Much of the centre of Bridport is a conservation zone, and the question of whether the panels come under permitted development is a grey area. For listed buildings, planning permission is required in most cases, but the decisions of planning officers is shifting towards accepting these unless they impinge on a heritage view. Around Bridport, a number of developments, many of bungalows with big roofs, presented an ideal opportunity for installers to cover several roofs one after the other using the same scaffolding and fitting teams, passing on the economy of scale to the buyers. Our chosen installer said he gave us a 12% discount on his normal price.
800 leaflets (paid for by the installer, but distributed by Transition volunteers to noticeboards, shops and letterboxes) explained the scheme and asked people to write to us. We wrote to all the respondents giving them a generic quote for a basic system and invited them to a meeting with the installer. Local magazines and papers also carried the story.
70 people came to the meeting in our local WI hall, where we explained the economics of solar panels. A spreadsheet was distributed to show how long the payback was if the price of electricity remained at 35p (7 years) or 50p (5 years) – although we were keen to stress the other benefits of independent renewable energy.
The installer, who brought a solar panel, inverter, battery, Solar Boost diverter and car charger to the hall, explained the details of the installations and the options available – whether to add a battery, whether to opt for the more expensive Solar Edge inverters etc. The questions covered pay-back period, insurance, guarantees, pigeons, windage, insurance, lead times, grid approval, orientation of roofs, structural surveys and in-roof systems.
At the end of the meeting we invited people to apply for a quote from our endorsed installer, but also to get another quote for comparison.
After the meeting a further 55 people wrote in, and were referred to the installer; to date, 60 households have asked for a quote.
This project required very little work for potentially a large gain.
We had advertised that we would not be receiving any payment from the installer, we were able to be seen as impartial. In Swanage, the installer agreed to pay £50 into a community fund, and in retrospect that would have been a good idea.
We had concerns that a single local installer will be overwhelmed by too many orders, and momentum will be lost. If we had known the numbers prior to choosing a single installer, we might have presented two or more installers in a ‘beauty pageant’ evening and offered punters more choice.
Efficient record-keeping, and swift response by standard email, and a separate gmail account made the process much less work.
The scheme was helped by uncertainty over the price of electricity. With the government energy price guarantee fixed for another three months, we expect demand to decrease somewhat.
Number of people who have asked for a quote