Wednesday 16 March 2016

Are solar panels right for us?

We often get told that the best way to lower our gas and electricity bills is to change provider, given that energy firms take advantage of the inertia of their existing customers by fleecing them as time goes on. Yet one of the other interesting trends to emerge in the UK has been the gravitation towards installing solar panels, which has the potential to not only save you a lot of money, but to earn some too, given that Government pays consumers to generate their own electricity via a feed-in tariff.
So, does that mean they are the way to go? Unfortunately the answer isn’t that simple, and it will likely only be a worthwhile investment for some. Here are some things you should factor into your decision about solar panels…

Two main kinds of panel
The most common kind of panel is a photovoltaic solar panel (solar PV), which catches the sun’s energy and converts it into electricity for household goods and/or lights. The other type is solar thermal, which, as the name suggests, is used for heating purposes. Neither are entirely dependent on sunlight either, and can still generate power on overcast days. A good thing too, given the weather in the UK!
Savings and earnings
Just as the popularity of solar panels was beginning to soar, Government took the rather surprising decision to slash the feed-in tariff in February. Last year, you could have received up to £520 a year for generating electricity in England, Scotland and Wales. However, this has been cut by around 75%, clearly making it less appealing to a lot of people. That said, £100 a year plus is still not something to be sneezed at, and must obviously be considered in conjunction with the savings you will make on your energy bills.

Costs of installations
Obviously the key determinant for whether to go ahead is to see how installation fares in terms of cost-benefit, and how many years it will take to make your initial investment back. You’re generally looking at an initial outlay of around £5,000 to £8,000 for a typical solar panel system, which is a whole lot less than a few years ago as a result of more competition among providers. Bear in mind also that maintenance costs are also generally quite low for a well installed, decent-quality system, and, other than replacing the inverter (roughly £800) every 20 years, you shouldn’t need to do very much.
Adding value to your home
Note that solar panels also add to the sell-on value of your home, provided they are aesthetically pleasing and to a reasonable technological standard. If you’re looking to sell up within a few years, remember that a contract that remains tied to the property may be unattractive for the buyer. However, if they’re able to benefit from the feed-in tariff straightaway, it’s a great selling point.
A south-facing roof
This is almost a make-or-break criterion. If your roof faces west or south west, that may be good enough too. But you’re unlikely to derive the maximum benefit unless you’re south facing. Be wary too of trees or other building obscuring your sunlight, particularly between 10am and 4pm. 
Energy Performance Certificate
This rates a building on its energy efficiency, and you’ll need to have at least a D grade in order get the full feed-in payment. So if the assessor makes an assessment of an E or worse, then you might be best to make the enhancements he or she recommends, and then get them back in. You can also find a local accredited assessor using this online tool.

Of course, there is also the element of personal preference, and if the cost-benefit analysis doesn’t produce a clear winner either way financially, your desire for greener living may well make the decision for you. And if it is something you feel strongly about, but don’t have the money for the installation, it may be worth your while to look into a low-interest eco loan to cover you upfront.
Either way, it’s a decision lots of Brits are starting to consider, especially with energy firms failing to pass on the benefit of falling oil prices onto consumers. Hopefully, if solar panels are something you’re interested in, the above points will help with your research.

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