Physics teacher’s business dream is solar powered

A former North East physics teacher is putting theory into practice by launching a new business powered by the sun.

Energy Friend is the brainchild of Colin Robinson, who aims to help homeowners generate an income from the sun with free, independent advice on solar power, and his solar calculator that accurately measures how much energy customers can expect their roof to generate.

Colin, who used to teach at Newcastle’s Heaton Manor School, was inspired to set up Energy Friend after hearing complaints from potential solar power adopters who were confused and even deterred from installing panels on their properties because of complicated and conflicting forecasts and deals from providers.

He designed Energy Friend with the support of Newcastle Science City to guide customers through the installation process. The company starts by using an aerial map to view and measure the customer’s roof and then uses these dimensions to work out exactly how much money solar panel installation could reduce their energy bills and earn them as an income. The company then sources and translates a number of independent quotes from installers to ensure homeowners have understandable and comparable figures to inform their decision.

Colin said: “The idea for the company came out of speaking to potential solar customers felt unable to choose between installers because they have been given different kinds of forecasts on how much energy they will generate.

“Energy Friend cuts through the jargon, cuts out the cowboys and helps clients work out exactly how much money they stand to earn as an income from their roof with our easy-to-use solar calculator. We then source three independent quotes from installers and translate their figures into the same format so customers have all the information they need to make a decision.

“The adoption of solar power is crucial to the UK’s drive to become more sustainable and in many cases provides a better return on investment than a traditional pension. We want to ensure that the process is made as easy as possible.”

The number of UK residents installing solar panels as a way of saving and making money soared by 1,500 percent between April 2010 and April 2011 following the Government’s introduction of the Feed-in Tariff, which pays a premium for every kilowatt hour of electricity produced and sold back to the national grid.

There have been 80,000 installations of solar panels across the UK, with 99 percent of these being carried out on domestic properties.

One solar adopter customer is Keith Johnson of Jesmond who recruited Energy Friend to guide him through the installation. Despite having a background in facilities management and commercial energy management, Keith did not feel confident he had the correct background and information to make a decision on a domestic level.

He said: “I have enough understanding of the market to know that solar panels are a real ‘no-brainer’ when it comes to getting a return on investment but after pondering how to progress this over a period of six months I felt swamped with information and advice. I didn’t feel confident I’d be getting the best value for money and felt like I had been in a ‘double-glazing auction’ with too many installers trying to sell their products but without me understanding the backdrop.

“Colin was able to tackle any issues I had, put to bed any misapprehensions and make me feel confident in my decision to adopt solar power. He worked out that I would receive an 18 percent return on investment from an initial spend of £9,600, which would be paid back in seven years and would earn me in excess of £46,000 over 25 years – which was way more than I had anticipated.

“Without Colin’s advice I would have installed the wrong number of panels in the wrong place on my roof and wouldn’t have maximised my generating potential so I am delighted with the outcome.”

Energy Friend is a spin-out from Newcastle Science City, which has worked with Colin to bring the business to market.

Phil Pattison of Newcastle Science City said: “Energy Friend is a prime example of the new and existing businesses we are working with in the North East to exploit the commercial opportunities that exist in Newcastle’s scientific growth area of sustainability.”

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Newcastle Science City is part financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), managed by the Department for Communities and Local Government, securing £2.3million of ERDF investment. The ERDF Competitiveness Programme 2007-2013 is bringing over £300m into the North East to support innovation, enterprise and business support across the region.