Solar panel on a roof and wind turbins arround

Over recent years solar PV has become increasingly popular for homeowners, businesses, and energy generators due to falling PV costs and greater understanding of the technology. Even in the UK climate, solar energy is a great way to generate electricity. With the support from government schemes in both the UK and Germany, PV installations have soared which has aided the falling costs.

 

Financially how does PV stack up?

The surge in popularity of solar PV has led to many advancements and lower production costs for the system parts of around 40%. When this is coupled with the UK Feed-in-Tariff (FiT) scheme where homeowners receive an income for every kWh of electricity generated as well as an export fee. This has resulted in reduced payback period which can be as little as 12 years, for example, a system could cost £5,000, and could generate £250 FiT income, and £135 bill savings per year. These energy savings could be higher if you use more of the electricity that you generate during the day.

 

Looking towards 2018 and beyond

The cost of solar PV is likely to continue decline due to increased competition and further production efficiencies.

The government cut financial support for solar PV through the FiT by 65% in January 2016 as a result of the dramatic cost reduction in solar PV. They have also put mechanisms in place to enable further degression of the FiT if PV costs continue to fall. The government maintains its backing for renewable energy, as seen in the Clean Growth Strategy, although they have expressed that they want PV to start paying for itself in the commercial sector and have proposed no subsidies. This may also impact on the future of the FiT.

However, if you decide to invest in solar PV then the FiT at the time of installation of the system will be guaranteed for 20 years and linked to inflation. Also, any cuts to the FiT will be given advanced notice so there is time to install before the reduction or re-evaluate whether to proceed.

Much of Europe and the rest of the world are seeing renewable energy as the way forward to reduce carbon emissions and the cost of electricity production in the future. As a result, there is a lot of investment, including from the UK government, into advancements in renewable energy technology to reduce their costs and increase their efficiency; of which the PV industry will benefit and we should see further increased panel efficiency.

Advancements are also being made in energy storage with investment being made to speed up its development. Energy storage advancements will not only help the national grid manage fluctuations in energy generation and demand but it will also benefit homeowners with solar PV as they will be able to store the electricity they generate instead of exporting it to the grid, which will increase the savings on energy bills.

 

Considerations for purchasing PV

Firstly, if you want to take advantage of the FiT then you may need to make certain energy efficiency improvements to your property before installing your system, as you are required to have an EPC rating of D or above. However, it makes sense to invest in home energy efficiency measures as it will reduce your energy bills. Take a look at our guidance on loft and wall insulation to see what is suitable for your property if you haven’t already had them installed.

The location of your solar PV panels is essential in ensuring maximum gain, panels should ideally be south-facing but there are many other orientations that are viable for good levels of energy generation. They shouldn’t be located where they would be shaded or obstructed from getting sufficient UV exposure.
When selecting a solar PV system it is worth doing some research to find what panels offer the best efficiency and lifespan to ensure you get the maximum energy generation for your investment.

Once installed PV systems need little maintenance but it is worth factoring in the additional cost of a replacement inverter as they often need replacing during the lifespan of the system as warranties are for 10-15 years. It is also worth regularly checking the output to catch any reductions that indicate could issue with the system.

 

How to find an installer

When you are looking for an installer you need to find one that is MCS accredited for solar PV installations. It is also worth investigating which panels they install, their system costs, and reviews on their workmanship. To help owners to find the right installer we have a list of accredited and reputable installers.

So, if you haven’t got PV panels adorning your roof, is it time to seriously consider investing in them? Solar PV is no longer just an environmentalist’s household accessory but something that savvy homeowners across the country are adopting to reduce energy bills and generate an income.

Photovoltaic panels

You are considering putting solar panels on your home to produce electricity, but how does it work, and is your property right for solar panels?

 

How it works


A solar photovoltaic (PV) system is designed to turn UV light into electricity. The panels that are mounted to your roof are made up of a collection of cells that are formed from several thin layers of semi-conducting silicone that contain metal contacts that absorb UV light.
When UV light is absorbed it enables the electrons within the cells to move around and this movement generates electricity. The electricity generated by the panels is in DC (direct current) but the electrical grid and appliances in your home operate on AC (alternating current). To make the electricity generated compatible, the current is fed through an inverter which changes it into AC.

All solar PV systems also include a meter that allows you to track the amount of energy generated, used and exported to the grid. It is also connected to your consumer unit to allow the electricity to be exported.

 

Energy storage


The electricity generated by your solar panels will be produced during the day and unless you have a higher than average daytime consumption it is likely that a high proportion of the electricity will be exported to the grid.

Currently there are neither adequate nor cost-effective energy storage solutions for homeowners but advancements in this area have made the likelihood of this happening in the next decade much higher. So, whilst you won’t be able to initially store electricity for your own use, it is likely that during the lifetime of your system it could be possible to add storage to it.

 

UK conditions for solar PV


Although the UK doesn’t have the hottest of climates, this doesn’t massively reduce the appeal of solar panels, as the UK does have a significant number of daytime hours and UV exposure. The sun doesn’t necessarily need to be out in order for the panels to generate electricity, it is UV light that they require. However, the intensity of the light will impact on the amount of power produced. It is worth carefully accessing what level of electricity the system can generate before purchasing it.

 

Maximising electricity generated


The location, roof pitch, and shading in relation to the sun’s position throughout the day can greatly alter the amount of electricity generated. A technical survey would take into account these factors combined with the amount of light expected where you live and give an accurate picture of what the system could generate.

 

Financials


But don’t forget that it’s not just the electricity used that you save money on but that you also get a Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) for all electricity generated and an additional payment for electricity exported to the grid. In the current FIT scheme requirements the level of your Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating impacts on the amount of generation tariff you receive so it’s worth improving the energy efficiency of your home first.

 

Solar panels on the roof with stacks of money underneath

Solar panels have been popping up on roofs all over the country largely due to a period of government subsidies and favourable tariffs, coupled with the benefit of economies of scale and technology advancements decreasing panel costs.

If you have examined the return on investment you might be thinking that they look like a fairly good investment but how does the lifetime of the solar panels impact this investment?
Solar panels are still very much in their infancy and they have not been widely tested in practice yet for their whole lifetime so some assumptions have been made. Globally only a small proportion of solar panels have been installed for longer than 10 years.

 

Solar panel life expectancy

Most manufacturers give their panels warrantee guarantees of either 20 or 25 years. Warranties state that the panels will produce at least 80% of the initial peak output level for 20 or 25 years after the installation. Therefore the decrease in efficiency of the solar panels will be no more than 1% per year.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change have set the UK Feed-in-Tariffs at 25 years based on the assumption that the panels will last at least 25 years.

Research in Switzerland by the University of Applied Science of Southern Switzerland found encouraging results on the panels they tested. After 20 years a 10kW solar panel roof array was found to have only decreased in output by 11% from the initial peak output, which indicates a lower decline rate of 0.5%.

Solar panels can also suffer from some wear and tear such as the modules yellowing and laminate starting to peel off. Given that the panel is being exposed to the elements for 20 years, this is expected. This physical decay was found to only have minimal effect on their performance.

However, there are other parts of the system that should be considered. The inverters that convert the energy produced into useable energy only have warranties for 10-15 years and therefore a replacement inverter should be factored into the lifetime costs of your system.
Overall this picture is encouraging, as it offers guarantees on performance that balance the payback period given the length of time needed to get a return on the investment. More encouragingly some researchers have suggested that PV panels could effectively produce electricity for 40 years or more, although not at the initial peak rate but at an acceptable rate that would help yield a better return on the investment.

 

Do solar PV panels require maintenance?

worker and solar panels

Generally, the solar panels should be almost maintenance free but an annual or bi-annual clean is advisable to ensure the maximum output is achieved. Some physical decay is expected but you should reduce potential risks where possible like from falling objects such as branches.

It is also advisable to frequently monitor the performance from the panels to detect any decreased output or anomalies so it can be investigated and reduce the time that performance is lost. Apart from this the only time a trained professional would be needed is to exchange the inverter when that stops working.

solar-panels-1608-300x180

There’s no doubt that solar panels have taken off in a big way in the UK over recent years; in May 2017 a new record was set with electricity generated from solar panels exceeding nuclear power generation for the first time by producing a quarter of all the UK’s electricity .This is no accident, with solar panels continuing to expand at the rate they have done this record will continue to be broken as solar power continues to thrive.

Price

Once considered an accessory for the well off, home solar panels are now a common sight throughout the country. This has been spearheaded by government subsidies and incentives first put in place in 2010 to encourage more homeowners to invest in the technology.

Solar is seen as a key resource for the nations that have signed up to the Paris Climate Agreement and is now receiving major investment as a result. This has seen a rapid improvement in the technology and a reduction in price in a very short space of time. With home solar panels now costing between £3000 and £7000 they are much more readily available; a few years ago a similar setup would have cost up to £15,000. With little to no on-going maintenance costs throughout the solar panels lifespan they are proving to be a worthwhile investment for those that gone ahead with the installation.

 

Return on investment

With solar panels for your home it pays to go for the biggest that you can both afford and fit on your roof space. For example if you were to install a 4 kW setup it would cost around £4,500 – 7,000 and give you a return of around £70 a year from the governments feed in tariff. Savings on your bills could be as much as £200 a year meaning that overall, the panels will pay for themselves in 12 – 15 years.

Once the installation cost has been paid off everything you save or make is profit. With the current design life of solar panels at approximately 25 years that’s at least 10 years that you will be making money from your solar panels.

 

Some of the benefits that have seen an increase in solar panel installation include:

  • No planning permission is required
  • The larger your panels the better your return and the quicker you start making profit
  • With energy bills set to continue to increase these savings will likely only get bigger
  • A one off set up cost
  • No on-going maintenance costs
  • By 2020 it is predicted that 10 million homes in the UK will have solar panels installed, today the figure is around 1.5 million so the huge increase in projected growth is clear to see. With the UK currently installing solar panels faster than any other European country they now stand fourth in terms of the total number of solar panel systems installed to date. Despite the weather solar power is now seen as a reliable, cheap and environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuel production.

Row of solar panels  on roof