Solar Electricity (PV)

Costs: £4,500-£5,500 I Annual Savings: £560 I Payback: 10 years I Profit: £5000

You can generate cheap, green electricity from sunlight, even here in Britain.

Solar electricity systems capture the sun's energy using photovoltaic (PV) cells. The cells convert sunlight into electricity, and this electricity can power your lighting and appliances. You can receive payments for the electricity you generate, as well as for exporting any electricity you don’t use to the grid.

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The basics

The cells used in solar panels are now so efficient that they will work well anywhere in Britain particularly if you have a southerly orientated roof. A typical home PV system can produce around 50% of the electricity used in an average household per year (Department of Energy and Climate Change), saving around £140 on your electricity bills.

In 2010, the government introduced the Feed-in-Tariff scheme to encourage uptake of solar panels. Under this scheme, your energy supplier pays you for any energy that you generate using your solar panels, as well as any excess that you export to the grid. The average installation can make around £420 a year in FITs at current tariff rates. You can alternatively get the installation paid for using a loan from the Green Deal finance scheme.

Fitting panels is not a complex process, and you can get them fitted with very little disruption. You do need to ensure that you get a qualified installer to qualify for the FITs.

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FAQs

Am I eligible for the Feed In Tariff (FIT) scheme?
If you are a UK resident and use an MCS accredited installer to carry out the work, you will be eligible for Feed-In Tariff payments. The amount you are entitled to receive will depend on when the system is commissioned and installed. Currently the FIT pays up to 15.44p/kWh (for systems with less than 4kW peak power) for every kWh that the system is predicted to output. You will also be entitled to 4.5p/kWh for every unit of electricity you generate but don't use, as this can be exported back to the Grid. However, these rates will be reviewed in May 2013.
Do I need a three phase electricity supply to install solar PV?
Systems with up to about 10kW peak power don't need more than a single phase electricity supply, however it is very unlikely that your system will exceed 4 kW peak power. Your installer will advise you exactly what is required.
Are solar PV systems a lot cheaper now?
The cost of the PV cells and associated equipment is driven by international supply and demand. Prices of these components have fallen substantially over the past few years as larger manufacturing facilities have been set up in response to strong demand particularly in Germany and Japan. Installation prices have in turn fallen as a result of the reduction in system prices and as the industry has grown. This drop in prices is set to continue.
Is efficiency important when choosing solar panels?
Often not, the efficiency of any given panel relates to how effectively it can convert the sun's light. Given that the sun's light is free a panel can simply be made larger to offset a lower efficiency. Only when suitable roof area is at a premium does it make sense to choose high efficiency panels, this will maximise the amount of power that can be generated from the limited space.
How long does a solar PV panel installation take?
A solar PV installation normally takes 2-3 days.
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