Age is NOT a factor

You’re 80 years old – so where’s the benefit to you?

That was the most common reaction to Vernon Jones’ idea to install solar photovoltaics on his farm near Caeathro, in Gwynedd. However, Vernon did his research, and found great reasons to go ahead with his plans to invest in a system that uses technology to convert sunlight into electricity, guarantees payments for generated electricity, and even offers a bonus.

How it all began

Back in 2009, Vernon and his wife Kate started thinking about new investment ideas.
Historically low rates meant that most financial savings plans weren’t paying much interest, so the couple decided to look at the investment potential of solar power, via grid-linked systems with cash-back through the Feed-In Tariff (FiT)¹.

They’d long been part of the farming community in Caeathro, north Wales, although had mostly retired from working livestock. However, with a canny sense of the value of long-term investment, they both liked the idea of the possible returns from solar power. Over the next three to four years, they discussed the idea with friends, including some in Somerset who already had solar panels on their house roof.

Initially, the return on the technology was not enough to convince Vernon of the wisdom of the installation. However, by 2013, that had changed.

Investigating and deciding

“Prices for installing the equipment started coming down to a reasonable level,” says Vernon. “And the returns seemed better. The government was creating better incentives, such as the FiT programme.”

Vernon decided to use the Internet to find out more details. Using a comparison website, he looked at the rates, which were fluctuating between 2% and 4% return, plus subsidies. He then chose three companies to compare, including Gemini Solar, owned by Caernarfon-based Dave Hazeldine.

“Of course, we were then inundated with cold calls because we’d used a comparison website,” says Vernon. “That was about the only drawback to the whole project. We got rid of them quickly, and then arranged to meet Jim, the sales manager from Gemini Solar. We took to him right away, and really liked his no-nonsense attitude, attention to detail, and great ideas. In fact, he was the one who suggested we think about putting panels on the barn, instead of the house.”

Jim’s reasoning was simple. The house roof was optimally placed (facing south) to get the most sunshine. However, it was overshadowed for part of the day by a large, leafy tree. That would have meant reduced sunshine amounts and reduced solar energy. The barn roof also faces the same southerly direction, and it is shadow free all day.

“We were impressed that Gemini Solar would design a bespoke solution for us, and even think about the high winds and snow we can get here,” says Kate. “We realised the company’s systems would cost more upfront compared to some of the other ones we looked at, but that personal service and quality really made the difference. And being a local, Caernarfon-based company was good, too!”

Vernon adds that the Gemini Solar system seemed very high quality, and would last a long time. “That should give us better returns over the long-term,” he adds.

Vernon and Kate gave Jim the 20% deposit, and arranged the installation date.

A few days later…

“The scaffolding crew came on at noon on Friday – local company from down the road ­ and the whole job was finished by the end of the day on Wednesday,” says Vernon.

He adds that the installation crew took care of all the details, including tying it all in to the local power station. Altogether, an array of 16 PV modules of 250w monocrystalline, producing 4Kw electricity, was placed on the barn roof. Power from the array was fed to an inverter that converts the power from the array to mains electricity. The power is then used to power Vernon and Kate’s 200-year old home, home or exported to the grid for profit.

“They were very respectful of our home and property,” adds Kate. “We’d just re-laid some new bricks on the pathway, and they made sure they found alternate ways to lay the wires.”

The future beckons

Vernon and Kate’s investment on their barn’s south-facing roof will yield a 12.8% return on investment in the first year. Thereafter, they can expect a return of approximately £1150 the first year, with subsequent year’s increases linked to inflation. With predictions of annual increases in electricity rates, that’s a welcome amount.

“There’s the thing,” says Vernon. “Even if we don’t see in the next 40 years, the solar panelling gives us some return now, reduces our energy bills, and has added value to the house. So, if we sell it, or our two daughters take it on, someone will still get the benefit. So, despite being in somewhat mature years, we see it as a worthwhile investment in our family, now and into the future.”


¹ The Feed in Tariff (FiT) is a government-backed scheme allowing households and businesses to benefit financially from generating their own electricity from renewable or low-carbon sources such as solar photovoltaic (PV). The scheme gives you the opportunity to be paid for the electricity you generate, which you use yourself, and any surplus electricity is feed back into the grid. You will receive a bonus payment if you generate more than you use. The FiT is subject to periodic change in line with government policy.

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