The Benefits of Solar Panels In Your Home.

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The Benefits of Solar Panels In Your Home.

You could earn £1,000 a year from energy from the sun but there are different systems on offer for homes.  Just as energy companies are announcing more hikes to people’s energy bills many are thinking of switching to renewable energy making their homes more self sufficient.  Therefore you will not only be helping the planet but will be helping your cash flow too.  The Department of Energy and Climate Change estimate that people who install renewable energy options could save £2,000 a year due to the financial incentives that are on offer.  There are many options available from solar panels, wind turbines or ground source heat pumps.  Home owners need to decide which ones would suit their home the best and take into consideration the costs involved in the installation so that they can weigh up whether it will be financially viable for their home.  This article will focus on solar panels, looking at the different types and the costs through to how long the panels last and whether they will boost the value of your property if you decide to sell in the future.


Solar Panels or Photovoltaic Panels?

These are the two main types of solar system:-

  • The photovoltaic panels (PV) are made up of semiconducting cells, mainly silicon, which converts light from outside into electricity.  The output produced is measured in kilowatts (kW) and in Britain it is thought that 850 kilowatt hours a year can be generated, 1kWh is measured as one unit of electricity.  It goes without saying that the more sunshine that you have the more electricity is produced.  However PV panels ideally should be on either a south, south-east or south-west facing roof rather than a north facing one.  You ideally need 5 square metres of roof space for the panels. 
  • Solar thermal (ST) also uses panels but these panels retrieve heat from the sun which in turn warms the water in your house.  The water is stored in a cylinder which is separate from your hot water tank.  The panels are either flat ones, which absorb the heat through a transparent cover or they are in the form of tubes which are either glass or copper.  If your home uses a lot of hot water then this may the system for your home as you could save a lot of money on an annual basis.  Homes that have such a system can turn their boilers off from April to October.  Obviously sunlight is crucial as the more sunlight equals more hot water for your home.  Again you would ideally have a south, south-east or south-west facing roof with a 4 sq metre area for the panels on the roof.  You will also need space for the storage of the cylinder, ideally in the attic, so if you live in a flat it could be tricky.  ST works with most boilers but there are some exceptions, such as a few combis.

Both of the types of panels mentioned above work best if there are no trees or buildings overshadowing the panels.  You will also need a strong roof to take the weight of the panels.


Do I need Planning Permission?

You will not need planning permission to install the panels but it is best to check with your local planning department to be on the safe side.  If you home is in a conservation area or is listed it may be a little trickier.  However Prince Charles has installed 32 PV panels at Clarence House, at a cost of £150,000, even though it is a Grade II listed building.  The panels must not protrude 20cm off the roof and standalone panels must not be more than 4 metres high and must not be within 5 metres of a boundary.


What will the costs and savings be?

Photovoltaic:  Installing these panels does require putting up a lot of cash upfront.  However in the last year prices have fallen a lot.  £10,000 will buy you a 2kW system which will in turn produce 1,700kWh per year which is about half of what a family household needs per year.  Look around on the internet and you could find one slightly cheaper.

The financial attraction of PV panels is that they offer the feed-in tariff, or FIT’s as they are known.  These are payments from the Government which were introduced back in April 2010.  They offer you 43.3p for every kWh that you produce.  However this is only available for systems fitted from 15thJuly 2009 as there were grants available for people who had theirs fitted before this date.

A 2kW system mentioned above should give you a tax free income of £750 a year, if it is fitted on a south facing roof.


Solar:  These systems are much cheaper and easier to install.  However at the moment they are also less lucrative.  A 3.4 sq metre panel, which could easily fit onto a three bedroom semi, should cost around $4,800 to install and it could cut your heating bills by £50-£85 per year.  If however you had them fitted before July 2009 you are entitled to a one off payment of £300 from the Government.   It is generally though that solar tiles, be it PV or solar thermal, are the better option as they can be attached directly to the roof battens.  These will be ideal if you are building an extension or replacing your roof for some reason as they can be integrated at this stage.  They not only look better but if your home is listed then it is easier to get past the planners doing it this way.  However they do cost 30% more and are slightly less efficient.


How long do the panels last?

The majority of solar panels come with a 25 year guarantee but many believe that they could last 50 years and still be 80% effective.  They need to be kept clean.  On a PV system you will usually need to replace the inverter, this converts the direct current (DC) from the panels to (AC) which is what is used domestically.  The inverters rarely last for more than 15 years and cost around £1,000 to replace.  You should make sure that the inverter comes with a warranty for at least 10 years and it is a critical component of the system.


When would be best to install?

It is predicted that the cost of solar panels in 2013 will be half of what they cost in 2009.  However if you do decide to hang on you may lose out on the generous FIT’s rates as they are only fixed if you install before next April.  The Government has had to place a cap on how much they can give back.


If you feel that the cost of installation is out of your price bracket there are alternatives.  The Green Deal offers home owners a government backed loan, if you are eligible.  Mortgage lenders sometimes extend their terms to cover the installation and the cost of the equipment.  Energy companies, such as British Gas and E.on, are also offering to install for free, however they keep the FIT money for themselves but you benefit by getting lower bills.  They seem to favour homes in the south, due to the amount of sun that this are of Britain gets.  If however you intend on staying in your property for more than 25 years but don’t have the £12,000 needed to install the system then approaching the energy companies may be a good idea. 


Remember that all systems will become less efficient over time but you can make sure that your panels are guaranteed to maintain at least 90% of their output.  Make sure that you do not fall into the trap that many others have.  Salesmen have oversold panels to people offering them returns which are simply not feasible.  There is a Which? Survey carried out on this and can be found online.  You could also ask around your neighbourhood to see if anyone else is thinking of going solar.  In St Albans 50 households in the same area came together and negotiated with suppliers to get all of the homes installed.  Discounts doing it this way could be as much as 30% or even 50%.


Will the value of my property increase?

There are no clear figures which show a house with panels getting more money on the housing market.  However more people are becoming aware of solar panels and their benefits, add to this the rising prices of energy bills and we could soon see houses with renewable energy getting better value than those without.


  • Remember if your home is badly insulated then there is not much point in getting solar panels fitted.  The whole house needs to be looked at and not just the panels.

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