Solar panels and the lucrative payments clubs can secure before December 12
The solar energy incentive in the UK has been taken advantage of by tens of thousands of homeowners and small and medium sized businesses, and golf clubs are perhaps better placed than anyone else to benefit.
At the crux of it is the government’s ‘feed-in tariff (FIT)’ scheme, which guarantees a minimum payment for all electricity generated by the system, as well as a separate payment for electricity not used that is exported to grid, and these payments are in addition to the bill savings made by using the electricity generated on-site, provided you have microgeneration technology installed. It is also important to know that the FIT solar energy scheme is for a 25-year period and that only MCS-accredited installers, and solar equipment, can be used to qualify for the scheme. (The Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) is an independent scheme that certifies microgeneration products and their installers in accordance with consistent standards. All UK government-backed solar installations and installers are required to be MCS-certified and satisfy robust standards to protect the consumer and ensure productivity and endurance during the 25-year contractual agreement.)
The modules installed have 25 year power output warranty and are capable of generating energy at a reduced rate during periods of cloud cover.
Once an agreement has been reached with the Department of Energy and your energy provider, the terms are valid and cannot be changed for the 25-year period. The payback period and investment necessary depend upon your financial flexibility (the size of the installation you can afford), the quantity of sunlight in your part of the country, the amount of electricity you consume and the percentage of that consumption that takes place during daylight hours.
The numbers are so good with the FIT schemes still being offered and fully backed by the government, that a golf club should look into how the scheme suits their energy requirements and financial bottom line. Participants in the solar energy incentive programme are paid for every kilowatt that the system produces. This means that electricity consumed during daylight hours is not only free of charge but is actually generating an income for the golf club.
The average 18-hole golf course electricity bill is £14,000 per year. Obviously, additional facilities such as hotels, health spas, gymnasiums and so on, along with the number of members and visitors, can significantly raise this number. If you use 14 pence as an average unit price per kilowatt (kW), this equates to 100,000 kW per year.
Solar installations are also sized in kilowatts. An average household, which spends £600 on electricity per year, would range from 2½kW to 4kW and would occupy a south facing roof space of approximately 20 to 30 square metres. Solar energy per kilowatt installed at conservative government estimates, ranges in the UK from 950 hours in the north to 1,300 hours in the south. So a household with a 4kW system in the south would produce 5,200kW of electricity. The government is currently paying homeowners approximately 43.5 pence per kW hour returned to the grid and 41 pence per kW that they consume during daylight hours. It is estimated that an average home uses 30 per cent of their electricity during daylight hours.
So the homeowner, whose electricity bill is less than five per cent than that of a golf club, would pay £180 less per year to their electricity provider for their normal consumption and would be compensated by their electricity provider by £640 for the electricity produced and consumed, plus £1,583 for the electricity returned to the grid. The average 4kW system costs £12,000 so this is a £2,400 return on the investment, which is paid quarterly by the government. The FITs are adjusted for inflation and rose three pence from April 2010 to April 2011. The household solar installation payback ranges from five to seven years and then continues to produce £2,400 plus inflation revenue for the next 18 to 20 years. However, the FiTs will be dramatically reduced from December 12, 2011.
There are no moving parts in solar systems and they need minimal upkeep. The government has demanded stringent guidelines from equipment manufacturers and installers to ensure productivity throughout the 25-year agreement.
Golf courses with large open areas and numerous buildings such as maintenance, machinery, and electric cart sheds have very ample space to take best advantage of sun exposure to maximise solar energy production. The Island Golf Club in the USA has installed both rooftop and stand alone solar systems. Search online for ‘Alternative Energy and Conservation at The Island Golf Club’ and click on both Item information – The Environmental Institute for Golf and Improving the Bottom Line: Alternative Energy and Conservation at The Island Golf Club to find out more about this.
David McCallum, the golf course superintendent at The Island Golf Club, and his club, have both received well-deserved praise for the reduction of their carbon footprint while simultaneously improving their bottom line.
Now, let’s return to an average UK golf club, which uses 100,000kW per year. The fast track review by energy minister, Gregory Barker, is only looking at systems larger than 50kW.
A review of a golf club’s electric bills will determine how much electricity is consumed during daylight hours.
The installation cost of a 50kW system may average £140,000.
If 40 per cent electricity usage during daylight hours is assumed, it is possible to calculate a payback schedule. A 50kW system in the south of England will produce 65,000kW of electricity. If a golf club uses 40 per cent of the estimated 100,000kW per year, this is 40,000kW consumed during daylight hours. This means that the payment to the energy supplier is reduced by £5,600 per year at 14 pence per kilowatt hour.
The FIT for a 50kW system is currently 30.7 pence for electricity utilised and the same price for what is returned to the grid. Therefore the golf club in the south of England would be compensated for 65,000 (1,300 hours of sunlight per year x 50kW) kilowatts at 30.7 pence per kW.
This equates to £20,000. The payback for the £140,000 solar installation, disregarding inflation, when electricity is expected to rise 25 per cent over the next 15 years, is only five and a half years (£140,000 divided by £25,600). A golf club in the north may take seven years to recoup the investment. The income of £25,600 per year, plus adjustment for inflation, will then continue for the remaining 18 to 20 years.
The estimate of the sunlight hours is conservatively calculated; the solar energy produced during cloudy periods is additional revenue. These days it is rare that a day passes without hearing about golf and sustainability. The solar energy initiative is a genuine chance for golf clubs to reduce their carbon footprint and positively affect their financial bottom line.
Michael Rogers is from Down to EARTH Water Management, a consultancy, which has worked with more than 400 golf clubs, that specialises in technical assistance for the implementation of alternative resource management strategies