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Are ‘free’ solar panel offers too good to be true?

Man fitting solar panels on roof

Following the introduction of Feed-in Tariffs, many companies are now offering free solar panels if you rent them your roof. It’s one way to avoid stumping up thousands of pounds for solar panels, but is there a catch?

In April last year, the Government introduced the long awaited Feed-in Tariff (FIT) scheme, which offers payments in exchange for generating renewable electricity.

The scheme promises good financial return. For example, for solar photovoltaics (PV), you can earn a 7-10% tax-free return, translating into £25,000 or more over the scheme’s 25-year period.

This is good news for those who can afford to buy a solar PV or a wind turbine. But what about the rest of us who don’t have £14,000 to stump up for a PV system?

Are ‘rent-a-roof’ schemes worth it?

Well, more and more companies have seen the opportunity and are offering ‘free’ solar PV in exchange for renting your roof.

The benefits are that you don’t have to put any money up front and often you’ll get to use the free electricity produced by the system. Plus, you don’t have the hassle of organising installation and the ‘rent-a-roof’ company will often cover maintenance of the system.

But what are the cons? By literally renting your roof for 25 years (the period of the FIT scheme), the company pockets the FIT payments, which means that once the investment in the system has paid itself back, all the profit goes to the company.

Which? research showed that whilst the offer of ‘free’ solar panels might be tempting, you would be financially better off paying for the PV system yourself, even by taking out a loan. Our calculations revealed that you could be up to £10,500 better off over the 25-year period with a loan.

Who pays for FIT?

FIT is paid for by a levy on energy bills. So, in effect, we’re all contributing to it. If you’re able to install renewable electricity on your property and claim FIT, then you’re benefiting from the scheme.

But what if you live in a flat? Or rent? Then you’re contributing to a scheme that you will never be able to benefit from.

Most importantly, while it might still be OK for other householders to benefit from FIT for the ‘common good’ of increasing our renewable capacity and reducing our impact on climate change; is it right that companies pocket the income?

Do you think companies should be allowed to benefit from FIT through ‘rent-a-roof’ schemes? Would you consider the FIT scheme – or would you rather invest the money yourself and buy a PV system upfront?

Tracey Inch says:
11 April 2012

Ecovision offered the Free solar panels for 25 yrs. I applied before Xmas and had 2 Surveyors out to the house that confirmed my house was suitable. Eventually in March I was told that the panels were to be installed and set a date. The solar panels turned up but no scaffolding or fitters so when I rang ecovision they told me the whole thing had been cancelled as the amount of solar panels had been increased from 10 to 14 & they couldnt get that many on my roof plus the cost of scaffolding was too much! I have complained but to no avail and I seem to have hit a wall. Any advice as to whether I have any rights to get these solar panels installed as promised would be greatly recieved. After all they must have spent a small fortune just to get to the installation stage after sending out 2 surveyors, registering the lease of the roof with land registry, getting permission from my mortgage company and sending solar panels from London.Help!!

You have no rights to force another party to proceed against their will, but you could claim for breach of contract. You would have to demonstrate a financial loss. And not just theoretical – you would have to show you were actually going to use the electricity and how much it will cost you to replace it. The other problem is that they could argue there is nothing to stop you renting your roof to another supplier, so there is in fact no loss to you other than in the very near term. I wouldn’t bother.

Derrick J says:
23 May 2012

Hi, I have answered the Ecovision ad and they have told me that my house is suitable, the next step is the paperwork and the Surveyor’s visit. Is your situation sorted out yet? or, is it advisable for me to politely decline?

Tracey Inch says:
23 May 2012

Out of the blue I had a phonecall from yet another surveyor saying that they needed to do an economical survey which is now required by the government apparently. They said they had been told by Ecovision to do this so after asking them to check again they came out and did another survey. They have now given me another installation date although I have to say I will believe it when I see it so keep posted.

Cleotilde Barberian says:
3 June 2012

The proposal from Govt subsidized feed in tariff schemes for cost-free solar energy panels is legit – however but there strings attached and consequences – it has to be remembered that ‘the only free cheese is in a mousetrap’

Solar PV panels are less than 18% efficient.
The industry needs to spend some R & D money to increase this
before I would even calculate the costs of installation and ongoing
Life costs.

I have been cold called by a solar panel company re installation of PV panels, and was assured that there would be no costs involved. However I am 74 and my wife is 72, and our mortgage is fully paid up. Would this be worth considering at our ages? And what happens if we sell our property?

David Fullarton says:
15 February 2014

Just to add yet another spurious company to the list of green energy supplier/assesors watch out if cold called by a company called Green Deal Rewards Ltd of Airdrie, Lanarkshire. They are offering assesments for £149-99 for Green Deal Funding, just a con. Nothing more nothing less. I am usually very careful about these things but I got involved with them, luckily I paid by Credit Card so was able to reclaim the money. The papers in Scotland have wind of them but this is to warn others of their activities. They have a lot of complaints about guaranteed refunds not happening and the local Trading Standards are investigating at the moment. Be warned about his company and its cold calling.

Not having a suitable roof for a decent solar PV installation I haven’t paid a lot of attention to this topic until I saw a new contribution to this Conversation a little earlier today. However, it is an interesting subject and I should like to kow more about how it is changing day-to-day lifestyles. A number of people have mentioned the opportunity to switch their use of electricity to day-times in order to make use of the free supply from their PV panels, but nobody has yet said how well this works in practice within the household. Presumably all the solar owners and roof-renters are putting on their immersion heaters and have reprogrammed their gas or oil boilers so that they get all the hot water they need for washing free of charge when the panels are generating. Programming the clothes washing and dishwashing is also a practical step, but does it work out to be as convenient as it sounds? Obviously, you have to be present to unload/reload the washing machine and to load the tumble dryer. Have people switched to doing the ironing at the weekends? And what about space heating? – Have people with solar panels invested in storage heaters that charge up in the daytime and discharge in the evenings? And if not, why not? Has the availability of free energy during the day-times to keep the hot water tank at optimum temperature made a significant difference to their gas or oil consumption for central heating? And are people improving their insulation values in order to optimise the gains from the free daytime energy? A lot of questions, but it would be interesting to get away for a moment from the pros & cons of the installation and into the practical day-by-day effects of running the home more economically and making the best possible use of every drop of juice supplied by your roof.

I have friends who used to be profligate (by their own admission) in their use of electricity but thanks to installation of solar panels now pay considerable attention to when they use energy. After the novelty wore off and their meter was replaced so that it did not run backwards at times, they lost a little interest but being retired they are able to use the washing machine and dishwasher when the sun shines.

I suspect that a larger than average installation would be needed to run heaters and heat water.

Andrewh says:
9 June 2014

We have had 14 panels of rent a roof for 2.5 years now, and it is great.sure we don’t get the cheques, but we certainly have lower electricity bills, and we haven’t paid a penny for the system.
To answer john ward, we try to use more power during daylight / the sunniest days, but are not obsessive about it. It is easier in the spring/ summer (obviously), when we tent to set the dishwasher at night with delay start for 5am so it runs under morning sun. And we run the washing machine in the daytime. If possible, we run the electricity guzzling appliances one at a time (kettle THEN toaster THEN microwave, where possible, but we are not obsessive about it, just mindful of the optimum.
We are not using immersion heater to heat water using electricity rather than gas. We have a young family so busy life’s, but with small changes we certainly reap the benefits.

J mccreadie says:
28 June 2015

Have you been charged any money at all for these as we’ve bee charged over £7000 for these and are definitely not saving any money at all and I am starting to think I made a huge mistake get these fitted for free under the government scheme.

Linrobo says:
8 February 2015

A Shade Greener paid a cold call to my house and said it was suitable for the solar panels and that they would send a surveyor out to confirm this. When I heard nothing I contacted them and they told me my roof had been found unsuitable, I said that my roof had sunshine (when it was out naturally) from morning til night, my garden is a real suntrap so I couldn’t understand what they were talking about, so they said they would get a surveyor to contact me. One month later I had still heard nothing from them so I phoned again – still nothing.

Could anyone recommend a good free fitting solar panel company for me to contact?

We’re thinking of buying a house which is fitted with the ‘free solar panels’. Should we? Who pays for any damage caused to the roof?

Hi Chas, thanks for your post about free solar panels. I’m pleased to let you know that we have lots of really helpful advice that’ll answer your questions, here:


Max says:
21 April 2015

I recently got a knock at the door from a company called Sunedison about a free solar installation. They took my details looked at my roof and told me all was good and I should be able to benefit. However when they sent a contract to view by email it turned out they needed my bank details and wanted me to set up a DD of about £45 per quarter. Ok it doesn’t sound alot for a solar installation but the premise was it was all free. Has anyone else had to pay anything for a “free” installation? or are they just trying to scam people?

Grace says:
9 June 2015

Hi Max

Sunedison is not free solar!! The insulation is free but they offer a energy saving plan and you can save upto 15% on your current electric bill. It depends on how many people are in your household during the day etc. When you got your propsal you would of seen how much you would of been saving.

J mccreadie says:
28 June 2015

I got the solar panels fitted in October of last year, they were free as I cou put the money up front and was told it would only cost me the 86 pence per day but my electricity supplier has put a debt of over £7000 onto my meter and are charging me £11.49 a week for a charge so we are in actual fact being charged way too much. I have also tried to leave the company and change to a different supplier for my electricity and have been told that because of the £7000 debt I owe to my current supplier I theref can’t lea them, can they do this us as I am most definitely not saving money as informed but paying out nearly £250 A MONTH for my electricity.

I thought i was doing my bit for the environment whilst saving on electricity bills..so signed up to a solar lease agreement which at the time felt like a win win situation. What these solar lease companies dont tell you about is all the pit falls of having an agreement that you cannot exit for 25 years. Difficulties in remortgaging, difficulties in selling your home should you wish to move on. Customer after care is appauling and these companies dont care about helping you as they are earning a fortune through the government initiated FIT tarriffs. I have lost my buyer because of this agreement (although the solar companies will argue that this isnt true) and will now potentially lose my forever home. I know from research that there are hundreds (if not thousands) of others out there that have been a victim to this type of arrangement so figure that if we find each other we can act collectively.

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scam says:
8 August 2017

I personally do not recommend anybody to get involved with any free solar panel offers. Most companies that are in existence are here for a quick buck. Check the company details and chances are they are a new young company. Check again in a years time and they wont exist or they have shut up shop and opened up again in another name. The energy industry is corrupt and the Government are allowing these con artists to do what they do because it helps the government hit there targets.

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