Looking for your own home solar power? Then you're in the right place - find out about the government schemes available when getting home solar panels, as well as the necessary property requirements. Factoid: 2% of properties in the UK now have a system in place generating this form of renewable energy!
Solar panels for homes are becoming so popular because of the way the government schemes work - they aren't just an easy way to cut 1,000kg of your carbon footprint every year, they are an investment which can offer returns of 7% or more, linked with inflation and guaranteed for 25 years.
There are many advantages... firstly, they require little space - the smallest systems only require about 4 square metres, and putting them onto your roof is a process usually taking only 1 or 2 days. You can pick either photovoltaic or thermal solar. Photovoltaic modules produce electricity, and are by far the most common type. Thermal panels produce hot water, not for your heating, but for your showers, taps, etc - they have a more difficult installation process and tend to offer worse returns, hence this article will not cover them in depth.
The government scheme available for domestic sized set-ups is the Feed in Tariff. The way this works is that your solar power system gets connected to the national grid when it's installed. You'll also be supplied with an energy monitor which will provide you with information on your electricity generation and use.
You'll get paid a set rate per unit of electricity that your solar panels generate, known as the Generation Tariff. This is currently 21p per kWh. For new installations, this rate will not change, apart from rising with inflation for a 25 year period from when the system is registered.
You then get paid slightly extra if you don't use this electricity as you generate it, but instead if you sell it back to the main grid. For example, if you're out at work during the middle of the day and you're generating electricity, then you won't be able to use the electricity because solar modules can't store it (a storage system would usually be a lot more expensive to install, and they are not commonly seen for this reason in the UK). Therefore, this electricity is automatically sold to the national grid. You get paid an extra 2p per kWh of electricity that you sell back - this is known as the export tariff. Even if you use this electricity rather than selling it back to the national grid, you'll make money because it means you won't have to be purchasing as much electricity in the first place from your current supplier, slashing your bills by up to 70%.
This scheme means that photovoltaic panels will pay themselves off over time, so once you've made an initial investment, you'll have virtually zero ongoing costs, and once the system has been paid off you'll be making significant profits. As a very rough guide, the average system will cost several thousand pounds and will have paid for itself within about 14 or 15 years. Since the payments themselves last for 25 years, then the later 10 to 11 years will just provide several hundred pounds of profit per year. Given that solar is famous for being low-maintenance and robust, this is an easy way to make some money with the benefit of helping cut damage to the environment.
To get the maximum benefits out of your system, looking at the maths behind the Feed in Tariff is important. Your current electricity provider will be able to tell you how much you pay per kWh that you purchase from them. The average is approximately 10 or 11p in the UK. This means that if you can use a kWh of electricity that you produce, rather than having to buy it from your supplier, then you'll get paid 21p under the Generation Tariff, then you'll save roughly 10p from not having to pay for the electricity from your supplier, although you won't earn the additional 2p from the Export Tariff. Since the Export Tariff is at a rate below the average electricity cost, it means to derive the maximum benefits from your home solar panels, those who use most of the electricity they generate will make the greatest earnings from their system once bill savings are factored into the equation. Obviously, however, you are better off reducing your electricity use - don't suddenly start switching on appliances needlessly!
Making sure that your set of modules is working optimally can make a significant difference to your bank balance too. Firstly, the location of the panels is important - the best set up possible would be at a 30 degree tilt facing directly south (in the UK). The government state that installation is usually worthwhile on any roof between a direct East or West orientation, as long as it isn't facing any more North than that (ie any remotely south facing roof is fine). This wide range of angles is due to the generosity of the Feed in Tariff. Again, when a company speaks to you about their panels, they will be able to give you an official estimate for how much solar panels for your home specifically would generate and earn.