Posted by: braddenvillage | April 23, 2012

Solar Panels – Advice from Moneysavingexpert.com (April 2012)

MONEY SAVING EXPERT ADVICE UPON SOLAR PANELS

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What are solar panels?

You put solar panels on the roof to generate energy from the sun. There are two types of panel: solar photovoltaic (PV), which generate electricity and solar thermal, which heat water. This guide focuses on solar PV.

“Hang on, we don’t live in California” may be your first thought. Yet solar panels don’t need sunshine to work, just daylight, so you can still generate some electricity on gloomy days – important in a country with weather as dull as watching Steve Davis sleep.

PV roof tiles convert the light into electricity, which you can use to power your home during daylight hours. Any energy you don’t use is pumped back to the grid. If you use more than the panels generate, the excess comes off the grid, exactly as it did before the panels were fitted.

In the winter, when solar power is less, you’ll take more power from the grid. It’s a good idea to set appliances to run while it’s light outside, staggering them to max the savings.

What’s in it for you?

Done, right solar panels save you cash. You save in two ways:

  • Electricity bill savings. The Energy Saving Trust (EST) estimates a typical 2.9kWp system can knock £90 to £180 off a family’s bills, depending on system size, electricity use, whether you’re at home during the day and other factors.While solar panels can produce 50% of a home’s electricity, often much of this gets pumped back to the grid. If energy prices rise significantly over 25 years as they are predicted to, you’ll save more.
  • Feed-in tariff payments. Back in 2010 the Government ditched grants for solar panels and replaced them with a scheme that pays for all the solar energy you produce, even if you use it yourself.The amount you earn depends on your system’s size – do your sums first. A typical payment could be £550/year under the new tariff or £1,100/year under the old tariff.

Who are they suitable for?

You usually need a roof which faces within 90 degrees of south, with little shade from buildings or trees. While some early or late shading is okay, the roof should be unshaded between 10am and 4pm.

Of course, northern homes get slightly less sun, yet solar panels are still worth it in most areas.Ideally you’d also be planning to stay in your house for a number of years. Call your local Energy Saving Trust Advice Centre on 0800 512 012 for more advice on whether solar panels are for you.

Should you pay, or get them free?

Warning! When it comes to installing, in the past you had two clear options: get solar panels fitted for nowt or, if you could stump up a typical £10,000, buy your own system and get payments from a government scheme.

However, currently the free solar industry is currently in a state of flux. Some are still taking applications, but be careful – see latest news.

See the moneysavingexpert.com website for the pro’s and cons of free panels or buying you own and the routes to getting the panels.

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Is it still worth buying solar panels?

Solar panels used to be a no brainer, but Government’s feed-in cuts totally changed the maths. For new solar users who install from 3 March, an £10,000 outlay could get back around £13,750 in payments over 25 years, compared with £27,500 for those under the old feed-in tariff. The saving for installations on the new tariff rise to to £17,250 if you include energy savings.

The cost-to-return ratio is much less attractive and it’s far from a guaranteed win at this level, though there are, of course, environmental benefits. On the plus side the feed-in payments will rise with inflation (linked to RPI), plus you’ll save more if energy prices jump significantly, which they could well do over 25 years.

If free solar companies do survive, the reduced payments for owners mean the free schemes will be an even more attractive option.

Yet this will be a fine balance. You should do your sums very carefully and explore other options, for example Fixed Rate Savings.

New energy efficiency requirement

People who install from 1 April 2011 need an energy performance certificate of grade D or above to qualify for full payments. The Government estimates about half of all properties qualify.

The certificates grade homes on energy efficiency. This will be another outlay if you don’t already meet requirements (there may be free cash to help – see Home & Energy Grants). Homes on lower grades will get less than half the standard payments.

Getting solar free

If you’re in England, Wales or, in a few cases, Scotland, panel firms will fit a state-of-the-art system to your home for free, possibly cutting your leccy bill by £90 to £180 a year.

Why do they do this?

Normally the homeowner grabs the big-money feed-in cash, but, in return for the free solar panels, they keep this. So you get cheaper leccy bills, they get the payments.

The £1,000s in feed-in payments dwarf the electricity savings, so if you have the cash, consider buying the panels outright.

Key warning with regard to solar panels

Check if you need planning permission

You don’t generally need planning permission for solar systems. The big exceptions are if you’ve a flat roof, the property is listed, or it’s a conservation area.

You might need to get approval from your council’s building control team though. Check with your local authority. If you get a free system, your provider will normally do this for you – but always check.

Tell you mortgage provider and Insurer

As with any home improvement, you should contact your insurer and mortgage provider. If you go for the free option, check that the company will liaise with lenders and insurers.

What if the solar company goes bust?

If the free solar panel firm went bust, it’s likely the panels would stay on and be maintained. The rights to collect your feed-in tariff would be creditors’ biggest asset, so chances are they’d sell this right on to another company.

Yet this is a totally new business model, and things could change if the Government withdraws the feed-in scheme, so it’s impossible to predict all eventualities.

Converting your loft can be tricky

If you’re planning to convert your loft, ask the installer if you’ll still be able to. For example, sometimes inverter equipment is stored in the loft, meaning less space.

Go to Moneysavingexpert.com to find out more about the pros and cons of Solar power etc.


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