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„We rebuilt a two-hundred-year-old ruin in Portugal and were keen to incorporate sensible long-term investments in efficiency and sustainability.

We had to battle architects and project engineers all the way and try to make difficult decisions without any independent advice.

We incorporated wet solar panels and an air source heat pump to power domestic hot water and underfloor wet heating. Although I’m delighted with the comfort of the outcomes we were very badly advised on the ways to make things work most efficiently.

Last year I decided to take some first steps at PV. The best watt/€ deal I found was with EDP for feed in panels including installation. I purpose built a south-facing, 37 degree angled “shed” on the ground about 70 metres from the house. I didn’t want to put panels on the roof of the restored ruin and wanted to optimise orientation and angle. I found it difficult to find any conclusive advice from anyone on the optimum orientation and angle. I did note that at least one panel provider said angle of latitude (I’m at 37 degrees in southern Portugal) plus 15° because they said it was more important to maximise winter sun and the strong summer sun would take care of itself. Our expensive months for electric use are November, December, January and February.

I also wanted the panels to be self-cleaning as much as possible in our low rainfall/high dust area and be easily accessible for an occasional wash down cleaning.

„The physical installation was very poor“

EDP installed 8 X 415watt panels and a three-phase inverter for a feed in/no battery system. I bought their premium 25-year guaranteed panels. I am in my mid-seventies so unlikely to be around to enforce the warranty but believe in sustainability and wanted an installation that could potentially still be productive in 25 years’ time. The physical installation of the panels was very poor and I insisted they returned and strengthened the mountings. It’s still poor but better.

A large part of the sales pitch was that in Portugal,  E-Redes controls the self-consumption feed in in 15 minute periods where solar PV production and grid production are allowed to reconcile, before moving to the next 15 minute period (I’ve no idea if this is standard across the EU for self consumption/grid connected PV?). This is supposed to work in the consumer’s favour. 

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The other part of the sales pitch is the EDP Solar App that connects to the HAN network at the electric supply meter and the Inverter via EDP counters.  This is supposed to give the ability to monitor production and use live, to optimise usage and actively manage power use through smart devices. Please see attached.

„They didn`t understand my installation as three-phase“

It took a couple of months to get the App to work at all. I called their support multiple times. They didn’t understand my installation was three-phase and they didn’t recognise that there was a split in my power supply from the road-side meter (in spite of the fact I’d repeatedly sent them diagrams and photos) and had put the HAN counter in the wrong place. At one stage they said it was because I didn’t have a strong enough WiFi signal at the location where the panels were mounted ( I had asked them to check this at the pre installation and installation visit and they said it was good enough) and that I would have to correct that at my expense before the App would work. I installed a WiFi bridge between my house and the location of the panels. It cost about €200 and a couple of days work mounting brackets and cabling etc. This had nothing to do with the problem and made no difference. I asked them to consider refunding my costs and they said they would, but then deny I ever asked!

On 17 November I finally got the App working and was interested to see my total solar production was just under 16 kWh – a very useful amount on a mid-November day – but that 67% of that went to the grid! And that my heat pump as set up by the professional installers was running at night when the air temperatures were at their lowest – worst time for an air source heat pump.

I have an 800 litre heat exchange/storage tank. I quickly realised that I needed to use this as a “heat battery” – to use the PV generated electric to drive the heat pump and the pump for the under floor heating during sunlight when available. This made an immediate difference.

Solar system of Chris Norman and his wife in Budens/Western Algarve.

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Solar system of Chris Norman and his wife in Budens/Western Algarve.

The next thing I realised is that although heat pumps are efficient heat converters they need high kW when they are running. So, when running they exceed even my highest levels of PV generation and will always draw energy in from the grid. This meant that in a single hour ( made of four 15 minute reconciliation periods) it is possible to produce all the kW I need but still have to import from the grid. That’s annoying.

I then started understanding the need to time your energy usage to make the most use of each 15 minute reconciliation period. I started to look at home energy management apps and also realised that “old technology” like an immersion heater, that may be inefficient at heat generation, wins out by being infinitely controllable to capture odd bits of PV generation that would otherwise be exported to the grid.

„I wrote to EDP pointing this out. I got no reply“

The EDP Solar App at this time allowed you to view the 15 minute periods of PV production/house usage/grid consumption live. You could see each quarter as it developed and afterwards you could view each days record in these 15 minute segments. I could see the difference I made with different temperature settings and timings of Heat pumps, under floor heating etc. 

On 14 December I realised that the timelines they showed against the 15 minute sections were wrong – this had led to some confusion when I was interpreting results. I wrote to EDP pointing this out. I got no reply. On the 18 December I couldn’t use the App without applying an “upgrade”. This upgrade has made the App useless. They have taken away the 15 minute visibility either live or historically and even the hourly segments no longer update live, you have to log out and log back in and even then it is lagging behind the then current time.

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I have asked their support to at the minimum revert to the prior version of the update and complained in their app review – but they say “that’s how it is”. Great customer focussed service!

This is contrary to the consumer’s interest – it is all about EDP wanting to ensure that it is much harder to maximise PV generation and increase the energy bought from the grid. It’s about EDP maximising their take! That’s an outrage.

„There is no smart device management capability in their app“

Inspite of their continuing claims about maximising, managing, monitoring they are doing the exact opposite. There is no smart device management capability in their app.  

It seems incredibly difficult in Portugal to use the HAN capability of smart meters in a way independent of EDP or other suppliers. 

I’m quite excited by the possibilities of PV and would love to be an advocate for it, but I do feel EDP are working in a mean spirited and self-interested way. Aren’t their consumer protection laws that apply?“ (Chris Norman/hcn)

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