Solar Panels Buyers Guide
Solar panels are becoming an increasingly popular option for homeowners looking for alternative ways to save money and generate energy. Solar panels make use of the free energy produced by the sun. This energy source is so powerful that the sun transmits more energy in one hour than the entire world uses in a whole year. By utilising this energy source through solar panels, it’s possible to generate electricity or hot water for the home. There are two types of solar panel – Solar PV and Solar Thermal. Solar PV (Photovoltaic) is used to generate electricity, while Solar Thermal heats up water for your domestic hot water system. Both types of panels look similar and they are usually located on the roof of a dwelling.
The Government’s feed-in tariff has attracted much attention as it pays consumers for units of electricity generated by solar systems. Payments are guaranteed for twenty years so it is possible to recoup the cost of the system installation in less than twenty years and start to make a profit, providing the conditions of your household are good and the solar panels are as efficient as possible.
Before buying solar panels, it is a sensible idea to make your home as energy efficient as possible. Solar panels can be an expensive option, so if your motivation is to cut energy bills, there are many other solutions also available. This may involve fitting double glazing, installing loft insulation, cavity wall insulation and buying an energy efficient boiler.
How To Buy Solar Panels
How To Buy Solar PV
You will firstly need to check local planning regulations to ensure that you are allowed a Solar PV system on your property. Most domestic properties do not need planning permission, but it always wise to check. Before an inspection, find your energy bills from the last year so that your solar company has an understanding of your average energy usage and costs. When arranging an appointment with a solar company check whether a salesperson or a surveyor will be visiting. A salesperson will only be able to estimate the cost of installation, and as such cannot provide an accurate and final quote.
On the day of the inspection, confirm with the company representative whether they are a salesperson or a surveyor. A good salesperson will explain the limitations of their visit and that an experienced surveyor will need to assess the property following their initial visit. Do not sign a contract after a sales visit, as the estimated quote could change once the technical survey has taken place.
During the survey visit, the surveyor should check the orientation of your property’s roof as well as measure the tilt angle of the roof. The roof quality should be assessed thoroughly – both from outside and inside via the loft. It is important that the loft of the property is inspected to check that it is suitable for Solar PV installation. If the roof is in part or all shade it is questionable whether solar panels are the best option. Any potential risks of shade from trees, neighbouring properties and how this may change throughout the day and year should be recorded and used to calculate a quote. Your electricity usage should be noted down and the fuse box and meter should be inspected. The location of cables and equipment in your property should also be investigated.
After the sales and survey visits you should be provided with a detailed quote including information about the solar panels, warranties, solar inverter and how payback, cost savings and rate of return have all been calculated. The methodology used to calculate these figures should be included. The Government recommended method is SAP (Standard Assessment Procedure), although some companies use their own methods. The quote should include VAT and full installation costs, including things such as scaffolding and labour, and should be tailored to your property conditions and energy usage rather than a standard quote based on an average property of your size. Check the guarantee of the Solar PV system being offered and make sure you are aware of the output and efficiency of the system as well as ongoing maintenance requirements. Maintenance costs may be included in your quote, or it may be something that you need to pay for separately.
You should feel no pressure from the company to make a decision – on-the-spot discounts are not allowed and any shady selling tactics will not be used by trustworthy and accredited solar companies.
In terms of locating the Solar PV panels; the best positioning for the panels is to be mounted is on a south-facing roof away from shading from trees and other buildings. The panels must be at a 30 degree angle to the horizontal (although up to 65 degrees will still work in the UK). There may be some maintenance required, including checking the units and connections and wiping the glass panels with a mild detergent to keep them working optimally. Obviously this can be difficult when the panels are located on the roof so this should be taken into consideration when purchasing solar panels.
How To Find A Good Solar PV Company
There are many Solar PV companies that will offer less than honest financial savings and exaggerate the amount of money you could make from installing panels. It’s highly recommended that you shop around and do some thorough research to ensure that your expectations are realistic. Always compare a range of quotes from different companies so that you can make an informed decision about the best Solar PV company for you.
Solar Thermal – How To Buy
Solar thermal panels can help you save money on water heating costs, and are particularly useful if your property has an electric heating system. It is possible to qualify for the Government’s Renewable Heat Premium Payment scheme until 31st March 2013 and benefit from a £300 grant towards installation costs of a solar thermal system. In the future there may be a similar scheme to the Solar PV feed-in tariff, which will pay consumers for generating low carbon heat.
Before installing Solar Thermal panels, it is recommended that you make your home as energy efficient as possible in other areas to make sure that solar is the most appropriate source of renewable energy for your property. You will also need to contact your local council to check whether you need to apply for planning permission for the panels. Most domestic solar panels shouldn’t require planning permission, but there are exceptions for listed buildings, for example.
Installing a Solar Thermal system will involve changes to the pipe work, thermostat and hot water cylinder. In many cases, a solar water heating system can be added to existing hot water systems as long as another cylinder for pre-heated water is installed or the existing cylinder is changed for one with a twin coil. Combi boiler systems don’t work well with solar thermal systems as they are designed to work with cold mains-pressure water, although some new modern combi boilers do accept pre-heated water.
Like Solar PV, Solar Thermal panels should be located on a south-facing roof at a 30 degree angle to the horizontal for optimum efficiency, although up to 65 degrees will still work. The panels must be kept away from shading from trees and other buildings. There may be some maintenance required from time-to-time – some panels may need wiping with mild detergent to keep them clean, and the unit and connections may need checking regularly.
In order to maximise the efficiency of a new solar thermal system it is crucial that the installation of the panels, as well as the insulation of the pipes and water tank, are all completed to the best possible conditions. System performance can be improved if the pumps and timers are set correctly and the hot water tank and pipes are insulated correctly.
How To Find A Good Solar Thermal Company
As with Solar PV, it’s vital to do your research first and compare the quoted costs and savings provided by a range of Solar Thermal companies. Always use an MCS certified solar installer to ensure that you can qualify for any Government incentive schemes.
Solar Panel Sales Tactics
As with any industry, there are salespeople in the solar panel industry that use underhanded sales tactics to mis-sell panels to homeowners. Many salespeople do not assess properties properly before giving a quote, so always make sure that you have a technical site survey before signing any contracts. Vital information can also be missed out, so it is worth doing as much research into Solar PV or Thermal before obtaining quotes so that you are aware of everything that is involved in the process. To make sure you get value for money always get a selection of quotes from different companies, and always ask for feedback from previous customers. Never accept a price over the phone without an inspection.
Ongoing costs for maintenance etc. should also be factored into the initial budget to ensure affordability. Make sure that your solar supplier notes down your household’s typical energy usage and your lifestyle. Another crucial component to consider is the inverter which will need to be replaced and will come with additional costs. Whichever company you decide to use, make sure that they are MCS certified (Microgeneration Certificate Scheme) and a member of the REAL Consumer Code (Renewable Energy Assurance Limited). In order to qualify for the Solar PV feed-in tariff scheme, your solar installer must be MCS certified. This also means that if any of these companies are found guilty of using any underhanded sales tactics then they can face the government taking away there MCS accreditation.
Solar PV Sales Tactics
Many company salespeople will offer quotes that are not based on accurate evaluations by a surveyor. A typical tactic is to underestimate the time it will take for the Solar PV system to pay for itself, so it is worth taking any values given with caution, and always make sure to get a range of quotes.
Solar Thermal Sales Tactics
As with Solar PV, some Solar Thermal companies may exaggerate the potential benefits of installing a system in your home. The average cost savings per year in the UK are around £55 - £80 so have this amount in mind before you believe any outlandish figures. When inspecting your property’s suitability, the company should assess your roof, existing gas boiler, cold water tank and hot water cylinder and water quality. They should also check whether your washing machine and dishwasher can use solar-heated water.