Modern solar panels take in daylight for power generation, and so do not need direct sunlight to work. In fact, they will even be able to produce electricity on rainy, overcast days, although they are at their most effective on clear, bright days. Germany is a country not renowned for its sunny weather, and they have the largest capacity of solar energy in the world.
It is true that solar panels work best on clear sunny days but they still produce electricity throughout winter. In fact, solar panels conduct electricity more efficiently when they are cooler.
Your roof does not need to be south-facing for you to install a solar system. South-East and South-West installations would still produce sufficient electricity for a solar installation to be worthwhile and economic.
In a solar pv system, there are no moving parts in the design, and therefore minimal maintenance is required. The panels themselves have a lifetime of well over 25 years, and the inverter should last a minimum 10 years before it needs to be replaced.
While current panel efficiencies are not as high as the industry would like them to be, at 13-18%, they still offer good returns. On top of this, solar panels are getting gradually more efficient year on year, so yields will only continue to increase. Importantly, costs of panels have dropped very dramatically, so the need for efficiency is not as great.
Solar systems come in all sizes, so even if you have a low energy household, you can still benefit from a solar system with less installed capacity, though you should be aware that smaller sized systems are less cost-effective. You are paid for what electricity you generate under the FIT scheme plus an export tariff which is deemed at 50% of your generated electricity, so a larger system makes the most economic sense.
In certain circumstances you may need to get planning permission, for example if you live in an area of conservation. Additionally, if the system protrudes more than 200mm beyond the plane of the wall or higher than the highest point of the roof, you may also require planning permission. However, the majority of domestic solar PV installations do not require planning permissions. Please check this with your installer or local planning office before committing.
Ultimately, after a steady decline in the cost of PV panels in recent years, the cost drastically reduced in the last year, and have halved since early 2011. You will get an income for all electricity you generate, plus a smaller fee for what you export (deemed at 50% of generated electricity). You also save money on the electricity you use in your home when it is being generated. For example, a 4kWp system installed after 1st August 2012 will cost around £8,000. After all tariff incomes (20 years) and energy savings (25 years), it should provide a 9.2% annual rate of return, with a payback period of 10 years. That is a very good financial benefit as it is guaranteed for 25 years, and it is indexed linked to RPI.
If you are serious about installing a PV system, there is no reason to wait. A PV installation will immediately start providing you with a source of income from the Feed-in Tariff, as well as saving in displaced energy costs, so there is no reason to wait. Additionally, while prices are still decreasing, the general consensus in the industry is that, after the drastic drop in prices over the past year, the prices are beginning to stabilise.
Once you start receiving the FIT, the rate is index-linked and guaranteed. Depending on which Feed-in Tariff you are eligible for, this will be offered to you on a fixed-term basis. For example the new changes being implemented on 1st August: Generation tariff reduces from 21p/kWh to 16p/kWh, export tariff increased from 3.2p/kWh to 4.5p/kWh. The tariff lifetime will be reduced from 25 years to 20 years. Which means you will benefit from these tariffs for a fixed term of 20 years. Note that you will continue to benefit from using your generated electricity well after the 20 year tariff ends.
“The massive 50% slash in the Feed-in Tariff shows that the government is no longer supporting solar power”
The reason for the huge cut in Feed-in Tariff was to level out the return on investment. After the initial 43.3p tariff, solar companies’ costs halved, which was reflected by the new 21p/kWh tariff. After the continuing decline in prices, the ROI remained too high, hence the reduction to 16p/kWh. The main point is that the primary reason for these FITs is to encourage growth in the industry. The new tariffs have been calculated with considerable input from industry, and 8-10% returns are still possible.
“With the upcoming tariff cut, I have missed the boat. Financial returns are now not good enough on a solar installation”
Not true, as the costs of an installation have fallen at a greater rate than the FIT. Although tariff life has dropped to 20 years, export tariffs are in fact increasing to 4.5p/kWh and you will still save as much money through displaced energy savings as before. Even with the reduced feed-in tariff rates, solar PV installations can still prove prudent investments and returns of 8-10% are still possible.
“A solar installation will prevent me from selling or re-mortgaging my house”
There have been reports of customers with solar panels having difficulties getting a re-mortgage deal, but in reality, these cases are few and far between. Any reported re-mortgages not been accepted have occurred due to the lease of the solar panel provider not complying with the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) standards. The bottom line is that if the lease complies with the requirements laid out by the mortgage lender, then the mortgage can proceed as normal.
“Installing PV will invalidate my house insurance”
This depends upon your insurance provider. Many insurers will cover your solar PV system under your current policy, however some may want to itemise it separately. As policies differ, you should always contact your insurance company when making any material change to your household.
“It’s hard to know which installers you can trust”
Consumers should be careful to ensure that the installer is Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) certified. To do this, simply visit http://www.microgenerationcertification.org/. They must also be members of the REAL assurance scheme http://www.realassurance.org.uk/
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