Sunshine, pay the bills

Solar photovoltaic panelsSolar photovoltaic panels

Just under a year ago the Government introduced the feed-in energy tariffs, designed to encourage homeowners to use small scale renewable energy systems. Ben Saunders of SoGoSolar explains the benefits of installing one such system – solar photovoltaic (PV) panels

Last year PricewaterhouseCoopers predicted that the market for domestic microgeneration schemes would grow 30 fold by 2015. This optimism would appear to be on track – in the first six months of the scheme OFGEM reported that over 10,000 solar PV systems had been installed.

So why all the excitement? Well it's a combination of increasing anxiety over rising fuel bills and a desire to be more energy self sufficient and sustainable. The most significant factor, however, is probably the feed-in-tariff (FIT). The FIT pays householders up to 41.3p for every unit of energy generated by a PV system retrofitted to an existing property. What's more it does not matter whether you use this energy or put it back into the grid (for which you receive additional income). This income is also tax free, index linked to the Retail Prices Index and guaranteed for 25 years from date of commissioning under legislation passed in 2010.

"Well what's the catch?" I hear you ask. There is no catch, however, systems are not cheap to install – between £7,000 - £15,000 depending on the size. Those choosing to take the plunge should recover their investment after approximately 10 years and then continue to benefit thereafter. Some may find this a much more attractive option than leaving cash in the bank at today's miserable interest rates.

In terms of energy self sufficiency, a PV system can generate up to approximately 40% of a households electricity consumption. Another way to look at this is that the income generated can, if sensible energy conservation measures are adopted, come very close to meeting both electricity and gas bills for small properties.

So lets put some real numbers around this. I have just designed and installed a modest 1.2kW system (comprising five panels) at a two bed flat in Leytonstone, which will pay back in around 10 years. In terms of cash generation this is equivalent to meeting approximately 80% of the property's gas and electricity bills.

So in spite of our (often) cloudy weather, the introduction of the FIT now means that PV systems are, for many homeowners, probably the most attractive of all the renewable energy systems on the market. Properties best suited to PV installations are those with a south(ish) facing roof that is not shaded by trees or other properties during the critical 6 hours either side of midday. Properties with an east-west split roof are also suitable, however, they do receive approximately 15% less solar radiation than south facing roofs.

So what should you look for in an installer? To benefit from the FIT your installer must be MicroCertification Scheme (MCS) accredited and the panels they install must themselves be MCS approved. Additionally you or your installer should carry out a structural survey to confirm that the roof structure is adequate for the additional loads that will be placed upon it. Finally, for listed properties or those in a conservation area, planning consent will need to be sought. In all other cases the installation does not usually require planning permission.

For more information on solar PV systems and other renewable energy options, together with advice on how to reduce energy consumption, please visit the energy savings trust web site at

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