Solar panel need-to-knows

“Solar power? Hang on, we don’t live in California!” True, but it’s all about daylight, not sunshine. Panels can still generate some electricity on gloomy days, vital when the weather’s as dull as watching paint dry.

Before you stick them on your home, understand these key need-to-knows:

Solar panel payments may soon be cut altogether

In a recent consultation, the Government confirmed its intention to end solar panel payments from 31 March 2019, meaning any solar panels installed after then won’t receive payments for generating electricity or exporting it back to the grid.

If this goes ahead, the only benefit of getting solar panels after March 2019 would be the savings on your energy bill. This means it could take upwards of 70 YEARSto claw back your initial investment.

Its reasoning for axing the scheme is that it’ll make consumers’ bills cheaper. The scheme is funded by levies on energy suppliers, which are passed on to all consumers through their bills – whether or not they get the payments. Latest estimates put the cost of the scheme at £1.6 billion by 2020.

If you already have solar panels, this won’t affect you – you’ll still get your payments. But be warned: if you’re thinking of getting them, you’ll need to move quick and get them installed and certified before the cut-off date or risk missing out.

But don’t rush – make sure they’re right for you before getting them.

There are two types of solar panel

The type we’re talking about is photovoltaic solar panels – also known as solar PV – which catch the sun’s energy and convert it into electricity that can be used to power household goods and lighting. The other type is solar thermal, which allows you to heat water and can cut down heating bills.

This guide shines a light on solar PV, as that’s where you can earn money through generating your own electricity through the ‘feed-in tariff’, as well as save on your electricity bills. According to the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, well over half a million British homes have panels installed.

You need a south-facing roof

To maximise what your panels can make, you usually need a predominantly south-facing roof. If your roof faces south-west or west you’ll still get some benefit, but it may be less effective and you might not get the maximum savings.

While some early or late shading from other buildings or trees is OK, your roof should be unshaded between 10am and 4pm.

You need a grade D Energy Performance Certificate

An Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rates a building on its energy efficiency, from A (highly efficient) to G (inefficient). Once you get one, it’s valid for 10 years. The amount you get paid for generating electricity depends on your building’s rating, and you’ll need one to register for feed-in payments.

If you’ve got a grade D or above, you’ll be able to bag the full feed-in payment. From October, that’ll be 3.86p/kWh (kilowatt hour). If your property scores below a D you’ll only be eligible for a lower rate of 0.20p/kWh though.

So if you’re assessed and rated E or lower, you’ll need to make the advised improvements to reach grade D before you install solar panels or you won’t be eligible for the full feed-in payment. The Government has an online tool to help find an accredited assessor.

You can still switch energy supplier

Don’t, for heaven’s sake, think this locks you into your energy provider so you can’t get cheaper bills (join the MSE Cheap Energy Club to stick on permanently low prices).

The feed-in tariff is supported by a number of suppliers, as it’s mandatory for those with over 250,000 customers. Ofgem has a list of all of them on its website. Yet you don’t need your energy supplier to be the same as the supplier that pays your feed-in tariff, so you’re free to switch around.

The further south you live, the more you can make

While you don’t need a summer home in Hawaii to get some juice from solar panels, the further south you are can make a difference when it comes to their effectiveness. Remember, this is about daylight, not hours of sunshine. Northern homes get slightly less, so where you live needs to be factored in.

The Energy Saving Trust estimates that panels in Manchester could earn you and save a combined £320/year on bills, compared with around £365/year in London and £305/year in Stirling. See Does buying solar panels add up? below for full analysis.

Panels could push your house’s value up or down

Some people worry that ugly panels plastered all over their roof could push the price of their house down. However, equally, a more efficient home generating its own energy may be more attractive to buyers.

Solar panels are a fairly hefty investment and might not be suited to those planning to move in the next few years – certainly you shouldn’t expect a big upfront investment to be immediately reflected by a jump in your home’s value.

Be wary that being tied into a contract that remains with the property once you’ve left could be unattractive to buyers, whereas a buyer’s ability to benefit from the feed-in tariff once they move in might make your house more appealing.

Think about how visible the panels are and ask local estate agents for their experiences before installation. When we asked the National Association of Estate Agents for an overview, it told us:

Solar panels can indeed affect the value of a property, in both a positive and negative way. If the panels are new technology, show significant savings and are aesthetically acceptable, they may very well boost value. However, in some instances, the agreement which ties respective owners into old technology is onerous and could well affect the value of a property in a negative way.

Quick question

  • What happens to the solar panels if I move out?

    You shouldn’t need planning permission

    You don’t generally need planning permission for solar PV systems. The big exceptions are if your property has a flat roof, is listed or in a conservation area. You might need to get approval from your council’s building control team, so check with your local authority.

    In England and Wales, the Government’s Planning Portal says that panels are likely to be considered as “permitted development”.

    Solar panels are generally low maintenance

    The Energy Saving Trust says little maintenance is required on a properly installed, well-designed solar PV system, though you’ll likely need to replace the inverter – a gadget which is a key part of the mechanism – within about 25 years (£800ish).

    Of course, though, things can go wrong. Check the installer warranty you get covers the 20 years you’ll be getting the feed-in tariff. If the panels are damaged by something unexpected, like a storm, you may also be covered by buildings insurance – check with your insurer before you have them installed and bear in mind you may need to increase the sum insured.

    Use your solar panels at the right time and you’ll max their value

    Once you’ve got your panels installed and they’re up and running, make sure you make the most of them by using them at the right time.

    For example, in the winter, when there’s less sunlight and you’ll generate less solar power, you’ll take more energy from the grid. It’s a good idea to set appliances to run while it’s light outside, staggering them to max the savings.