Are Solar Panels Cost Effective?
On planet Earth, we live under constant bombardment from an effectively limitless source of energy – the sun. It seems a shame to let this energy go to waste – and so many homeowners, conscious of an ever-uncertain energy market, are looking to go off-grid by installing solar panels onto their roof.
Such an installation would clearly constitute major surgery – not only in terms of the cost of the panels themselves, but in terms of the effort and labour of getting them installed, and of the aesthetic impact they’ll have on your property. Can the savings justify this upheaval? In this article, we’ll take a look.
Your location can have a marked influence on your gains. Since the amount and intensity of sunlight is stronger toward the south of the country, those living in London will likely enjoy greater benefits from solar panels than those living in Edinburgh.
Not only will the position of your house influence the potential gains – its orientation will too. Have you ever tried to grow herbs on a windowsill that faces northwards? It’s a tricky proposition. Being in our planet’s northern hemisphere, the sun appears to the south of the United Kingdom. Consequently, our direct sunlight comes from the south.
Similarly, a south-facing rooftop will enjoy far more sunlight than those facing the other four points of a compass. When you’re making a decision to install solar panels, this factor is paramount, as it can spell the difference between meagre gains and substantial ones. One should also consider whether there are any obstacles in the way of the sun, like trees and neighboring buildings.
In order to benefit from the feed-in scheme, you’ll need to ensure that your home is energy efficient. This factor is quantified using an Energy Performance Certificate, which rates a building from A-G according to its ability to retain heat. These certificates are valid for ten years, and you’ll need at least a D grade to get the maximum benefit of the tariff.
If your property hasn’t quite made the grade, then you might consider making improvements where necessary to bump yourself up to the next band, and secure that higher feed-in rate – which will be locked in for 20 years once secured.
It’s important to note that, just because you’re locked into a feed-in tariff, you aren’t locked into an energy supplier. You can still switch around in search of the best deal. The tariff is supported by many different suppliers – and for larger ones (with more than a quarter of a million customers), it’s mandatory.
Changes to The Feed-in Tariff
If you’ve gotten solar panels installed, then you can not only save yourself money on your energy bills, but via a government scheme called a ‘feed-in’ tariff, paid via the energy companies, which rewards those who generate electricity – regardless of whether they use it or not. You can also sell the electricity you generate but don’t use back into the grid using something called an export tariff, which comes in at around £80 a year.
But there’s bad news, here: it may have escaped your attention over the Christmas period, but on December 17th the government announced that it will be slashing this tariff – from a healthy £505/year to a relatively paltry £235/year, according to Money Saving Expert. If you’re looking to get in before this happens, then we’re afraid that you’re too late; while the new tariff is effective from the 8th of February, new installations will be FIT accredited between the 15th January and the 8th February, so if you’re reading this during that period, you’re out of luck.
That said, it’s still possible to reap considerable savings on your solar-panel investment – but only if the conditions are right.
One must also consider the cost of installing the panel itself, which comes in at around £6,000. Under the new tariff, it will take around three decades to get back into the black – whereas on the old one, it took just one. So, if you think that you’re going to be in the same house in the year 2046, the investment might be worthwhile.
One might also consider the aesthetic impact a solar panel installation might have on one’s house. Solar panels, while being mightily useful inventions, are not quite as pleasant to look at as a traditional tiled roof – and so you’ll have to decide whether the savings are worth the ugliness. This consideration might be all the more important if you spend a lot of time in the garden, to the south of your house – or if you care a great deal about what passers-by might think.
Naturally, a solar panel might also impact the resale value of your house. While many worry that the ugly panels might push the price down, the truth is that the impact could be either negative or positive – though often not quite enough to offset the original price of the panel. Be aware that if you’ve signed a long-term contract, perhaps marrying the property to an older, inferior technology, the value of your property could well be pushed downward.
Many might also worry about planning permission. Fortunately, solar panels, like conservatories and kennels, are often considered a ‘permitted development’. This means that you don’t need planning permission to install them, unless you live in a listed building, or in a conservation area. That said, you might need the approval of the local council’s building control authority, so be sure to check before proceeding. Having to take down your solar panel after you’ve installed it is not much fun!
If you’ve considered these factors, and your property looks to be suitable for modification, then the good news is that, once they’re installed, a solar panel will demand very little of your time and attention, and can generally be forgotten about, according to the Energy Savings Trust. One component which might need replacement is the inverter – but not until it’s been installed for around twenty years.