Category Archives: Water heating

Electricity use 2016

The immerSUN provides a useful app showing electricity use which includes an annual option.  The graph below shows the 2016 annual data:
Although some of the data was only collected from mid-March 2016, the graph still shows useful information. I think that the graph overstates bought / imported electricity in January to March but understates generated electricity proportionately in the same period.

The purple line shows monthly electricity consumption and is broadly consistent month-to-month.

The green line shows the generated electricity from the solar PV system.  Its seasonality is clearly visible.  Solar generation exceeds electricity use in four summer months, and is very close in a fifth.

The red line shows bought electricity.  It’s generally a mirror image of the green line reflecting more purchased electricity in winter and less in summer, but is not zero even in months where generated electricity exceeds used electricity due to time of day issues – cooking and car charging often occur at times when solar output is low such as cooking in the evening and charging at night.

The blue line shows surplus day-time electricity being used to heat water, and thus saving gas.

The turquoise line shows surplus day-time electricity being exported once the water has reached its set point.

It will be interesting to see how this changes in 2017 as a result of a full year of solar car charging in its current mature condition and with the new battery storage that should help get more of the generated electricity used by saving it for evening use.

Best use of generated power (cont.)

In order to illustrate how the combination of battery and immerSUN distributes generated electric power at different levels of generation I created this chart.

For different levels of power generation across the bottom, the chart shows how the power is divided between battery charging (and occasionally discharging), electric car charging, and water heating; which are generally prioritised in that order. My prior post explained the rationale for the 500 Watt switching threshold for the vehicle charger – based on 1.4 kW of mid-value car charging being better value than a mix of 800 Watts of high value battery charging and 600 Watts of low value water heating.

Alternatively you might like to consider that the horizontal axis represents passing time after daylight comes and that the chart shows how diversion changes as the sun reaches its zenith.  You might then view the end of the day as a mirror image of this as the output of the panels ramps down in late afternoon, although at the end of the day there’s the greatest possibility that one or more of the storage devices is/are full and thus the greatest chance of electricity being exported.

Of course all of this assumes that the storage devices aren’t already full, and indeed that the electric car is present at all. As storage devices fill, or indeed if the car is absent, the system automatically switches to the next best value alternative:

  • Battery full – more car charging and/or water heating.
  • Car full or absent – more battery charging and/or water heating depending on power output.
  • Hot water at maximum temperature – this is the lowest priority electricity use so when this is full we don’t currently have another use to divert power to. However there is an unused output on the immerSUN so it would be possible to drive another load. The underfloor heating in the kitchen would be a possibility, although there’s unlikely to be much overlap between days when there’s enough surplus to reach this point and days when kitchen heating is required so it may never repay the cost of fitting the cables.

Best use of generated power

Over the last few days I’ve been rethinking the best use of generated power.
The prioritisation of battery charging over water heating is clear due to the significant cost difference between day time electricity and any time gas, but the situation on car charging is more complex. It occurred to me that there could be times when prioritising battery charging and water might not always be the lowest cost solution since car charging avoiding mid-price nighttime electricity might be a bigger saving than a lesser amount of high value battery charging combined with low value gas-replacement.

For example, if we look at the lowest level of EV charging that amounts to about 1.4 kW. With our night-time rate of 7.87 p/kWh, 1.4kWh of solar power used for car charging saves 11.0 p of night time electricity.  If the battery is maxed out at 800 VAh that saves 7.34 p of later day time electricity. The water heating using the balance of 0.6 kW saves a further 1.76 pence of any time gas. Thus the total save from 1.4 kWh used for a combination of battery charging plus water heating is 9.1 p, compared to 11.0 p from car charging – so it would appear to be better value to do 100% car charging when a 1.4 kW surplus exists.

A bit of further analysis aimed to establish the point at which it became better value to charge the car, rather than combine battery charging and water heating, even if that involved a small level of mains import. The answer is that, with my energy costs, it makes sense to enable 1.4 kW of charger when 1.3 kW of export would have existed thereby potentially importing 0.1 kW. In practice this 0.1 kW may be supplied by the battery.

Given that the battery has priority by the way it’s wired, and takes up to 800 VA, then I intend to try a 500 W export threshold to start the car charger since 800 VA + 500W ~ 1.3 kW.

A sunny December day

Today as expected was well above average for December with 8.2 kWh generated so it was a good opportunity to confirm correct prioritisation of battery charging and water heating.

The graph above from the immerSUN clearly shows the green area of electricity being generated from the solar panels, the purple line of the ‘house’ electrical load (including battery charging) rising first (i.e. the priority load) within the green area, and then the blue line representing the water heating rising second. The purple line being at about 1kW is consistent with 200 Watts of house load with the 800 VAp battery charger on top.

Water heating starts to reduce first with battery charging around 14:00. Shortly after 14:00 the house switches to running from an increasing amount of stored energy which lasts until shortly before 20:00.

From the battery’s perspective you can see ‘device power in’ i.e. battery charging rising first, followed by ‘grid power out’ which is actually power available to the immerSUN and should correspond with the immerSUN’s blue line. As the sun goes down power diversion for water heating is reduced first, following by power for battery charging; until finally from about 14:30 the battery switches from charging to depletion ‘device power out’ running the house until shortly before 20:00 by which time it’s supplied around 3kWh.

System data from battery and immerSUN perspective

Today (briefly!) I watched the battery storage and immerSUN operating alongside each other. As you may recall things are arranged such that the battery should charge first (at up to 800 VA) and then once the battery is drawing full power (in the absence of a car) the immerSUN makes hot water.

From the immerSUN’s perspective as PV output rises the load of the house (which is actually the battery charging) also rises. Once the battery is charging at its maximum 800 VA power then any remaking PV is diverted to making hot water by the immerSUN. Later as PV output drops the battery continues to match the zero PV output discharging the battery to make the house load zero according to the immerSUN until the battery is exhausted – 2 hours of house load in this illustration.

From the battery’s perspective between 10 and 12 it can be seeing hitting its maximum 800 VA, while a varying amount of excess power is seen to be exported. In reality this isn’t true export, its power available to the second priority device (the immerSUN) and corresponds to the immerSUN’s blue line for diversion.

Overall self-use was 96% although admittedly on a low base. Thursday should be interesting as that’s sunny all day on the forecast.

Our hot water cylinder

A year ago when we replaced our gas boiler we also replaced the hot water cylinder. There were various reasons for that:

  1. I wanted to use an immersion heater to maximise use of generated PV electricity
  2. The old cylinder didn’t have an immersion heater and we were advised against trying to open the portal on a 40 year old cylinder.
  3. Ideally a cylinder for such heating would have a low down entry portal for the immersion heater so that the whole cylinder volume is heated – whereas our portal was in the top.
  4. Our old cylinder was uninsulated, although it did have an insulating jacket.
  5. Given that we’re potentially heating day’s hot water up-front with solar PV rather than on demand by gas then we might reasonably want a larger stored volume.

We ended up with the 210 litre Gledhill tank illustrated for which we had to sacrifice an airing cupboard shelf as it’s that much taller than the old cylinder. Both immersion heater and thermostat for the gas are at similar height towards the bottom. The smaller cylinder at the side is to manage expansion of the water in the absence of an expansion tank in the loft.

Solar PV Installation – 1 year on


We’ve now had our solar panels for 1 year, so it would seem time for an update on how things are going. Our 4kW SSE-facing system has an expected annual generation of 3,668 kWh. However after a year in service I’m pleased to see that we’ve generated 4,056 kWh – 10% more than expected.

The financial returns on a solar PV system are a combination of 2 things: (i) payments from your chosen electricity company for energy generated and exported to the grid and (ii) savings from not having to buy so much power as you use that which you’ve generated instead.

When it comes to payments from the electricity company, my electricity company (like many) chooses not to go to the expense of installing an export meter and instead assumes that half of the power which I generate is exported to the grid. The total annual revenue for the first 12 months of operation, including both generation and export (assumed to be 50% of generation) is £629.62.

Then there’s the question of how much electricity I save. I’ve only had monitoring of usage since March (approximately 6 months) but in that time I’ve used 41% of the generated electricity to replace bought electricity. 41% of 4,056 kWh is 1,663 kWh. What is less clear, is what the unit saving for this energy is. Some of this is daytime usage like standby loads, the fridge, cooker and other daytime loads at 11.7 p/kWh; but some would otherwise be night time loads like dishwasher, washing machine, or car charging at 7.57 p/kWh. I don’t measure the split so I’m simply going to assume an average unit rate = (11.7 + 7.57)/2 p/kWh = 9.6 p/kWh. 1,663 kWh @ 9.6 p/kWh = £159.65.

Finally, there’s the question of how much gas I save by making hot water from solar PV electricity rather than gas. Since March I’ve used 813 kWh or 27% of the generated power for water heating, so for a whole year 27% of 4,056 kWh is 1,095 kWh. The immerSUN itself records 995 kWh used for water heating since December. I’m also going to assume that not all the heat from the gas boiler would have ended up in the tank as hot water since some is lost via the boiler flue to the outside world, and some is lost via the pipes to the inside of the house – so let’s say 80% efficient on gas. 1,095 kWh @ 3.01 p/kWh @ 80% efficient = £41.20.

The combined total of my revenue and savings for a whole year would have been £830.46 – a 13.6% return on the investment or payback in 7.3 years.

The tariff scheme will have provided me with about 20 years of income by the time it closes, so the investment in the panels, as well as helping me reduce my carbon footprint, will have generated 12+ years of profit having paid for itself during the 8th year.

Making best use of energy

If I want to make best use of my solar PV (i.e. use as much of it as possible) then it seems logical to prioritise replacing my most expensive energy purchases. Examination of my bills suggests that my different sources of energy have the following costs:

  1. Day-time electricity: 12.31 p/kWh
  2. Night-time electricity: 8.02 p/kWh
  3. Any-time gas: 2.87 p/kWh
  4. Solar PV (when available): 0.00 p/kWh

In winter when little PV electric is available our normal practice is to shift as much electric load as possible to night time use saving 4.29 p/kWh by use of timers. Washing machine, dishwasher, and electric car charging all get shifted to Economy 7 by use of timers. The washing machine is the oldest and uses a external timer plug while both dishwasher and car have their own inbuilt timers allowing consumption to be delayed.

In summer the same approach can be used to shift these loads to daytime to make use of solar PV although if the weather is dull and cloudy there’s no guarantee that sufficient PV will be available risking consumption of bought daytime electricity.

My Immersun already minimises exported/surplus PV by running the immersion heater to mop up surplus electricity, although as gas is cheap the savings are smaller than might be achieved by avoiding a similar amount of night-time electricity consumption. In winter we minimise gas use for water heating, while still providing a gas safety net by displacing in both time and temperature. The Immersun naturally heats water in daylight hours only and generates hot water at 60C (not adjustable) as defined by the immersion heater thermostat. The gas is set to complement this being set by timer not to overlap Immersun hours and is set to 50C by the cylinder thermostat. The water temperature difference is not noticeable in practice especially as the showers are thermostatically regulated.

Car charging 1The device that consumes most electric power is undoubtedly my electric car. Its usable battery capacity is about 10.5 kWh and, with charging efficiencies, it can take up to 12 kW of mains electricity to charge (less in summer). The appeal of charging this on solar PV is high, although the cost of doing this if it inadvertently draws day-time electricity is also high (but still much cheaper than petrol or Diesel). It occurred to me that it would be good to use spare channels on the Immersun to control car charging as my largest consumer of my most expensive fuel. It has three channels – two variable power and one on/off – although it can be configured to produce three variable outputs using the on/off to switch between devices.

It seems to me that there are three alternatives for control:

  1. Proportional control.
  2. Stepped control.
  3. On/Off control.

Proportional control would be the most capable. The Immersun has the capability to provide proportional control to multiple resistive loads, and the Mode 3 communications standard to which virtually all electric cars adhere also provides for the charging equipment sending a proportional signal to the car via PWM, so there’s scope for a proportional system. However it seemed that the time to develop this was beyond what I have available, and in practice although the car would receive a proportional control signal it would normally respond in a stepped manner so there’s little to be gained by investing my time to develop a fully proportionate system..

Stepped control is easier to achieve. As it happens my car model is more steppy than some as I believe that it switches between 6, 10 or 15 Amps consumption only. 15 Amps is very close to the full 4 kW output of my panels and, given that there are always other loads in the house, then I don’t think it would ever use this setting, which leaves me with switching between 0, 6 and 10 Amps. Unfortunately of course you can’t switch between 3 states with an on/off signal that only has 2 states, so I’d still need to decode an analogue Immersun output or invest in a second Immersun to get another on/off output but I deemed the latter cost-prohibitive. Generating a variable current signal to the vehicle would also require some logic to reduce the pulse width on the PWM signal on demand – not impossible but still requiring some time to create.

That leaves me with on/off control at a fixed current. This is readily achieved from the Immersun which has a relay output that can be configured to operate when a certain solar power is available (such as 1.5 kW to drive a 6 Amp charger). I decided not simply to turn the whole charger on or off by switching the power as this would cause the mains contactors in the charger and the HV DC contactors in the vehicle to drop out under load which is bad for longevity. Instead I’ll interrupt a low voltage control signal within the charger to trigger stop and restart in a more controlled manner – effectively car and charging equipment will see the signal as the user wishing to disconnect the cable as you might if you wished to drive before charging was complete.

Finally I considered how to connect the Immersun to the charging equipment. Unfortunately the Immersun is in the airing cupboard upstairs (where it drivers the immersion heater) and the garage where the car charges is a separate building alongside the opposite side of house. Neither a second Immersun or a physical cable looked like an attractive prospect on cost grounds so I decided on radio control using around £20 of home automation parts and a total investment of around £40. More on this solution over the next few weeks.

Solar panels can generate significant amounts of electricity for example on March 25th our 4kW panels generated 22.4 kWh over the course of the day as shown.
ImmerSUN 25-03-2016
This generation typically substantially exceeds the load being drawn by the house leading to export of electricity to the grid – 12.3 kWh in this example or more than half the generated energy.

Moving loads such as the washing machine or dishwasher from night to day can help use this electricity, but done to excess risks increasing day time electricity import if changing cloud cover or other factors reduces generated power. The varying power demand from such devices is also unlikely to coincide the the surplus power available leaving some unused surplus. I was thus pleased to come across the ImmerSUN system.
The ImmerSUN is a device which diverts surplus power to a range of possible consumers such as an immersion heater. It has a current sensor that measures any surplus power being exported and then diverts a similar amount of power into the immersion heater. Normally of course an immersion heater is either on or off, but the ImmerSUN provides proportionate control between 0 and 100%. It can control several devices diverting power to a lower priority device once, for example, a higher priority immersion heater has raised the water temperature to the set point and power for that purpose is no longer required. In the top illustration the blue bars show 4.7kWh being diverted into water heating (and thus reducing my gas bill) that otherwise would have been lost to export.

For further details see ImmerSUN website .

At the time of writing if you order online quoting Referral Code 206505 you will receive £25 in department store discount vouchers or a free system upgrade to remote monitoring.