My solar was installed by Truvalue Solar last August and I am still waiting for the power to be connected to the grid. I just do not know hwere to go for any action to be taken. Even Vcat is becoming a joke. Can someone help?
    V Reddy

    • Colin Spencer says

      Vishwa, the basics need to be in your control. The installer has to finish off all of the certification paperwork related to his part of the job, and he has to organise inspection. Then Truvalue has to lodge connection paperwork with your power network people, NOT your electricity supplier. In my case it is SPAusnet. You really do need a copy of that paperwork that Truvalue complete and lodge. Then you can phone the network people and request that they find the application and tell you what progress, if any has been made. It took me 8 months to get past that stage, lodging the paperwork on two extra occasions. We were connected late December. Installation was in May. Mid December, I quietly told the system supplier that in January, I would be preparing a file to lodge with the Supreme Court, judge in chambers hearing on the matter, due to inaction. About two weeks later, the SP Ausnet guy came and pressed a couple of buttons on the smart meter and the job was done. Our electricity retailer is Momentum Energy, owned by Tasmania’s Hydroelectric power company, and they are right into green power. A copy of their suppliers agreement arrived in the mail today. Whoopee!

      • Colin: “It took me 8 months to get past that stage, lodging the paperwork on two extra occasions.”

        One of the half-dozen systems we installed on rentals has taken 44 months (no misprint) to be approved for the tariff rebate. Communication to us was zilch. Privacy laws prevented us from discovering that two tenants’ applications were incomplete. One must ask the question “Who benefits when these l-o-n-g delays occur?”

  86. Well actually… as your photos and gmap show…those panels will get almost NO shading from any trees …only the building they are mounted on are in any position to block the sun … my system is half the size they have and is mounted sub optimally and it has saved us HEAPS since we installed it..a lot more than the 10% you claim …. have you ever even owned one of these systems?

  87. My 1.5kw system has paid for itself in 3 years & 2 months @ 45.7 per kw in Canberra. That feed-in tariff has not been available for two years now of course. The evac. tube water heater has also
    been a success. My systems face NW & don’t get so much affected by fogs.

    • You get paid what? 45.7 cents per kWh? My understanding is that the wholesale price is around 6 cents per kWh So how much does this indulgence cost taxpayers ( you included) and other power users who are also tax payers? Double whammy exemplified.

    • Mark Nevill says

      I can’t afford solar panels, like most other battlers. I get to pay higher prices because of these power subsidies to the middle class and the rich. It’s a rort – poor subsidising the rich.

      • In fact, Mark, wise lessors are equipping _rentals_ with solar electricity systems (and solar HWS). Yes, tenants are also being subsidised by taxpayers, but it’s the exact reverse of your whinge. Thoughtful lessors are subsidising tenants’ power costs… and the government is subsidising lessors.

        But here’s the rub. Having equipped all of our rentals with solar electricity to their 47c/p u benefit, we’re now about to spend around $8K on our own, totally-unsubsidised solar electricity system. No subsidies, no tariff rebates, nothing… . We’re not complaining about that. We see these kinds of initiatives as a very sensible option worth paying for.

        We understand the plight of battlers. A few decades ago we were battlers who could not afford a car. The only jobs we could find were in such remote locations that 99% of Australians would have fled after a few days. Many who arrived after us did… . The only two-bedroom one-bathroom no-garage home (with a 21-year-lease) we could afford to buy after six years in sand/stone/salt deserts was in a low SES suburb of a regional centre.

        “Poor subsidising the rich”(?) Are you poor, Mark? Do you see poverty as your future? Are you so powerless and bereft of vision that you believe your poverty is someone/everyone else’s fault, Mark?

  88. Oh my God, TV is not real; my life has ended

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