The soaring cost of electricity has made solar panels an appealing option for print and embroidery shops. Darren Fernandes explains how he installed a solar power system at the Dy-mensionscreen Printers factory, the costs involved, and the lessons learned
Even during the gloomy months last winter, the electricity bills at Dy-mensionscreen Printers were just 75% of what they’d usually be. By summer, sales and creative director Darren Fernandes expects the bill to be slashed by 40-60%. And it’s all thanks to a new 88-solar panel system sitting on the Croydon factory’s roof.
Peace of mind
Becoming solar-powered was not speedy. The panels were installed in August 2022, but the process started in November 2021. Nor was it straightforward. Establishing which installation company to use, which solar panels were best, which inverter to use, not to mention power outputs, warranty lengths, monitoring systems…
Dy-mensionscreen settled on Little Green Energy Company for the installation. It was not the cheapest company, admits Darren. The project cost £44,000 to supply the panels they wanted, complete with 25-year warranty. But it was the right choice for Dy-mensionscreen. A cheaper panel might come with a shorter warranty, or not cover all the replacement costs, such as scaffolding, warns Darren. “Whereas with the premium panel we picked, it was a full package. It is complete peace of mind: you pay once and then that’s it forever. And because we knew we’re here [in this unit] long term, that’s the route we went for.”
The installation company also dealt with any issues, such as negotiating with UK Power Networks – before larger scale solar panel projects can be installed, they need to be assessed by the area’s distribution network operator to make sure the local grid can cope with the added load – as well as advising on all aspects of the project.
“Little Green Energy makes a full calculation of return on investment, the direction of your roof pitch and the sun, and how much it’s going to generate as an estimation. And then they speak with everyone on your behalf because obviously they do this day in, day out.”
The company also has a Zappi electric car charging point. And because Darren chose to get a monitoring system with the panels (at an additional cost of £700), he knows exactly the right time to charge the cars.
“We can see what the factory is using, what we’re pulling from the grid, and what we’re pulling from solar. At times such as lunch, when the print production is at its lowest, I can divert all the solar to charge the cars. So effectively, we’re charging our cars for free.”
The monitoring system also means that just by looking at the app, rather than clambering on the roof to physically check, Darren knows if any panels are faulty, or producing less electricity because they have, say, some dirt on them.
“You can also really keep tabs on what your energy output is,” he adds, “which helps you save money as well, because you’re actively conscious of what’s being used where.”
Dy-mensionscreen is still on a cheaper electricity tariff from before the energy crisis first hit, but even so, its monthly bills were around £1,000 before the panels were installed. The panels’ return on investment (ROI) was estimated to be six to nine years. When the company moves to a new, inevitably higher tariff, the ROI could be three to six years.
Exporting excess energy to the grid can generate money. However, Darren says the rate is so low it makes more sense to divert any excess to charging cars or a battery. Darren is monitoring how much electricity they export to the grid over a year to see if it’s enough to warrant investing in a battery. This would cost around £15-16,000 (batteries vary between £8,000 and £17,000 depending on the size).
People have contacted Darren to ask him how the system is working out, and how he did it. While he advises others to follow his lead, he adds a caveat: only if you own the property, you plan on staying there long term and you have everything else you need first. “£44,000 can get you a nice little auto, it can get you a brand new dryer. The return on investment? You can get a big job and the machine is paid for straightaway. Your return on investment in solar panels is years.”
That said, when asked if there was anything he wishes he’d done differently, his reply is short and simple: “I wish I had done it earlier.”