Goodbye energy bills, hello sunshine system

The propolar powered house4 at Cattal
The propolar powered house4 at Cattal
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Plans for a pioneering Yorkshire property powered by the sun could help us all move off grid. Sharon Dale reports

When Simon Clark found the perfect plot to build his longed-for “grand design”, he knew he faced a battle to get planning permission.

Despite refusal by Harrogate Council, the Government’s planning inspectorate ruled in his favour, largely thanks to an “outstanding and innovative design”, which satisfied section 55 of the National Planning Policy Framework.

The wording is open to interpretation but in this case there is no doubt that the proposed property, designed by Richard Hawkes Architecture, will be pioneering thanks to its futuristic style and its groundbreaking use of solar energy.

The curved shape of the timber framed house at Cattal, near Knaresborough, echoes the medieval ridge and furrow ploughing that has left its mark on the landscape and the home is set to be powered by a new system that will take it off grid for 85 per cent of the time.

The system, which will be monitored by scientists, includes a raft of 64 roof-mounted solar panels hidden by a parapet. Unlike standard photo voltaics, which simply convert the sun’s rays into electricity, the photo-voltaic thermal panels also capture heat.

They will generate 13,000 kWh of electricity and heat a year, and are linked to storage facilities built into the structure of the four-bedroom house. The heat created by the panels will run the underfloor heating and hot water systems, and will be transferred via piping through the property’s six-foot deep foundations, where it will be stored and kept warm by the surrounding earth. The heat can then be drawn off during the winter when the panels are least efficient. The electricity will be used to run everything from lighting and gadgets to appliances. The excess will be stored in batteries built into the wall for use in the evening when there is no solar power. The property will still be connected to the National Grid and will feed in and out of it where necessary.

Simon Clark says: “At the moment this is the system that brings you closest to being an off-grid house. For me that’s about social responsibility. The benefits include cutting carbon emissions and no bills.”

Anthony Morgan, Head of Minimise Generation, which developed the system, says: “We have trialled the different elements but this is the first time they have been pulled together. The panels are more efficient than ever and the heat can be harvested and stored under the building. It acts like a ground source heat pump system but there is no need for a borehole or the piping that requires an enormous amount of land. The storage batteries for the electricity mean that the only time you should need to use from the grid is in the depths of winter.”

The price of the system is £100,000, although Anthony predicts that it could become more affordable within ten years when it could cost £15,000 to £20,000 for a standard house.

Simon’s aim to off-set the cost by claiming feed-in tariffs has been scuppered by the Government’s plans to slash them in January next year. Those with solar panels get subsidies for the electricity they generate, plus a bonus for anything exported back to the National Grid. Under the new proposals, the amount to be paid from next year will fall to 1.63p per kilowatt hour from a current level of 12.92p. However, Simon, who is still considering tenders for the project at Cattal, near Knaresborough, says: “The FiTs would’ve given us £8,000 a year so if they are cut it will be a blow but the system will still save around £3,000 a year in running costs and it is clean and green.”

Anthony Morgan says the Government plan is “disgraceful” although his own product is cushioned by demand from the hotel and leisure industry.

“Our business launched ten years ago in response to the Government demand for zero carbon homes by 2016. Now the Government has now scrapped that idea. It is very annoying but we are pleased that we have found the solution. People who aren’t financially constrained and who want to produce their own energy will buy into it and it will eventually become more affordable for developers. That’s the end goal.”