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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Can I export the electricity I generate using a solar PV system?
Yes, one of the benefits of the Feed-In Tariff scheme is that you can earn an extra 4.5p per kWh that is generated then exported. All unused electricity will automatically be exported unless you connect batteries to your system. Your electricity company can fit an export meter or they can pay you based on estimated export rates (usually 50%) - sometimes your electricity supplier can authorise installers to fit the export meter instead. Do not confuse the export meter with the gross generation meter, which is fitted as standard on all solar PV installations.
What is a Renewable Obligation Certificate (ROC)?
The government created an obligation for electricity suppliers to encourage homeowners to fit specific renewable micro generation systems. For domestic electricity generation, this system has now been superseded with the Feed in Tariff (FIT).
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.
What guarantees do solar PV panels come with?
It does vary from manufacturer to manufacturer but typically Solar PV panels will come with an output guarantee in the region of 20 and 25 years. The Inverter will have a shorter life, and your should budget to have this replaced once during the life of your system (25 years or more) and therefore has a shorter guarantee, typically around 5 years. The labour guarantee will depend on your installer and your should ask or study the fine print in your quote; 5 years is fairly typical.
Is there an approvals standard for solar PV panels?
Yes, solar panels can be approved by the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS). In order to qualify for the Feed-In Tariff scheme you must ensure that you use MCS approved panels.
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