Free energy at no cost

09/24/2010 - 18:40

All this talk of geothermal energy,sounds expensive!What about solar power,energy for free?With our restoration project our geometra advised us to have solar panels shown on the plans.Basicly it will be funded through the bank via a loan this is paid back with the energy produced by the solar panels, which is sold back to the energy co.The installation in the roof and power supply, we are told is free!!                   Would 3kw be sufficient to produce energy for our house of 120sqm Does this system also produce the hot water? Has anyone gone ahead with this type of project? It sounds too good to be free ( true )!!



Various things about your post flag up mis understandings. With any luck sagraisolar will cover the solar/legal/"free power" issues, and badger will attempt to convince you on the geothermal options. There are funding options from the Italian state - maybe they'll work for you - but think any offer through in your own mind, and remember that financial advantage (as in free money) is only one part of the equation. It's a holistic thing (also, perhaps a sort of your own philosophy thing) but you have asked your question in a good place, and with any luck you'll get some seriously expert answers.

I'm not well-informed on how the photovoltaic loan and pay-back system currently works, but I can answer one of your questions. You ask if the panels produce hot water and the answer is no. What your geometra has proposed is that you install photvoltaic panels on your roof. These produce electricty (when the sun is shining) that is fed into the ENEL grid and the electric company then pays the producer of the electricity. Solar hot water is a completely different technology and installing such a system requires the use of a plumber, not an electrician. The cost-benefit analysis of the two systems is also totally different. As for whether it's all "too good to be true", opinions vary. I do know that we have Italian friends who put a 3kW photovoltaic installation on their roof three years ago, then decided last year that the pay-off was so good that they doubled the number of panels. Looking around, one does see some large photovoltaic systems in the area of Abruzzo we live in, but it's obvious that there are not nearly as many photovoltaic panels on roofs here as there are in, for example, Germany. Maybe that's because the deals on offer are not as good here as they are there. Maybe that's because Italians are generally suspicious (possibly rightly so) of getting involved with contracts with banks and ENEL. Maybe that's because - as the friends I've mentioned have suggested - a lot of Italians in rural areas would have difficulties sorting out such a contract because you have to be able to show that you own the house outright and there are lots of houses here where that's not completely clear. Al

Atessa, our friends have a solar water heating system that was installed about 10 years ago. They also have a massive heat store and under-floor heating, so the solar water heating makes a contribution to their house-heating, although most of the heat for the central heating system comes from a log fire. This sort of system requires a very large investment up-front and it's debatable if it will every really pay for itself. In the case of our friends, they had built a new house with such a system in mind from the start and they had a lump sum to invest, so they decided to spend it on things which would reduce their routine living expenses to a minimum during their later years. For most people and most Italian houses, the first priority should be making sure the place is well-insulated and draught-proofed (although also with good ventilation for the winter). I've never heard of any sort of special arrangement with banks to get a solar water heating system here. I don't see how that might work, since solar water heating doesn't generate any income, while photovoltaic panels produce electricity which ENEL pays for. Solar water heating is 'free' only in the sense that it doesn't cost you anything to run the system from day to day and it constantly produces hot water. (Well, that's not completely true, since most solar water systems have at least one central heating-type pump, but their electricty consumption is minimal.) However, the cost of getting your first litre of hot water out of the system is quite significant. Even though we bought our components from a place that prides itself on its keen prices (Navitron), and even though I installed the system myself, the total cost of the system was close to £2,000. Al

Sagraiasolar will obviously be able to give you more advice, as he is using a PV setup, Solar panel heating for DHW and a heat bank system. PV @ 3Kw would probably only be suitable for normal domestic use ......... to heat the hot water you would either need electric heaters or solar/ wood burners and then tie these in with the heating system for the house as well. If you think you will get everything free, then you will need a few more Kw than your geometra thinks. A 5 Kw PV array would run a 9Kw heatpump quite easily, which would provide your DHW and heating in one unit. OK, a heat pump is more expensive in the first instance if you use Ground Source. but a Air/Water unit would be less. Fillide and Alan have both put very relevant points, so I think you ought to consider very carefully what you need, before getting bank loans, plus having to include all the extras required. Also remember the payback is graduated over the years, and could even be withdrawn at any time, before you sign the contract!!!

In reply to by Badger

Once again great information,thanks Badger.My budget is very limited thats why free energy/installation is so appealing.For heating the water (air/water unit)do mean evacuated tube panels? Or with 5kw go for electric boiler for heating water?

Lots of questions and lots of answers.  Yes I have done it and also spent last winter writing 'Cheap heating in Italy' which you can download FREE from so I won't repeat all that here. Briefly though: The PV - electric panels - bought with a loan will pretty much knock out your leccy bills and make enough to pay off the bank loan. My bank wanted us to buy a 10,000 euro stake in an investment trust to hold as a deposit. Otherwise it is all effectively free and you are immediately better off in cash flow terms. PV panels do not produce what they say on the tin... go for around 5kW if you can. In a way you could say that they do produce hot water as 3 hours of an immersion heater will produce all your hot water. Gas boilers are so old hat now that I doubt if they will be around in 10 years time.  I have just been looking at a couple of small house projects where the commune were insisting on solar panels - wet - as part of the plot. Budgets were limited so I suggested a start with a large heat bank with just an immersion heater followed later with the wet solar panels - summer  use sorted. Then a choice for winter power. An air to water heat pump when funds allow (running costs on a small house are minimal) or a simple stufa for winter cheer (connection to the heat bank depends on relative locations).... even both. Hope that helps.. enjoy the guide. And by the way when the PV loan is paid off you will have income to pay all your energy bills... ZERO COST heating is real.

Lots to think about thanks Sagariasolar Now a few technical questions on installation,How many do you need of these panels on the roof for 5kw?Would they fit along the length of my roof of approx 11.50m?and is the weight a consideration? With my limited budget maybe we should go for emmersion water heater.The energy co doesnt get power back if you have evacuated tubes/if you did install them, but by not useing the emmersion,.you are putting more energy back to the energy co.?This would also be a cost saveing/This i think  is what you are saying.This is such a dilemma!!Lots to discuss with my geometra!

If I can address your post from a slightly different angle and I am assuming that there are no Italian tax credits available to you. In Sardinia a 3kw pv array will generate around 4000kw's per year and cost around €15,000. If you don't use a single kw of electricity and put it all into the grid at approx. 45c per kw, you generate an income of €1,800 per year. From this deduct an average annual borrowing charge of around €450 on a €15,000 reducing loan. Your net gain is therefore, €1,350 giving a break even term of 11.11 years. This is pretty much a best case. I don't want to offend anyone, but in Abruzzo there is less sun, so your payback period is going to be longer. But aside from that, lets say that you actually use all the electricity that you generate (fair assumption) and this is sold back to you at 25c per kw. You now receive an income of only €800 euros per year. Sure you have not paid anything for your electricity but the cash dynamics have changed. Paying back the same loan at a net €350 per year will take you over 40 years. Clearly this is unrealistic so you will have to come up with extra cash to pay down the loan in a timely fashion. Your break-even term does not really change as you are saving on not paying on electricity costs but your cashflow vis a viz your bank loan has significantly changed. Sagraisolar said above he was asked to make a €10,000 deposit in an investment fund. This is quite standard, It enables the bank to have security over non payment of the loan. They could also do it as a charge on your house. Either way, at the outset, you owe the bank €15,000. There are also implications if you decide to sell your house at a later date. (can the loan be transferred to the new buyer or do you have to pay it off from your sale proceeds). It may sound like it, but I'm not knocking pv. Tax incentives, higher electricity prices, lower interest charges etc. can really change the numbers. I guess all I'm trying to say is the old cliche...."there is no free lunch".

I can only speak for Photovoltaics, since our studio project  small and large arrays here in Abruzzo. You aready have received a lot of advice, and of course I'm biased to thinking it's a very good idea as we have 2 arrays installed here at our house in Loreto, a small array of 10 kWp created to cover our house consumption using the net-metering option (zero electricity bills + annual payment of the difference between produced-consumed) that went into production in 2009, and a large array of 45 kWp, generating approx. 55000 kWh/year that went into production in 2006 where all the produced electricity is sold to the grid at approx. 0.095 euro/kWh and on top of that receiving an incentive on the production of 0,47 euro/kWh. But the installation did cost above 200.000 euro five years ago. We borrowed the money and the incentives are paying for the loan on a separate bank account. The incentives will run for 20 years while we assume the loan will be paid out in 8-9. I am positive about geothermal, solar heating etc. as well, but my husband is italian and these technologies were not immediate to him at time of restoration 10 years ago, and have therefore never been considered for our house. The same is valid for the (to Northeners) obvious choice of increased insulation. I think it will take years to change people's mentality in this regard. Generally it is correct that you only see few PV-arrays here in Abruzzo, just go to Le Marche and it seems that you're in South of Germany. It is all a matter of diffidence in the government, lack of money, and especially a general lack of informative advice etc. but things ARE changing and the since July my husband is working 7 days a week (and nights as well) following up on various installations. The abruzzese have been sleeping for 3 years and now, in the 11th hour, they all want everything at once. And they are right because there's going to be a 6% reduction of the incentive rate for installations done in 2011. You can still make it at the 2010-rates, but you really need to make up your mind rather quickly wink You must also remember that Germany initiated their incentivation programme 10 years before Italy, so there's still some serious catching up to do. In fact Spanish and German operators are all eager to work here in Italy as it currently has the best incentive scheme in Europe. But on your small scale, remember that NOTHING is completely free. YOU have to finance the installation, prices range from 4-5000 euro/kWp installed, so if you need 5 kWp you'll have to cough up max. 25000 euro. Most banks do finance this through loans, but the deal depends on the security you're able to give. However it's true that the loan will pay for itself through the incentives. Whether it will be in 8,9, 10 or 12 years, I cannot say, but you still earn 8 years of incentives paid out by the GSE. Consider it a long-term investment giving your contribution to the environment smiley To Moruzzo: It is indifferent whether the house is a holiday home or a permanent residence, as long as it is located on Italian Territory. You need to have an enel counter and the incentive will be paid out to the owner of this grid point. As for the "scambio sul posto" ie. the net-metering option, your array may be in surplus at the end of the year (your production is higher than your consumption), since your house is not abitated full time. However, now there is the option to have this positive difference paid back on an annual basis. Before they just gave you an "electricity credit" to consume during the following years. Panels have standard sizes of approx. 1 x 1,6 meters, so you can check yourself, how many you may be able to fit in on your roof. Standard power is 230 Wp so you'll need approx. 22 panels for 5 kWp, which here in Abruzzo would produce 1350 kWh/year for every kWp installed, 29000 kWh/year in total. Of course if these panels are oriented towards SOUTH and have a good inclination of 20 degrees or above, otherwise the expected production needs to be scaled down. Now, I could go on for hours about technical details and calculations, but it would be outside the scope of this forum. I'm happy to give production predictions to specific cases in private, these are based on location of the house, inclination and orientation of the roof. As for the incentives, as I've said in other posts,  the ONE AND ONLY reference guide to the incentivation scheme is the GSE website: - Read that before anything else! ciao

In reply to by Sablanico

Very interesting once again,thanks for your comments Sablanico,Didnt understand where you said"otherwise the expected production needs to be scaled down"?My geometra is showing 9 panels on the roof which faces east,for output of 3kw The house is more or less of 2up and 2down of approx 120sqm Would you say this would be sufficient or not?

Hi Atessa, Just to clear this one: If you install 9 panels of 230 Wp each, you'll have a PV-array of 2,07 kWp. The solar irradiation in Central Italy, allows an annual energy production of approx. 1350 kWh/kWp, so your PV-array would expect to produce 2800 kWh, which is more or less what your geometra has told you. Only problem is that these are figures for an optimal angolation/azimuth and your roof is facing East, not South (don't know the inclination of it), so you should expect a rough 15% reduction according to the figure here: I post a link to the European simulator, so that you can play around with different scenarios yourself:   Rgds

Thanks for that Sablanico,The roof will be stripped back to install a new insullation,The solar panels will be intergrated in with the tile replacement(the angle i would think could be optimised minimum 30degree)Do you think that it will be enough power for my house of 2up 2down 120sqm.What would you suggest For the hot water and heating system for ease of use and on a lower budget to install.Regards Atessa

In reply to by Sablanico

My final question to you all.If i were to rent out during summer and winter holiday seasons/for my low cost budget of installation(not geo thermal just too expensive)Which system of heating and hot water would you suggest, to be the easiest for a person to use?

The solar PV earnings are not quite as advertised above.  In fact you have 2 meters. The production meter pays you the tarrif regardless of where the power goes after that. Your old meter is replaced with a bi-directional one. So you get further credits for exporting and then bills as before for excess consumption. The latter two seem to roughly balance out.  Obviously you are better off by consuming as much as you can in the day time... if you are using electricity in any way for heating there is a strong case for having massive storage to cut down on night time consumption. I'll do a proper report on this forum when the full year is up. The reality so far is that enough money has been literally banked to make the repayments and the electricity bills have halved and that half is matched my export credits..

A word of caution Atessa. Think about security issues before spending lots of dosh-if the house is isolated you could find the solar panels are stolen, a simple solar thermal hot water system can be had for less than 1000 euro, but once again thnk about security, desperate folk with bags of time will steal almost anything of value, whether in Italy or the UK. If you intend to live on site then by all means splash out, but if not then 100m of 32mm black tubing on the roof could provide at least  80 litres of hot water evey day all summer. Save the more expensive installations for when you are there full time.

Atessa While Bunterboy's reasoning is fairly sound, in my opinion you would struggle to create very much hot water for a winter letting scenario. 80 ltrs is not a great amount of water, especially if a couple of people want  showers and water for washing up in a day. Maybe ok if the sun is shining, but in winter forget it. Think about inverters for winter heating.

The black tubing is just an easy way of getting 80 litres of hot water two or three times a day during the summer not a full on replacement for a solar set up, it works for us and later we'll have a "proper" system. (I thought your house was more likely to be let in the summer.)   Have a gander at this...

No Atessa, this happened to a near neighbour, yes the black tubing idea is very simple DIY  but we have a rustica house and we do not intend to putanything  moveable of value in the house until we relocate, septic tanks,french drains,DPCs and insulation are pretty difficult to steal. We have been forced to do much more DIY than we intended because our little pot of dosh became quickly depleted because we kept getting ripped off by expensive builders who thought I was Berlusconi. The builders are lovely and good and if we win the lottery we'll be using them again, but in the meantime it's just me and the missus. Tell us more about your project.

Hi Bunterboy,The house we recently bought is in the countryside near Atessa it dates from 1850 and is in good condition,it is basicly 120sqm, 2up 2down,built of stone but rendered.It needs a full renovation.The plans have been submitted to city hall and approval should happen within weeks.Yes i agree costs are high and that is why i asked my original question Solar panels and installation/energy for free.It turned into a Big Debate and still continues.Abruzzo is a wonderful area and we cant wait for the start!!

My main concern with just having a black tube to heat the water, would be the possibility of Legionella. The water would have to be over 50C to eradicate the bacteria, so if nobody stays in the house for a couple of weeks then they would have time to breed happily. That is just my view, as would not like anyone sued for killing off their guests. If you want a reasonably cheap hot water system, then it is worth looking at the new Ariston Nuos. This unit is circa E1000 so may be the answer as can be sited inside a cantina. Re inverters, these are air/air heaters with air conditioning included.

Hi Penny. It is a new product announced very recently. It only produces domestic hot water, but even so it is ideal for holiday homes etc. There are larger models for higher water usage though. It works basically the same as a normal air/water heat pump, but without the heating mode.

At least that heat pump thingy can't be nicked very easily, although for 100 euro you can get a wee electric scaldobagno and save 900 euros to boot, then when you move permanently go the whole hog with the solar thermal. By the way, my old bit of black tubing gets very hot indeed in the summer and the hot water is free, but obviously it's only useful over the summer. It all depends on your plans of course. We intend to live frugally and greenly with only a three kw supply so probably won't be using any kind of heat pump, but obviously the solar PV option is very,very attractive!

The Nuos description says the unit is intended to be installed in a bathroom or kitchen. It's a heat-pump, extracting heat from the air in the room and using it to heat the water. So the unit requires the owner to heat up the air in the bathroom. This heat is then extracted from the air and used to heat water. Then the heated water goes down the drain. Maybe I'm missing something blindingly obvious here, but this seems very daft. In fact it seems idiotic for Britain and Italy during the winter, but just marginally stupid for Italy during the summer. Al

Alan. It can be installed in a kitchen or bathroom, but it draws air in from outside.  Due to the site restrictions for pdf files, I could not upload a better version, albeit in Italian. If anyone wants to see the full file, then if they let me know their email by PM I will quite happily send it.

In reply to by Badger

We have an air conditioning system which is a reverseable air-source heat-pump, and so can be used as a space heater when it's cold. So essentially it's doing the same thing the Nuos is doing, but heating up air rather than water. We've been very pleased with how it works, although I understand that the efficiency of air-source heat-pumps falls off as the outside air gets colder, and we do get some very cold weather here at times. Still, I do wonder if the savings achieved by using a stand-alone heat-pump hot water heater will ever justify its cost. Our experience is that the amount of propane we use to heat water is trivial compared to how rapidly the tank drains when we use the gas boiler to heat the house. Al

Allan. Domestic water heating is only 20% of a house heating needs. The onboard computer on the heat pump here shows that 80% of its use is the house heating. This is about the normal figure for any installation. From this I can base that the DHW only costs me about 250-300 euros per year. That does not warrant putting solar on the roof a that is not a constant heat source. From your figure above, this would confirm the fact that your main energy requirement is for heating. Re the efficiency factor, you could site the air inflow for the Nuos inside a cantina area where the temperature gradient is not as drastic. The Optima pumps are designed for -20C temps, which very rarely happen here, but can be combined with another heat source if needed.

Hi Allan still looking at all the options,would this product(Nuos) run my hot water needs throughout the year.What do they cost,perhaps you could send me your download by PM.If i go for the solar panels for power,what would you suggest for hot water and heating,at a lower budget.Thanks again for your help.Atessa

Bunterboy, I am in the throes of buying a small ( 40sq m ) flat with no cantina and tiny postage stamp garden. I will only be using it for a few weeks a year and also some friends will for a number of weeks a year, for the next 5 years or so. I don't have the wherwithall for any of the dearer systems. Can you explain to me what an electric Scaldobagno is, ta? I imagine it is works like an electric shower or the old kitchen Geiser. I am having an electric shower put in.   ta

It's just an insulated tank with an immersion heater (1.2kw) that hangs on the wall,you can get various sizes, 30l, 40l,  80l    Tthe 80l one takes around 4 hours to warm up and stays warm for ages, a tank of water would cost about 80 cents at current prices (ouch)    . Leroy Merlin often have them on special offer

Bunterboy. That would not be enough to run the electric cooker here, if we switched all the lighting on we would be at 6Kw. Why should I worry about paying an electricity bill of under 3k per year for 24 hr heating and hot water inclusive of the whole house requirement?

I have to say there are some keen and VERY knowledgeable players with this one..............I'll stick with my earlier comment (and others from years gone by)............RISKY business, pay NOW, go into (for me) seriously unwanted debt and you MIGHT save money 15 years down the road (if the 'systems' don't change during that time!). Pazzo, pazzo, pazzo....................!! Why on earth would you go down that route?? Good luck for those who do venture this way. S

3kw supply should be adequate for most people and cerainly more sustainable, basically we should all strive to have a smaller carbon footprint, not because of the hype about climate change but simply because it makes sense to use our resources sparingly for our grand children's sake-here endeth the sermon..