JUMPINGSPIDER.CO.UK – blogging at its jumpiest

Great News – Octopus no longer require MCS certification for the Feed-in Tariff.

Why is this great news? Because MCS is a money spinning load of bollocks.

Read the saga of our (MCS Certified) in-roof Solar PV installation.

Energy prices rocketed in 2023 so we hired a Solar Service company to install 12 in-roof solar panels.

all names changed to protect the innocent (me!) – email me if you want to know?

In-roof means the panels are not suspended above the tiles but the tiles are replaced by solar panels mounted in the roof.

We wanted the French company GSE’s solution for in-roof panels for aesthetic reasons (the GSE brochure makes them look great) and there should be nowhere for birds etc to nest underneath the panels—it looked like a good solution.

The Sale

Feb 2nd – SolarPV salesman Rob did his first survey and we settled on a design with 12 photovoltaic panels (installed in-roof) and a Growatt SPH3600 with two 6.5kWh batteries. We were told everything was in stock, the installation could commence on the Feb 20th and might take a day or two.

Feb 16th – we agreed to have the scaffolding erected and paid the next installment of 60% thinking installation was about to begin.

Installation begins …or does it?

Feb 20th – we were told to expect a solar engineer but instead we got back our salesman Rob who had forgotten all about the in-roof system he’d just sold us and just took a few more photos of our utility room. I managed to get him up on the scaffolding (he’s not good with heights) and we talked over the layout and confirmed the Velux windows would fit between two panel widths etc. He told us the roofers would arrive on March 1st.

It felt like his visit was just a ploy to create a fake installation commencement date?

Feb 27th – call and email from Greta at Acme-Solar to say installation would begin March 8th. Of course February’s weather has been glorious, endless sunny days—one of the driest on record—but by the end of the month it’s starting to turn.

It Begins

March 7th – Two roofers Bill and Lance turn up unexpectedly and after some head scratching we agree to change the layout because Rob’s design could disturb the ridge tiles, which would complicate the job. By the end of the day they have removed half the tiles and overnight we get 2 inches of snow on the exposed roof.

March 8th – Next day the snow has melted, Bill and Lance are working in freezing rain – more head scratching and measuring to make things work. At one stage water is dripping into the house from the ceiling around our Velux windows.

Electricians arrive mid-morning with no plan, I explain where to run the cables and where the batteries and inverter should go. They state that all 12 panels will be connected in a single string – I argue that this would exceed the tolerances of the inverter and make the system less reliable, less efficient and more affected by shading. Yes it would save some wire but they finally agree to connect half the panels to each MPPT on the Inverter. When they finish we get an extremely short briefing on how to monitor production and nothing more. They use a 40mm hole cutter to do everything and use it on my roof joists to route the 6mm PV cable – not happy.

March 9th – The roofers finish and hook up the panels – I have a quick look at the finished roof (from the scaffold ladder) and it looks quite impressive in the gloom and rain. It’s actually generating power!

March 12th – I’ve had a proper look at the roof in the dry – we send a drone up to inspect the top of the array and find several problems. I’ve told Acme-Solar that it’s unacceptable. Also mentioned that the CT sensor and wiring in the meter cabinet was a complete mess.

My Report to Acme-Solar

1. There are huge open spaces under the tiles for birds and vermin to get into the roof. This is because no pre-compressed foam tape was used as per the in-roof system instructions.
2. All roof tiles down the right hand side of the array are not held in place – they have no nib or nail and can just slip out.
3. Bottom (Ubiflex) flashing isn’t properly formed against the tiles making ideal sites for nesting bats.
4. Tiles are not sitting properly because the GSE metal flashing is interfering with the way they lie.
5. The top row of tiles is being pushed up by the solar panels, they are hard against each other – some tiles are pushed high enough to allow rain to get under the overlap on the adjacent tile.
6. No extra roof battens have been fitted. They are needed to  to coincide with the mounting positions on the GSE plastic trays. Some of the mounting screws are no doubt in the wrong place.
7. No battens were added to support the bottom of the panels or the flashing underneath them. This leaves a large open cavity under the bottom edge of the panel trays – the roofers added some ugly self adhesive rubber strip to cover this gap.

March 22nd – We are away on holiday for a week, but still don’t have a date for when the roofers will return.

March 31st – We are told to expect roofers and electricians today – I had asked why they were sending an electrician and was told it was for commissioning. Two electricians turn up but nobody knows why they are here, so they leave after a cup of tea.

At around 14:30 Jack the roofer arrives to inspect the situation – it’s too late to do much but he sounds like he knows what is required and takes some measurements so that he can come back next week with the correct materials for the job. He leaves two rolls of the pre-compressed foam tape supplied by GSE.

April 1st – Dick (the Commercial Manager) emails me asking what needs to be done to get this job signed off. It sounds like they actually want to know(!), so I send off an email detailing the problems and possible solutions. I suggest the easiest fix would be to remove all the panels, reposition the whole lot and start again. It’s April fools day but I’m serious.

April 4th – After another email to Dick chasing for a decision, Greta calls to say Jack and his team will be coming back on bank holiday Monday 10th. I message Jack and ask Greta to have him call me – just trying to make sure he arrives with the necessary equipment and supplies. No communication.

April 7th – Jack had cancels his visit for the 10th because of the atrocious weather. Now he tells us he’s on holiday for the next two weeks but colleague Joe will take the reins.

April 14th – It’s Friday 17:54 and suddenly our ‘Handover Pack’ and other documents start arriving by email. MCS certificate included – have Acme-Solar Solutions given up and abandoned us? They were holding us to ransom with the MCS certificate which meant we couldn’t get an export license with Octopus. The invoice says ‘Paid in Full’ – wtf?

April 16th – I finally get a reply to my email assuring us that they have not abandoned us and will complete the job.

April 21st – a courtesy call from Greta to say the roofers will have to cancel tomorrow (Saturday) because of the weather. Nobody had told us so we hadn’t been expecting anyone anyway!

Polishing the Turd

April 26th – Two roofers, Joe and Bill arrive at about 11.15 in a Ford Fiesta. They have brought some battens but had to chop them up to get them in the car, most of the lengths are too short to span our roof joists which are 1200mm apart. The were not prepared to order any more battens so we wasted some time talking about how these could be joined over a joist but I wasn’t happy with that so I borrowed my daughter’s roof rack equipped Ford Kuga to go and collect half a dozen 4.2m lengths from a local supplier.

By mid afternoon I was getting curious and went up the scaffolding to check progress – it was another shit show. They had squashed down all of the metal flashing up-stand – this only needed to be done where it was lifting the tile on the battens. As a result the flashing had no structural strength and it was bowing down between joists. On top of that, they had stuck the pre-compressed foam tape onto the up-stand of the flashing – basically nullifying the whole point of squashing the up-stand. Now the tiles were sitting on the foam tape—which has a minimum height of 6mm—raised up by at least that amount. The GSE in-roof system manual says the foam tape should be on the flashing at least 20mm from the up-stand.
They had also started putting battens under the bottom flashing – we agreed that these were needed to close the gap between the panels and the Ubiflex flashing – which was currently covered by some self adhesive rubbery strip. However, they found it difficult to nail the battens in place (because the panels and in-roof trays were in the way) so they had nailed them up to 30mm lower than needed – they were not supporting the flashing to close up the gap.
A phrase came to mind – “polishing a turd”. By late afternoon the consensus was that they were not helping matters and after having seen what was going on at the top of the roof, they decided it would be best to come back mob-handed to take off the whole lot and do a proper job.

 

More incompetence

May 2nd – I get an email from Shelley at ACME-Solar, it says,”I am just following up on my colleague Rob’s quotation to you and wondered if you had any further questions or queries in relation to the quotation or if you wanted to go ahead?

May 4th told to expect The Roofers on Monday 8th

May 8th I get a call from Joe (08:43) to say the weather forecast is too bad and they won’t be coming. The weather was fine until 19:10 when very light drizzle started. At this point I decided to climb the roof and have a look at what was going on at the very top – it turned out Lance hadn’t fitted any flashing at all along the top of the panels and there was no batten to support the top row of tiles at their bottom edge.

May 9th I report the Solar Service company to CheckaTrade with a scathing review and send a fairly strongly worded email explaining my position and a few hours later I get a call from the MD and Tech Director John. He will come over with the roofers on Monday to supervise the job and see first hand what went wrong. For the first time, I get an apology for the way it has all been handled.

May 15th John, Bill and head roofer Jim arrive – we discuss a plan and John is very sympathetic to our complaints. That makes a nice change from having his wife laugh at me! At the end of a long day, they have moved the GSE Trays and panels a couple of inches lower in the roof and installed battens where they should be. Installed flashing along the top and removed the rubberised flashing at the bottom of the panels. Replaced all the GSE metal side flashing and added proper clips for it. They applied pre-compressed foam to the sides, and the top of the smaller array. Jim thought a batten under the top row of tiles on the 8 panel array would be sufficient without foam seals.

While the PV panels were off I could check their brand and model – it’s not what was on the MCS Certificate, which also says hook and rail mounting btw.

16 May I have had a chance to inspect things. I suppose it’s now weather proof and fairly bird proof. The roof tiles are no longer resting on the solar panels. There’s no gap under the bottom edge of the array and the rubber flashing that covered that gap has gone. Dust and debris can escape as intended.

The Roofers finished off everything in a bit of a hurry. Some foam tape has turned over where it did not stick well to dusty metal flashing which should have been wiped down first. I spotted some galvanised nails in our gravel drive, so did a quick search and came up with a total of 22 of them.

Non-conforming practices:
• They have put a roof batten along the top edge which is glued on top of the flashing – it seems to have been used to block nesting birds but I don’t know why they didn’t stick to the GSE instructions and use compressed foam tape. Did they run out of it again—and not ask to use my supply?
• GSE say don’t use an impact driver to screw down the panels, which they did.
• GSE advise using screws to mount the extra battens – they used nails.
• GSE say the compressed foam seals should extend beyond the end of the lateral flashing and cross over the bottom flashing. They cut it too short.
• A previously drilled hole is open to the elements and has no screw or cover on it.
• Some tiles have been drilled and they have cracks going from the hole to the edge. One whole tile broke along the crack when I was checking the roof.
• The return on the lateral flashing lifts up the perimeter tile where it crosses the battens – at this point the flashing needs to be squashed down. This wasn’t done.

The finished result is aesthetically very poor, primarily because absolutely nothing was planned prior to the installation. No thought went into interfacing with the roof tiles or Velux windows. Our Velux flashing is clearly designed to work with roof tiles and they should have left a section of roof tiles between the solar panels and Velux windows, or supplied a flashing that was designed to work with panels against the Velux..

As a result, the roof tiles are sitting very high on the lateral flashing return, creating large gaps under the perimeter – this issue could have been totally avoided with some forward planning. The problem can be mitigated by flattening the flashing return (GSE say to 2mm) where it crosses the battens—but this hasn’t been done either.

In a nutshell

The original installation was so badly done that eight weeks later Jim and Bill took everything off the roof and re-installed; adding flashing, roof battens, clips and foam seals where none were used before. Unfortunately they seemed determined to continue with the original layout of 2×4-Velux-2×2 panels so we have the PV array tight up against the Velux windows (which are flashed for tiles) and it looks a shambles and leaks onto the felt under the roof tiles.

If it had been installed as 2×3 PV-tiles-Velux-tiles-2×3 PV everything would have worked so much better with the tiles sitting flat to the roof – but they wanted another day’s pay to correct it. Effectively saying, a properly planned installation would cost extra. I accepted a partial refund from them, and they offered to try again (third time lucky?) but I couldn’t face it, we’d had scaffolding in the driveway for 10 weeks and there was no reason to believe the roofers were going to do anything better. I spent a few more days on the roof replacing tiles and adjusting things myself. This summer I hope to find a proper solution to the leaky Velux.

I was thinking about getting an EPS (Emergency Power System) attached so that we could run equipent during a power cut but the original installers have taken away (stolen?) the connector plug that comes with the inverter: VPAC06EW-3P(SC)8) — these are hard to find and the Solar Service company’s solution is to come back and charge me £500 to fit it! 

Where Acme-Solar really went wrong was in not planning ahead. They never considered how the GSE system would interface with the Velux flashing, which was designed to work with roof tiles. They should have kept a couple of columns of roof tiles separating the solar panels and the Velux windows. Also if they had measured everything before starting it’s obvious that 2×3 + 2×3 panels would work out perfectly —the arch of the tiles would sit nicely of the return on the GSE flashing. Whereas 2×4 + 2×2 just puts the flashing return right under the nib of the tiles.

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