Solar panels for an energy efficient home

Cantiaci’s DIY-er in Chief Frank explains the hows, whats and whys of installing solar panels on his Folkestone home: 

When did you decide on solar panels?

I bought my home in 2012, which was just an end of terrace house in Folkestone. I looked at ways of reducing my energy costs and, as this was supposed to be the sunny south east, I thought about solar panels. The government were gradually reducing the tariff year on year so I took the plunge in October 2014, before it went too low.

How much did your solar panels cost?

My solar panels were about £6000, which I got a loan for and paid some of it off. The KWh (Kilo Watt an hour) rate then was 14.5p and the feed in tariff (the amount the national grid pays back in unused electricity) was about 4.5p a unit. The figures for 2015, 16, and 17 will be progressively lower.

As a comparison, my cousin invested in 16 solar panels a few years before me, and gets (to this day) approx. 22p per KWh but the downside was he paid a lot more for his panels than I did.


How many panels did you install? 

Even though my roof could only take 10 panels on a south east facing direction, I was able to have 6 extra panels on my rear flat roof, westerly facing. These are all individually controlled by micro-invertors, which change the DC current to AC and fed to meters in my electricity cupboard.


How do your solar panels work?

When it is daylight, the panels automatically prioritise over the mains supplied
current until dusk. Suns-Energy in East Anglia installed all the equipment in one day and they monitor it by wi-fi and send me monthly email reports.


How much money have your solar panels saved?

See below. This is over a 7 day period. To give a good example of my electricity in the last 6 months, Aug. 2016-Jan. 2017, using the actual billed amounts from my electricity company, I actually gained £12.50 per month!


Obviously I have gas, broadband and telephone costs. The savings at this stage, at least 6-7 years later, will go towards the cost of the panels. These are part of the house and are mine. Not leased or owned by anybody else.

To help, I use, say washing machine and tumble drier, during the day. Even if cloudy, though not so effective, they are still working, remember, they work on ambient daylight.

What other ways have you found to save energy?

Early in 2016 I invested in air source heaters which extract heat from the air, even on freezing nights, so when these are used in the daytime; they are running off the solar panels, so therefore saving on my gas bill. The cost effect is not as dramatic as I am more likely to use them in the evening, but it does impact on my gas bill.

I still need hot water and the gas cooker, but heating, the biggest user, is considerably reduced.

The other new technology that helps heat gain is that I had installed new double glazing, in which the glass has a gap of 20mm (as good as triple glazing, but considerably less cost) and the glass is treated to enable a 3% solar gain into the property. It is argon filled, eliminating air which is prone to condensation.

I consider my energy use and ways to save and reduce my dependency on the national grid, completely in line with the aims of Folkestone Cantiaci. If I could afford approx £2000, I could invest in long-life storage batteries, and be totally off-grid! This would be ideal in a completely rural area. It shows that new technology can enable one to live a more ‘green’ lifestyle.

The Allotment Diary: winter slackers

The indecisive winter weather so far this year has seen slow progress at the allotment.

Due to the frozen ground and wet weather we’ve had some enforced Sunday lie-ins (oh, the horror!) but as there is not much pressing work to be done right now we can enjoy this slower time – it certainly won’t last, as soon as the ground warms up the weeds will be racing off and we’ll be struggling to keep up with it all.

That’s not to say that we haven’t done any work. For starters, our apple tree that had been so overgrown when we took on the allotment was given a winter prune, and combined with the earlier removal of the brambles suffocating it hopefully we’ll get a good apple harvest this year, now that light and air will be able to get to the fruit. Check out our apple tree before and after – hubba hubba!


We’ve also been busily edging our borders, and Mike was hard at work putting up some bean canes so we can look forward to another bumper crop of runner beans this year. We even included an installation art piece as a typically Folkestonian health and safety feature, thanks to a neon yellow plastic plant pot we have stuck on the end. Hopefully this will be enough to stop Cantiaci members impaling themselves.

Some new rhubarb crowns have also gone into the ground, and a couple of established rhubarb plants have started to poke their way through the matted grass. We cleared the grass from them and found a bottomless bucket to hopefully force the stems of the smaller so we can have some early rhubarb. Rhubarb was one of our key crops last year, the plant we had inherited on our other plot produced massive bundles of rhubarb right through to September so we’re hoping for similar success again.

Meanwhile at our other allotment site we continue to harvest leeks – although some are not growing as fast as others (why is that?!) and our onions don’t seem to have grown underground at all, despite their flourishing green tops – all fur coat and no knickers.

Naturally, all this hard work is always rewarded with a steaming cup of tea, often as we cower out of the wind and drizzle in our (rather small) shed, dreaming of spring harvests and mild weather (and not thinking about those weeds… or the slugs… or that chemical toilet we still haven’t had the courage to open and dispose of…!)

Frankly it sometimes feels like being at the allotment is just an excuse to enjoy a good cuppa and have a natter…

Growing At Kipps

We’re grateful to Kipp’s Ale House in Folkestone for letting us grow on their decking.  Using key kegs kindly donated by Googies we have several things growing including herbs, tomatoes and Quinoa!

Another space to grow, we aim to use the produce from our collective sites at some point to host a community meal!  More information to come!



Folkestone Soup 3, 6th July 2016

Have the idea for a much needed thing or service? Here is the place!  The soup is also great!

Facebook event page

Welcome to the third Folkestone Soup.
Here’s the concept: everyone turns up, pays £5 at the door, and listens to a line-up of four people who have negotiated in advance to pitch an idea to improve the local community. The only rules are: pitchers may not talk for more than four minutes, and they must not use PowerPoint. The audience can then ask a maximum of four constructive questions.

With the presentations over, SOUP IS SERVED. We all mull over the ideas and then we vote on our favourite. The winner gets to take home all the money taken at the door and use it to fund their plan, with the promise they will come back in June to report on their progress. The money raised may not be all the cash they need to run their project but it will be a significant vote of confidence in their idea.

February’s bids for funding were a Community Film, a theatre company, a shared apple press and an organic fruit and vegetable outfit. Feel free to bid for a business proposition provided there is a clear community benefit.

If you have a small project or business that would benefit Folkestone’s community and environment and you want to pitch it at Soup then please email folkestonesoup@gmail,com immediately and we will get in touch with you; it will be considered for inclusion in our July Soup or failing that at a future meeting. There in nothing to stop people pitching more than once. We welcome even half-formed ideas, as we can help you knock it into shape for the pitch.

Soft drinks will be available, but do bring a bottle.

For more details about the genesis of this project go to, which will tell you about the Detroit project that inspired this Folkestone version.

We need an idea of numbers for Soup catering purposes, so if you want to come, click “Going” and LET US KNOW in the Comments section if there will be more than one of you.

See you there!

Alex MacLaren
Vic Burton