More than 800,000 British households use solar panels to reduce their energy bills and earn money by selling power back to the grid. With the government’s incentives due to end in the new year, however, are they still worth the expense?
How do solar panels work?
Solar panels use photovoltaic cells to capture energy from the sun, which they convert into electricity. They work best on sunny days, but also draw energy when it is overcast.
The most common are monocrystalline and polycrystalline silicone panels. Monocrystalline panels are more energy efficient, take up less space and perform better in low light but they are more expensive. Polycrystalline panels are cheaper but take up more space and are less efficient.
How much do solar panels cost?
The average cost of solar panels plus installation has halved over the last decade from around £12,000 to £6,000. This sounds like great news for households but the reality is that it will take most families much longer to recoup their initial outlay as the government’s support payments dwindle.
What is happening to government tariffs?
The government launched its solar panel support scheme in 2010. It pays a feed-in tariff for all the electricity a household generates whether they use it or not. It also pays an export tariff for electricity you don’t use that is sold back to the grid.
In the scheme’s early days, these payments were very generous and the average household could expect to recoup their set-up costs in around 12 years. But these payments have been falling and the government is planning to scrap them altogether on March 31, 2019.
If you install solar panels before the deadline and qualify for current government tariffs, you are likely to recoup the cost of installation in around 20 years (depending on your energy usage).
However, if you install solar panels after March 31, the only financial benefit will be savings on your energy bill for the power you generate and use yourself. Some estimates suggest it could take more than 70 years to recoup the initial outlay, which is far longer than the panels can be expected to last.
How do I install solar panels?
If you want to get solar panels before the deadline, you will need to act quickly. Find a local installer and book in the job as soon as you can. Once they have been installed, you will need an MCS certificate from your installer plus an Energy Performance Certificate to register for the government’s support payments with your chosen energy supplier.
What if I already have solar panels?
If you have solar panels and receive support payments already, you won’t be affected by the changes next year. You will continue to receive the payments for 20 or 25 years, depending on when you had them installed and certified.
Do solar panels increase your home’s value?
Solar panels and the tariffs they earn remain with the house when it is sold. If the technology is relatively new and the panels generate substantial savings, they could push up the value of your house. If, however, they are an eyesore or the technology is outdated, they may have the opposite effect.
Can I switch energy provider if I have solar panels?
Absolutely. You can move your energy supply to any provider you like. If you are on your existing provider’s standard default tariff, you could save more than £631 a year by switching. Your feed-in tariff will not move to the new provider but will remain with your current one. As the tariffs are fixed by the government, you will receive the same amount regardless of which supplier has the account.
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