/ Free Solar Panels

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Lord of Starkness - on 10 Oct 2013
Just been told that our house qualifies for free solar panels. Company will install insure and maintain the system - and we get to use the energy generated for free - thy make their money off any surplus being fed back in to the grid. Researched the company and all seems to be above board.

Anyone had it done? -- Pros and cons? - though it doesn't seem like a con!
puppythedog on 10 Oct 2013
In reply to Lord of Starkness: SOunds like a con when most people engaging in the latest green deals and so on won't make back the cost of installing them for circa 17 years (figures dragged up from memory of listening to radio 4). Really sounds like a con.
John2 - on 10 Oct 2013
In reply to Lord of Starkness: Have a look at his http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/utilities/free-solar-panels .

There is no real risk - I don't imagine you'd lose anything even if the company that owned the panels went bust. Then again, I'm not sure the financial benefits would be enormous - you'd only get free electricity if you used it at the time it was being generated. So do your washing on a sunny day. You would get no benefit from any electricity that was generated but not used immediately.
dissonance - on 10 Oct 2013
In reply to John2:

> There is no real risk

Apart from potential issues with remortgaging or selling the house.
May have been sorted out by now but last year there were various stories around issues for homeowners with them.

Jack B on 10 Oct 2013
In reply to Lord of Starkness:

This can work. The panels don't really generate much, but the government forces your electricity company to pay way over the odds for what they do generate. They may or may not generate more than the energy it cost to make and install them, so it's not really a great green option, but it can make money.

Typically, they will last for about 20 years, then will need to be disposed of. Currently, it is not too expensive, but with much more of these things coming to the end of their life and with their high toxicity, that might go up. Or down, if better recycling options are developed.

If the company promises to pay for the disposal, that would help. But there's a lot of these companies about just now, I doubt they will all still exist in 20 years. I guess you pays your money and takes your chance.
Also, some of these companies are total cowboys, some are decent. Treat them like any other builing company when you're working out whether you trust them with your house/roof.
yorkshireman - on 10 Oct 2013
In reply to John2:
> you'd only get free electricity if you used it at the time it was being generated. So do your washing on a sunny day. You would get no benefit from any electricity that was generated but not used immediately.

I don't believe that's how it works. The idea is that you use the national grid like an energy 'bank'. So you feed power into the grid when you're generating more than you're using and get paid for it. You then take energy as normal(and pay for it) when you do need it.

The effect is the same (assuming you get paid a similar amount to produce as you do to consume) - so you don't need to use the energy as it's being generated.

imkevinmc - on 10 Oct 2013
In reply to yorkshireman: If you fully own the installation this is true. However, if you have "free" panels installed, you don't own the surplus energy generated. Once it's in the grid you've lost it.

Ikea have started an interesting initiative where you can buy a solar panel package (and own the resultant output)
ByEek - on 10 Oct 2013
In reply to puppythedog:
> (In reply to Lord of Starkness) SOunds like a con when most people engaging in the latest green deals and so on won't make back the cost of installing them for circa 17 years (figures dragged up from memory of listening to radio 4). Really sounds like a con.

I don't think it is a con but may not be for all. The panels are not tied to the owners of the house so there is no obligation on them or any future owners. However, they only benefit from savings made in using the energy they generate. The feed-in tariff is collected by the company. The OP needs to assess if he will make any savings during daylight hours by powering say an electric storage heater or being in and using electric appliances. Since most domestic users tend to use more power in the evenings the only real benefit most people make from solar energy is by offsetting the income they make during daylight hours against the electricity bill run up by using appliances in the dark evenings. Since the company will be collect all monies this might not be as good a deal as it sounds.
SteveRi - on 10 Oct 2013
You only use what you can during the day, there's no storage involved (or offset against what you import). For simplicity most (owners) get paid for 50% unless you choose to be metered on the export end.

I can't see how roof rental would be a valid business model for a cowboy trader - they have to be in it for at least the medium term for it to make sense. I've just put some in this year and the payback period is around 9 years. They can shave a bit off that for working in bulk and not taking a profit margin on the installation, but still...
jkarran - on 10 Oct 2013
In reply to puppythedog:

> SOunds like a con when most people engaging in the latest green deals and so on won't make back the cost of installing them for circa 17 years (figures dragged up from memory of listening to radio 4). Really sounds like a con.

That's by pretty much design. Government renewable subsidy schemes exist primarily to create renewable installation companies. These thrive by charging just a little less than the government deal will pay the purchaser back in subsidy (FIT) for relatively cheap parts.

Frustrating if you're capable of DiY but can't access FIT! On the other hand, as expensive and clumsy as it is it's probably the best way to roll out a lot of rooftop solar PV. It's a real shame you can't access FIT by metering your power back to your grid supplier, it's not like they don't already monitor one electricity meter. Why the hell they rely on estimates for paying subsidies is beyond me.

The actual parts to fit yourself (panels, wiring, inverter) cost far far less than the typical installed cost from an MCS approved supplier but you don't qualify for FIT unless you use an approved company. These relatively few companies charge what they can (a little less than the subsidy is worth over 20 or 25 years, whichever it is now) and they don't appear keen to get into price wars.

A company renting your roof is not paying the massive premium for using an approved installer, they are the improved installer and their costs are relatively low and the payback from FIT is relatively rapid even at the reduced rate they get, nothing like the 15years plus a small 1-2kWpk system would take to pay you or me back.

jk
Andy Nisbet - on 10 Oct 2013
In reply to yorkshireman:
> So you feed power into the grid when you're generating more than you're using and get paid for it. You then take energy as normal(and pay for it) when you do need it.
>

The only snag is that extra energy you develop is fed to earth, although you get paid for it as if it was going into the National Grid. It would cost too much to actually feed it in to the National Grid (at least where I live), so itīs binned. So itīs a bit of a con as far as environmental reasons go.
jkarran - on 10 Oct 2013
In reply to Jack B:

> This can work. The panels don't really generate much, but the government forces your electricity company to pay way over the odds for what they do generate. They may or may not generate more than the energy it cost to make and install them, so it's not really a great green option, but it can make money.

The panels can make plenty of power, far more than a household needs if a good south-ish facing roof is covered. Albeit not when it's needed hence the FIT to subsidise your evening usage while business uses what you generate during the day.

Also, the government pays the subsidy through the utility provider, the UP isn't 'forced' to pay out. You claim from UP, UP claims from the treasury, UP pays you your FIT.

> Typically, they will last for about 20 years, then will need to be disposed of. Currently, it is not too expensive, but with much more of these things coming to the end of their life and with their high toxicity, that might go up. Or down, if better recycling options are developed.

They're not dead at 20 years, just tired (down to about 75% output capacity IIRC). You may choose to swap them out for better tech but you could equally well keep using them as they age.

jk
Lord of Starkness - on 10 Oct 2013
In reply to jkarran:

Missus and I are well past the first flush of youth ( pensioners!) - and may well not be around when the panels reach the end of their working life in 25 years time - and if we are we'll probably be past caring! We've no mortgage, and anything that has the potential to save a couple of hundred quid off our electric bill in a year can't be a bad thing particularly as it wont cost us a penny up front.

As long as the installation company is contractually bound to remove and recycle the panels at the end of their working life, then there will be no downsides as far as final sale of our house is concerned -- though we don't intend moving again!
John2 - on 10 Oct 2013
In reply to Lord of Starkness: How much do you currently spend on electricity? And how much of that do you use when the sun is shining? I'd be surprised if you actually did save a couple of hundred quid a year.

As for what happens when the panels reach the end of their generating lifespan, there's no reason why you couldn't just leave them there.
Jack B on 10 Oct 2013
In reply to jkarran:
> (In reply to Jack B)
>
> [...]
>
> The panels can make plenty of power, far more than a household needs if a good south-ish facing roof is covered. Albeit not when it's needed hence the FIT to subsidise your evening usage while business uses what you generate during the day.

I suppose this depends on your definition of plenty of power. Some back-of-the envelope calculations suggest to me that you'd be lucky to get more than 100W/m^2 on average in the south, half that in Fort William.

>
> Also, the government pays the subsidy through the utility provider, the UP isn't 'forced' to pay out. You claim from UP, UP claims from the treasury, UP pays you your FIT.

This is not my understanding of it. I thought the treasury paid some admin costs, but most of the FIT costs were passed onto the other customers (albeit with some safeguards to make sure all electricity companies paid equally)
http://www.fitariffs.co.uk/FITs/principles/funding/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feed-in_tariffs_in_the_United_Kingdom
If I am wrong I would appreciate a reference.

>
> [...]
>
> They're not dead at 20 years, just tired (down to about 75% output capacity IIRC). You may choose to swap them out for better tech but you could equally well keep using them as they age.
>

I have some old panels (not roof panels, much smaller things), about 15 years old. They have about 20% of their rated output. Perhaps these were particularly cheap, or perhaps the technology has moved on and modern panels will last better.

Jack
SteveRi - on 10 Oct 2013
In reply to Andy Nisbet:
> The only snag is that extra energy you develop is fed to earth, although you get paid for it as if it was going into the National Grid. It would cost too much to actually feed it in to the National Grid (at least where I live), so itīs binned. So itīs a bit of a con as far as environmental reasons go.

Say what? I've never heard of this.
Blizzard - on 10 Oct 2013
In reply to Andy Nisbet:

The news recently has been banging on about future blackouts, how can your statement be correct if the electricity is needed?
wercat on 10 Oct 2013
In reply to Lord of Starkness:

There was a possible problem mentioned on t' wireless a few days ago. Apparently future purchasers of the property can hav eproblems raising a mortgage due to the roof being subject, effectively, to a lease.
jkarran - on 10 Oct 2013
In reply to Jack B:

> I suppose this depends on your definition of plenty of power. Some back-of-the envelope calculations suggest to me that you'd be lucky to get more than 100W/m^2 on average in the south, half that in Fort William.

You get a bit more than that peak but your envelope isn't far off. I'd call that plenty on a house roof.

> This is not my understanding of it.
> http://www.fitariffs.co.uk/FITs/principles/funding/
> If I am wrong I would appreciate a reference.

Hmm... not my understanding, I was looking into this this week and at least one of the suppliers had a diagram of the payment process that was as I described. I can't find it again, perhaps it was out of date or itself wrong...

http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/Generating-energy/Getting-money-back/Feed-In-Tariffs-scheme-FITs has a load of links at the bottom

> I have some old panels (not roof panels, much smaller things), about 15 years old. They have about 20% of their rated output. Perhaps these were particularly cheap, or perhaps the technology has moved on and modern panels will last better.

Perhaps or perhaps it only ever produced 25% of its 'rating'. That's one upside of the MCS certified products, they can actually produce what's stamped on the back.

jk
Denzil - on 10 Oct 2013
> Typically, they will last for about 20 years, then will need to be disposed of. Currently, it is not too expensive, but with much more of these things coming to the end of their life and with their high toxicity, that might go up. Or down, if better recycling options are developed.
>
It's not the solar panels which have any significant toxicity - it's the manufacturing process which generates toxins, just like the rest of the semiconductor industry.

In terms of generation - some figures from my west facing panels near Oldham. Over two years total generation 5,400 kWHr.

Since the start of May ( when I installed additional monitoring equipment ) total generation 1,752 kWHr, of which I used 447kWHr. Additional purchased units 800kWHr. So I've used a total of 1,247kWHr and the national grid has received 1,305kWHr of electricity from me.
Heybaz - on 10 Oct 2013
In reply to Lord of Starkness:

For what it's worth - some of these installation firms get you to sign a contract effectively leasing them a chunk of your roof. No problem until somebody (maybe a potential buyer) wants to raise a mortgage against the property at which point you may regret ever going there!
Wulfrunian - on 10 Oct 2013
In reply to Lord of Starkness:

I'm speaking as an ex-director of an MCS solar pv installation company here. Such rent-a-roof schemes aren't a con. However, the benefits to the average householder are generally quite small.

My advise to anyone considering this approach is:
If you really want solar panels, pay for your own system. If you can't afford it, borrow the money. If you don't want to or can't borrow, then consider rent-a-roof as a last resort. You are effectively leasing your roof to the company, who will make a fair old bit of cash from it. You, on the other hand, will get a bit of free electricity during the day. If you have a large demand during the day, all well and good. If not, you may save 10-20% on your elec. bill per annum. The installation company will be earning Feed in Tariff and export payments on whatever's generated. You will earn cock all. They will be looking to make their outlay back in around 6-7 years. To do this, they will more than likely employ chimps to throw the system in as quickly and as cheaply as possible. Is your roof up to it? Have they had a structural engineer measure up and calculate the dead load and wind lift from the array? If not, walk away.

Read their small print. What happens if you want to move house? Speak to your mortgage people to see what they say (they may well not care, but it's better to find out)

The panels lasting 20 years is b*ll*x. The incentive scheme lasts 20 years. The panels should last much much longer.

Apologies if this comes across as abit anti-rent-a-roof, but, for a variety of reasons, I am!!
Mad Tommy - on 10 Oct 2013
In reply to Wulfrunian:

And don't forget to talk to your house insurance company as well, as it can class as a major alteration and has additional risks associated with it (roof collapse, wind damage, electrical fires)
David Barratt - on 10 Oct 2013
In reply to Lord of Starkness: This is not a con. My Mum looked into doing this and sadly it's only availabe in England for now (at least when she looked at it)
David Barratt - on 10 Oct 2013
In reply to Wulfrunian: Well put. The FIT revenue is the incentive. I work on developing hydro power schemes mostly and it's amazing how much FIT generates relative to the domestic rate.
Lord of Starkness - on 11 Oct 2013
In reply to Wulfrunian:

The company who approached us appear to be one of the largest in the industry, and claim to 'tick all of the boxes' regarding mortgage lenders, structural surveys. I'm a pensioner - (not a wealthy one or with a hefty occupational pension) and whilst having some cash reserves don't want to plough it all in to an installation that won't really start generating income for 7 or 8 years. I'm in the happy position of not having any debts or finance deals other than a couple of 'interest free' deals that I know I can pay off at any time. The cash does me more good earning a little bit of interest in my account than in the coffers of the car dealer or furniture company - and we can still have holidays when we want to. I don't want to erode our holiday fund!

The prospect of modest savings on my electricity bills (until I'm in my late 80's at least - that's if I survive that long) with no cash outlay is quite attractive.
jkarran - on 11 Oct 2013
In reply to Lord of Starkness:

I'd get some quotes and do some research, see whether FIT will pay for a loan on your own install or pay you enough income to make it a worthwhile investment. That way you get the power, the income, the panels are yours and so's your roof.

Good calculator here so you're prepared against being bamboozled by salesmen http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/Generating-energy/Getting-money-back/Solar-Energy-Calculator

It could be you need a pretty big install 3-4kWpk to make a worthwhile income but if you have the space the cost of an install is far from linearly related to installed capacity.

jk
ebygomm - on 11 Oct 2013
In reply to Lord of Starkness:

I have some colleagues who have done this.

They are saving money, but they'd save more by not using the tumble dryer at all rather than only using it when it's sunny!
alexcollins123 - on 11 Oct 2013
In reply to Lord of Starkness:

My parents just had 4kW-worth of panels fitted to their house in the South, and its crap... On a HOT and crystal clear day they have maxed out at 3.8kW producing at any one time, and about 17kWh in a day. On a grey day I think the least ever produced was 2kWh all day!

Seriously dissapointed and not worth the c. Ģ6k they paid for them. Maybe if we lived in Spain and had sun lots of the time, but for grey old england you won't get anything. This is the case with all the other people they have spoken to since installation too.
Wulfrunian - on 11 Oct 2013
In reply to alexcollins123:

They only thing that sounds crap about that is their expectations to be honest. Have they been missold? Surely their installer would have provided information on the expected annual generation, along with payback illustrations from the Feed-in Tariff? And a HOT day is not good for the panels - the output drops off as their temperature increases. The vast majority of 4kW systems are capped at maximum 16A grid injection (to keep the grid operator happy), which would explain the output limiting at 3.8kW

Even so, 17kWh in a day at this time of year is pretty good. Daylight hours are shortening and the strength of sunlight falling on the panels is getting less and less. Mine have struggled to top 2kWh today, but it has been heavily overcast most of the day and raining for a good few hours too.

But seriously, what did they really expect?

SteveRi - on 11 Oct 2013
In reply to Wulfrunian:
Mm, 17kWh is a lot of juice. I'd struggle to use that ...but even if I could I'd still be getting paid for half of it. I've done 2.5 on a 2kW system today.
jkarran - on 13 Oct 2013
In reply to alexcollins123:

> My parents just had 4kW-worth of panels fitted to their house in the South, and its crap... On a HOT and crystal clear day they have maxed out at 3.8kW producing at any one time, and about 17kWh in a day. On a grey day I think the least ever produced was 2kWh all day!

You may very well find the inverter is software-capped at 3.8kW (16A) for regulatory simplicity.

jk
Graham Mck on 13 Oct 2013
In reply to Wulfrunian: I used the website in the link below to see whether this might be worthwhile for me:

http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/Generating-energy/Getting-money-back/Solar-Energy-Calculator

It basically says the cost of installing a 2Kw system is Ģ5770 and that my income/savings over 20 years would be Ģ6933.

This means I save Ģ1163, which equates to interest on my initial investment of just under 1% a year over 20 years.

If I have got my assumptions/sums right how is this a good deal?


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