That’s why South East Farmer has done its own research into the companies available and teamed up with three ‘preferred solar suppliers’ it believes have shown they have the experience and expertise to deliver the right solar PV solution to readers.
“We know from experience that each of the companies – BeBa Energy UK, Solar Advanced Systems and NWT Solar – are reliable and experienced suppliers with a track record of successful installations and a portfolio of satisfied customers,” said Jamie McGrorty, sales director of South East Farmer.
He added: “There are a lot of solar installers out there trying to persuade farmers that they are the best company to go with. Unfortunately, some firms have proved to be less reliable than others.
If the company you choose goes out of business, it leaves you without any guarantees and no one to carry out the maintenance. Although no one can guarantee there will never be any problems with the panels that are installed or with the firms highlighted here, what I do know is that the three firms have a good reputation and are all very good at sorting out problems if and when they occur.”
At South East Farmer we know that while there is no longer much of a debate on whether or not going solar is a good thing, both in financial terms and in order to highlight a business’s commitment to the environment, it represents a significant cash outlay.
That means that even if the principle is beyond discussion, the decision as to which company to sign up to install the energy-saving, cash-earning panels is more difficult. There are fewer companies out there than in the past, after tariff changes shook up the market, but there are still plenty to choose from.
And when the cost of even a medium-sized installation is likely to run well into five figures, making the right choice is clearly important, not least because the systems are designed to run for 25 years or more.
As BeBa Energy UK’s managing director Stephen Palmer pointed out: “A technical tweak that improves the performance of a system by as little as half a per cent can generate several thousand pounds of extra income over the lifetime of a reasonably-sized solar PV installation.”
And that’s not the only thing that needs to be considered. The return on investment, the efficiency with which the sun’s energy is converted to usable electricity and the ongoing maintenance costs associated with the system will vary, depending on the supplier.
“It’s like any other commodity,” Stephen explained. “There are good installers and there are those who don’t take quite as much care – and there are top quality solar PV panels, inverters and mounting systems and there are cheaper alternatives.”
BeBa Energy UK, which is also recommended by the NFU, believes that its attention to detail and its determination to get as much energy as possible out of every system is what sets the company apart. The company’s portfolio includes two solar PV schemes at Ashford Cattle Market, where it installed a 30kwh installation to power the market’s effluent treatment plant and high-pressure pumps and a second 50kwh set-up serving the auctioneers’ offices and other central facilities.
NWT Solar specialises in commercial scale solar products and can help landowners make the best use of their assets even in cases where all the electricity is exported to the National Grid, something which is generally seen as less attractive than using as much as possible on site.
“There seems to be a view that you have to use the electricity to make solar pay, but that clearly isn’t the case,” said programme manager Hugo Logan. “It is clearly better to use it and reduce your energy bill, but even in the worst possible case – where a business uses none of the electricity it generates – from the middle of year nine onwards the investment is cash positive.”
In such less straightforward cases it is the detail that can be tricky, which is where expert advice from a company such as NWT can make or break a project. There is always an optimum size for a solar PV installation, based not just on how much energy the client can use to reduce his or her own electricity bill but on the existing infrastructure and the cost of making any improvements required by UK Power Networks.
“The important bit is talking to the distribution network operator about how much they will allow the client to put into the system,” said Hugo. “They look at infrastructure such as fuses, cabling and transformers and give us a limit based on what they see as a safe load.
“We have the experience to know, for instance, that it is worth paying to upgrade the fuses in a particular scenario but that it would be completely uneconomical to change the transformer. It’s never a case of just whacking up as many panels as you can fit on to the roof. Solar always makes sense but farmers – and commercial building owners – need to get good advice in order to get the best out of it.”
Solar Advanced Systems prides itself on design, quality and providing a high level of service. Since it was set up in 2009, the company has gone from strength to strength, winning the Solar UK 2013 Best Commercial Rooftop award, being highly commended in the Solar Power Portal Best Commercial Rooftop award for 2013 and winning the Solar UK 2014 Innovation Award for the company’s RIOS (Renewable Incentive Operating Scheme) financing plan.
Founder and managing director Nick Porter said: “The company’s reputation for quality, knowledge and service is of the upmost importance. Our success is not only down to the people that form our organisation but the key partnerships we have made with companies such as Ernest Doe and Euroclad.
“As we have grown we have been extremely selective in bringing in highly skilled people who share the same ethical approach to business.”
Winning the contract with Ernest Doe, which has been in business for well over a century, was particularly challenging, since managing director Colin Doe has a well-deserved reputation for carrying out painstaking research into the options, particularly when it comes to suppliers.
Euroclad, one of the largest manufacturers of profiled roofing and facades in the UK, partnered exclusively with Solar Advanced Systems to deliver renewable packages to the new-build commercial and agricultural sectors following rigorous due diligence checks. The company makes approximately 80% of the new poultry roofing sheets in the UK.
Kevin Downes, commercial director for Solar Advanced Systems, said the exclusive partnership “has put us into a new league when it comes to warranties on new roofing.”
He added: “When a client chooses to have the solar PV installation as part of the roofing package, he or she benefits from having the solar system match the roofing sheet warranties, which is extremely important for the longevity of the roof and the client’s peace of mind. When coupled with one of our award winning funding solutions, it makes our companies’ offer compelling”.