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Is now the best time to buy solar panels?

Solar panel

Although summer is nearly over, now might be the best time to buy solar panels. Will you be rushing out to buy some?

A government scheme, called the Feed-in Tariff, pays owners of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels for each unit of electricity their solar system produces. The rate of the Feed-in Tariff was very generous when it was first launched in 2010, but has since been cut a few times to manage a big uptake of solar PV panels amongst householders.

Once you sign up to the Feed-in Tariff the rate is guaranteed for the next 20 years. This has meant that buying a solar PV system has been a good financial investment for many, with the initial upfront cost likely to be recuperated in about 8-12 years. The remaining years of Feed-in Tariff income are then straight profit.

Should you buy solar panels now?

Three things play a part in why now might be the best time to buy solar panels:

1. Price of solar panels have been coming down

Our survey of solar panel owning Which? members found that while they used to pay on average £11,329 for a solar system back in 2011, those who splashed out this year have paid just £6,750 on average.

Cost of solar PV

2. But at the same time the rate of FiT is dropping

The government’s proposing a big cut to the payments solar panel owners get for generating their own electricity. Currently, the Feed-in Tariff pays 12.92p per kWh for any electricity generated, but the government is proposing to cut this by 87% to 1.63p from January. Those already on the Feed-in tariff though will keep the rate they signed up for.

Nothing has been confirmed yet and this proposal is going through a period of consultation but it feels that whatever the final outcome will be, it’s very likely there will be further cuts to the Feed-in Tariff rate.

3. Prices could go up by 15%

A recent EU ruling is likely to push costs of solar PV systems up by 15%. The EU concluded that the 5% VAT currently charged in the UK for energy-saving materials for housing (including insulation, as well as solar panels) violates the EU’s VAT Directive. So VAT would have to be charged at 20% on solar panels.

The government’s studying the judgement and considering its next steps, so we’ll have to see which way this one will go.

Any change as a result of the ruling wouldn’t be retrospective and wouldn’t affect anyone who had already pre-ordered or prepaid for their solar panels.

So what do you think? Should we rush to buy solar panels before January next year?

Comments
Member

Whilst I am in favour of sensible micro-generation schemes such as PV panels I find it strange that we have strict planning laws that govern the appearance of buildings, including roofs, and then abandon those to allow solar panels to be fitted. The appearance of a building and environment can suffer markedly, as the picture on the Which? Guides – Solar panels – online shows.
Personally I would much rather PV installations were done on a larger scale by local authorities for example where they can be more efficiently installed. On roofs in an industrial estate or open sites with no other potential. Council tax payers might then benefit.

Member

I have been looking at houses recently and realise just how ugly solar panels (PV and water) are. On the other hand, the demand for energy is such that perhaps we just have to put up with the appearance, as we have with TV aerials and satellite dishes. It would be good if new housing and other buildings were built with solar panels fitted and orientated so as to get the maximum benefit from the sun. Surely it must be possible to design solar panels that are more visually acceptable. With existing housing, the opportunity to install solar panels will depend on various factors. I feel they could look less visually intrusive if they were part of a roof rather than bolted on to it.

With solar PV, I don’t think anyone should receive more via the feed-in tariff than what they would pay for the same electricity.

Member

The feed-in tariff was originally introduced by HMG because they would not give grants for solar panels so making the price on a par with electricity prices would null the incentive for installing them . Exactly on par with the governments policy of removing green energy as a means of supplying English Electricity via grants to be removed in April 2016, and substituting nukes.

Member

“how ugly solar panels….”. I agree . We happen to live in an area with strict planning laws, including a village plan. These control the development and alteration of properties and specify the types of materials that can be used, including the colour and material of roof tiles, to preserve the character. But then you can covour your roof with solar panels! Whatever the enery benfits it just makes a nonsense of planning objectives.

I see little point in having individual installations of PV panels when much larger, more economic, installations could be created that would feed into the grid. Plenty of large commercial and industrial roofs available as sites.

Member

One of my friends lives very close to a very rural area that is heavily protected for its wildlife (SAC, SPA, Ramsar and SSSI), which in theory should make it difficult for development. Apparently the rules are being ignored there so I am not surprised that solar panels are appearing in villages. As energy prices rise there will be more demand, so hopefully the appearance of solar panels can be improved.

Member

I should be very pleased if there were no more incentives to install solar panels [such as feed-in tariffs that exceed the normal consumption tariff]. The only people I see who seem to be benefiting from this scheme are those who are wealthy enough to install a lot of solar panels and fortunate enough to have a roof that faces the right way; the “incentive” is paid for by the rest of the population. Installation grants might have been a more equitable way of achieving the micro-generation objective. Perhaps Messrs Miliband and Brown hadn’t thought it through properly.

Member

Some houses near us were built with two large solar water-heating panels on the roof, largely as a marketing initiative I think but the houses were premium-priced accordingly so I hope the owners are finding the extra cost worth while. Although they don’t look too bad – not much different to Velux windows except for their large area – the panels are not exactly integrated into the profile of the roof but just sit on it.

I dislike the arrays of PV panels that many houses have now, especially when, in order to maximise the export potential, they do not maintain a strict rectangular grid but have ‘wings’ at the sides to fit round chimney stacks or dormer windows or to squeeze another one in within the shape of the hipped roof. Panels on bungalows usually look completely out of scale to me but, of course, they often have much larger roofs in order to cover the same area of accommodation.

Member

I wonder if it would be possible to construct a roof of (replaceable) solar PV panels, which might look less visually intrusive than the present designs that look decidedly out of place. That might be an attractive option where a roof is due for replacement anyway.

The only people I know with solar panels have them out of sight at the back of their houses. I have no idea if anyone has solar panels near my home but if they do they are not visible from the road.

Member

So much of the solar panel opportunity is a matter of chance. In a main road I use frequently, and which runs east-west, those houses on the north side have their panels on the fronts whereas those on the south side have them on the rear [for obvious reasons]. Most residents moved there long before the feed-in tariff sprang up and it was a matter of luck if their frontages happened to be facing the sun or against the sun. The residents of the roads that lead off this main road at right angles have not installed solar panels because their roof orientation is not favourable. People in flats or in rented property are generally prevented from having solar panels so it’s a very unequal opportunity.

Member

If you are constructing on the new or replacing a roof there are “solar tiles”……….mini panels without the big frames………They are linked together from the rear as they are fitted with water proof plug/socket arrangement………….I bit more expensive but do look good……………Usual colour which although shinier is not unlike slate
They are in effect a roofing system………complete with dummies for edges and tops plus ridges etc

Solar thermal vacuum tubes dont hide easy and although better output per area it’s not major
Personally I favour flat plate and they have been around in a semi flush form for some years………..Yes look like a big Velux but not those ones that sit proud with pipes coming out of them

The surface mounts are pretty much the only option as a retro fit

I wouldnt know why the builders used surface mount on a new build

I would not like to have panels on the north face of a roof but there are numbers on that for those interested and the real outputs whilst nowhere as good as south or due south were surprising

For a builder to include the panels in the build is a much cheaper option than retro
Everything retro seems to be the same

Member

Interesting, DeeKay. I expected there would be a more pleasing solution but probably significantly more expensive.

Regarding the two houses I referred to with solar water-heating panels – so far as I can recall the panels were fitted direct to the roof timbers but the depth of them means they stand out above the surrounding slates. Possibly, as an afterthought, the marketing department said “put solar panels on” after the roof structure had been designed and constructed and the builders were left to install them as best they could.

Member

Now lets start off straight,,,,,,,,I’m personally no oil painting……..where I live is not picturesque,,,,,,,,,,,,Long mucky lane,,,,,,,Not my doing but I cant chase the tractors that’s what farming is about and if we’re to live in the country this is where we find ourselves
Not the place for an XF Jag but I do like them

A panel as you described set on top of the rafters is a poor fitting of a flush panel I’d imagine………..Never seen such yet……….I’m sure I will but not yet
The Flush panel should have a proper measured frame made into the roof

But if I were building a new house in a nice tidy place I would only want the flush thermal panels…………PV panels are bad enough but thermal with the pipes out of them…………..NNOOoooo
I have fitted a few between our family but a advised a compromise
Both face due south but are vertical on a rear gable……..Like Wave says more by good luck than good guidance…………..maybe,,,,,,,,my children ask me to go look before they bought for these reasons
A vertical thermal works fine as they are all too big for summer anyhow and in cooler times the sun is lower so it seems to work
Our old farm house has 2 big panels hidden behind 2m high x 1m wide rear windows that are part of a 6 pane row……………Not too bad

Anyhow………..I used 2x1m flat plates……….The ones with one big window as such
I bolted them direct to the gable walls above the windows at a “considered” height for appearance…………
Once I had the pipework directly through the wall I then used plastic/upvc barge board and framed them with a frame just thick enough to cover the pipes………..Up close you know what it is but even the neighbours say they are the best looking panels in the village

So with a little effort!!!!!!!!

PV even the retro”on top” type is often not as tidy as it could be
I find many fitting systems sit very proud of the roof………now they cant be tight to the roof because as PV warms it looses a little efficiency so they need an air gap but they do not need 5 or 6 inches…………I am guessing that many installers have chosen the deepest brackets as they will “fit all”…………..I have not came across a “racking system” supplier/manufacturer who dont supply various heights of brackets to suit flat slate through to deep tiles and it is these deep tile brackets that I think i dont like being fitted to slate and normal tiles…………
Next and this is something I’ll use the word hate to describe…………….I hate the ends of the racks left sticking out……………Hacksaw,,,,,,,,,,,,,,Battery grinder but not those 2 or 6″ sticking out beyond the panels…………Again NNOOooooooo

Next is the brackets that as we would say juke up behind the tiles/slates
Those dont need to be right at the bottom were they are ugly beasts like an add on
and is needed is a little care at measuring the job out……………near all of these panels today at at least 1600mm tall,,,,,,,,,,getting a position below tiles is not difficult
Just do it a little tidier and the appearance whilst not perfect as at least made to look like someone tried
The other way that I’m forever seeing is like someone went out of their way to be untidy…………….But this is not rafters,,,,,,,,,these are out for all to see

So although I’m bonkers about the stuff solar panels can be made a little better with a little effort………….even my turbines are not white,,,,,,,,,,,,,,they are a light kinda pascal green with matt black blades and it works and has done for decades

Who decided so many are white………….The planners I’m afraid it seems

Member

I entirely agree Malcolm. The way that micro-generation has been dealt with for domestic property has been totally random and, in my opinion, grossly inequitable. The first FiT scheme led to the usual stampede of opportunistic installation companies who were on a massive learning curve and made many blunders and false promises as other Conversations on this site have amply demonstrated. The major energy companies, which could have ensured an orderly market and standardised systems, stood back and have in several cases made a pig’s ear of their own responsibilities to render the FiT payments. The street scene has been ruined in some areas as residents seek maximum coverage of their southerly roofs. People who live in listed buildings or conservation areas are denied access to the financial benefits of harnessing renewable energy, as are people unlucky enough to have no south-facing roof, or are living in multi-storey flats, or are in a rented property with a landlord who is not interested because it will not benefit them..

To answer the topic’s question, this is probably as good as time as any to buy solar panels because the FiT payments will only get worse, but there are lot of questions that people should ask first and cautions to bear in mind. They should also realise that it is no longer the money-making ‘investment’ that it was unscrupulously projected as when the scheme was first introduced. The first FiT contracts, at very generous rates, will not mature until 2030 meaning that taxpayers and, predominantly, electricity consumers will be subsidising the scheme heavily for the next fifteen years. At the end of each contract the FiT will fall to the level in force on that date [another potential lottery and whinge generator on the horizon – in an election year too].

The failure to promote enveloped schemes as Malcolm has suggested has been a serious lost opportunity. We now have local authorities cancelling communal schemes that were in the pipeline because the economics no longer justify them in view of the forthcoming FiT reduction. I am surprised that schools and hospitals have failed to adopt micro-generation – they often have acres of roof.

I do not criticise the speculators and other forward-looking householders who took advantage of the first FiT scheme; it was handed to them on a silver salver with water cress all round it so good luck to them. The tragedy is that the DECC (a) didn’t foresee that minimal inflation would unduly prolong the disparity in yields and relative inequity between the early adopters and the rest, (b) did not think it might be useful to put some break points in the contracts to progressively harmonise the tariffs as the FiT rates were adjusted over time, (c) did not realise that the installation market would be subject to excessive and damaging instability every time the FiT rate was reduced, (d) did not recognise that hard-up residents with no opportunity to benefit from the scheme [and in some cases with unavoidably high energy consumption themselves] would be subsidising for decades ahead people who were able to afford the initial outlay and are receiving considerable financial benefits , and (e) did not establish any leadership through the electricity supply companies over the market, technical standards and payment systems. All I can say is thank you Mr E Miliband.

The present government will probably do nothing to re-balance the scheme or make it more equitable across all consumers and sees reducing the FiT rate to an unattractive level as providing the pathway for an easy escape from the controversy.

Member
Mike Fox says:
24 September 2015

Will we ever be carbon neutral in this country? PV Solar Panels and other green sources of energy production are needed in much bigger numbers than the Government see fit to encourage. The proposals to reduce the FiT still further will make this path even more difficult to follow.

Member
Dave Cheese says:
28 September 2015

Well, by now you’ve probably heard that the government (“We’ll be the Greenest government ever”) has pulled the plug on the FiT payments as of 1st Jan 2016. This has started a stampede for solar before the cut off date. Considering that most companies close down for Christmas we (yes I work in the industry) believed that beginning of December would be when the order book would close. Oh how wrong could we be? The estimate is now mid November. More and more people realise that this is the last chance! Now for the article ‘Choosing a solar panel brand’ in October’s edition of Which? Unusually I have to take issue with this piece. It has no relevance to anyone trying to choose a panel for their system. It only deals with around 2% of the manufacturers and the information is only about a process of manufacturing not the panels and therefore is inaccurate. Interestingly you talk about the difference between Mono and Polycrystalline and write that Mono is more efficient, however you fail to publish that this ‘better’ efficiency is in higher light levels and not necessarily in a British ‘4 seasons in 1 hour’ climate with lower light levels. mention is given to Chinese panels and the reputation they have for being of poor quality band how unfair this is. But nowhere in the article is there mention of how to tell the difference between good and bad! Also, you talk about shade as if it is a great mystery and as if micro inverters are the only answer. They’re not! I would point you towards Solar Edge Optimisers which are cheaper, more robust and likely to outlast most inverters. Finally you give No indication as to what happens to guarantees and warranties should a company go out of business, which let’s face it will be 95% of the industry on the 1st January 2016.

Member

Yes Dave -“”greenest government ever ” -Hiiiiiim ! (NOT !) and your right they not only will but have caused many small companies to be in dire straights (and some major companies severe disappointment ) and job losses precisely because those small companies took the government at their word started up or expanded business etc . Ah ! well they can all move to Scotland where addition help will still be forthcoming to keep small businesses operational and extra grants thrown in precisely for green energy where it not only is encouraged but is part of the Scottish government policy which makes the EU comment that Scotland (by itself ) is producing well above the EU quota for green energy . — Now if only Westminster thought the same.

Member

Three cheers for Scotland

Member

I have had solar PV long before any incentives were around. The incentives have to a degree worked and in my opinion should have continued. Yes I am aware that somewhere somehow we are paying for the incentives in generation measured in ROCs Renewable Obligation Certificates which are traded against black energy per se. So all the cost of the incentive is not all met by us.
The export, that is the electricity not used in that particular generation station no matter how small goes up or down the line a far 100 yards and is used buy something or someone else. The Utility pays the generator only a fraction of the retail value for that power and resells it for good profit and I dont go with this theory banded about that a few kw,s on a roof here and there has a big effect adverse on the local grid.
So we, the generators are generating electricity in competition to the big generation companies. Not an easy task especially when in a competitive market. The elec companies look at in simple money terms only. The accountants run such things be they wise or not. The local generation has little or no line loses and whatever profit is gained by reselling the locally produced elec is almost without hidden costs. The elec generated by big power is subsidised in all manner of means and the original power plants were paid for entirely by the tax payer and much later our tax payers investment was sold on the open market often at a silly price as the Gov often does. Today we use one fossil or another for the most part. Fossils have their problems are we are aware ( I think most are aware ) It doest matter whether we burn oil, gas coal. All have adverse emissions of one form or another and of some quantity or another. Non are clean.
Solar panels are not without pollution either but the manufacturing input is much less than the panels will generate in their lifetime and they unlike some silly forecasts will most likely be operating for decades long after FITs is gone or at least my own are along with many others.
The incentives should remain and not just on a “green” basis but on a long term economic basis.
Big oil in particular has been subsidised on just about every front for long enough
Today with the falling barrel price they are calling for tax breaks to let them survive. They didnt offer to pay extra when the going was good they were moving numbers around from country to country doing their best to avoid tax.
The Gulf has needed Policing for all my life to enable security of supply. This is something not banded about much but the costs are fact and has been dealt with including documentaries about it.
This Policing/Protection has been costly, I would say more costly than any incentive for RE of any form. But like most things if its out of sight its out of mind.
This is aside of even dealing with the many just or unjust wars that have happened and are happening.
So I would say keep the incentives going
Whatever we make is something we as a nation no longer have to import
The RE we make everywhere will reflect on the oil price as it has and our lifestyle will be bettered for that also.
To the original question about whether it is a good time to install PV
The best time was right back at the beginning of the incentives
Yes equipment was expensive but that was offset by the very good ROCs
As above some people got a poor job done but most got sorted and are operational. So much for the complete b******s MCS was????
Today the ROC’s/FITs is smaller but the equipment is much cheaper
The equiupment will most likely take another hit once the incentives fall or are stopped but not enough I feel to make it economically viable to wait for that
I know that this world of most folk revolves around money and that to invest in something without a fast payback is deemed as a bad move but what else can you invest in that is almost certain to continue to generate a return of every increasing value for most or more than my lifetime.
I look at it like drilling a very small hole in the ground and getting my very own very small spout of black stuff coming up out of it and bear in mind I drilled my hole when drilling was very expensive. Much more expensive than today.
I installed just this year my first and will be my only PV Array that will draw down ROCs/FITs. And I WILL NOT be receiving 14k per year that I saw in big Press lately per year. The array is 3350w peak and if I get £500 for generation and export I’ll be happy. I have several times that small array generation elsewhere on the property that does receive any incentive and never will. Not because it doesnt produce energy that doesnt have to be imported or because it is “not green” but because my BP panels were too old and not on the MCS list and because everything I have was installed long before ROCs/FITs happened.
So when I see people giving off about some little roof somewhere having these terrible looking things on it and that they may somehow be unjustly subsidising these terrible things I think to myself.
These people are happy to continue to pay far The little Flurrys around the very unstable Gulf region and are happy to use the UKs moneys to buy in a product which we can make quite a bit of right here.
There are may benefits in taking a Made in Britian attitude to more things than just big bits of steel.
I did it
I’m not wealthy
I have a family
I have grandchildren
I dont however have a Merc or a Bentley
I dont even have marble or granite work top
But I am happy to being doing my bit
Like most of my posts everywhere I do not wish to provoke a debate or outrage about my perhas off the wall views, rather I wish to provoke thought in a manner not put forward by the press and tv etc.
RE has many benefits rather than being the big bad overly subsidised monster it is made out to be.
It is not more the big bad over subsidised monster than Fossil is.
When was the last time you opened a paper or switched on the news and something good was on it. Seldom Big news, go take a hike. We know you are propelled by big money and like politicians lobbied by interests not concerned with our well being.
Try a very different view

Member

It is unfortunate that I cannot find any updates to the situation re: solar panels on the Which website, but I believe that the details of the FIT have been changed? or modified? Also, anything about solar panels on windows? As a member for quite a while, I am very disappointed (or missed out in the search!)

Member

Mark hopefully I can answer your question . With the costs of solar panels plummeting (see I CAN praise China for something ) ,the Government has announced plans in 2015 to reduce the FiT in -2016 -by 87 % -after a “rethink ” (I can guess who made them do that ) the Government backtracked and will be reducing it by a “mere ” 64 % (how humanitarian of them ) . And they say it will Quote – still allow households to earn a “”healthy “” 4.8 % return on investment over 20 years . Wow ! does Soros know about this ? BUT there is MORE it has also been announced that the government thinks the ordinary citizen is making too much money out of it (that right ?) so the FiT will be slowly -Phased OUT . Still not enough ? then the Government has “graciously ” decided to, put a CAP on annual new spending for the FiT . The CAP limits the amount of solar panels that can be registered for the FiT each quarter applications after the cap will be placed in a queue for the next quarterly cap . Makes you want to weep !

Member

Feed-in Tariff Quarterly Rates -2016-2019 – Q1 -4.39 (Generation Tariff for < 10KW (p/KWh ) -goes down over the years to -Q1 2019 -3.55 .

Member

There is a large amount of info on windows as solar panels on the Web,as is usual head to the US to get more detailed info . BUT do not fear ! Guess what ? Chris Binns ,Professor of Nanotechnology at Leicester has announced that their nanotechnology has ,in conjunction with EnSol (Norwegian solar power company have developed ==SPRAY on solar panels -very technical the film is composed of metal nanoparticles embedded in a transparent composite matrix and does NOT work on the same principle as solar panels . Even your whole building could be coated with this stuff – “Pie in the Sky ” ? NOPE ! EnSol hopes to achieve a cell efficiency of at least 20 % and have its product ready for the commercial market by =2016.

Member

The deposition of the thin film is done under laboratory conditions so would be supplied as complete panels presumably. “EnSol has established a state of the art deposition facility at it’s laboratory in Bergen. This unique Physical Vapour Deposition system, combines an unprecedented high flux nanoparticle source, with more standard thin film magnetron sputter capabilities. Routine multilayer cell & device fabrication, with nanoparticle, nanocomposite, metal, semiconductor or dielectric materials are possible on 10 cm x 10 cm substrates”

Member

Mark – It might be useful for you to look at the Energy Saving Trust website which gives the unvarnished facts about the changes to feed-in tariffs.

Member

I have a lot of Solar PV and I’d go for the well proven and tested mono or polycrystalline any day………..Both have fallen greatly in price in recent years and there are pretty few failures although the likes of Sharp/BP etc have had recalls of panels but I have not known anyone who actually seen a failed or reduce output panels during this……………Most were a result of discolouration of the rear and a couple of occasions was reported “dry connections” at the main junction but again I know no one who actually found dry connections………….

From the early days of thin film there has been companies came and went and not Chinese but US companies
Long before that the crystalline panels had been super reliable…………I had panels 15 years old when 3 year old thin films were failing…………..Much older now the crystalline are still going
All these thin film panels had 5 or 10 year warranties with 25 year 90% odd generation warranty…………not much use if the company no longer exists though

If I were given the choice I’d go for crystalline every time and recently late 2015 I bought a further 11/12kw of SunEdison monocrystalline………….So I am putting my money where my mouth is……………..and I am a private person who utilise near all of my energy for space heating and I do not get FITs so payback is not as good as would be for your normal grid tie system………..
Solar panels may have dropped in price but they are still not a cheap item so I could not in my mind take a chance on a technology that has a mixed track record…………..

One hears of panels failing but if one knew the whole story one might learn that human error had a larger than life part in this………….but as long as the customer got up and going they’ll not worry what they were told
Like everything workmen/companies usually blame the equipment rather than the work…………..

Anyhow while there are countless claims about thin films if you search it’ll not take long to find things I am sure
I remember many events in the PV game but names are not my strong point but one that stands out not long after I stopped work was in 2012 when chinese company Hanergy bought and removed the assets of Miasole no less than a silicone valley company for quite a bit below 10% of what investors had invested in it simply to get equipment because the assets/equipment were cheap…………….that would be typical of a thin film buyout……………Hanergy do produce thin film but whilst the testing may show results, time has not had it’s say yet…………….Miasole had mixed results

For the money I’d stay with tradition

Member

I have £5000 to spare. Should I buy premium bond or install 12 solar panels facing South South East, 25 year warranty on performance, on inverter with an optimiser, ie installed in parallel as opposed to series, 10 years materials and workmanship warranty ? I am over 65 and live 25 miles South of Brmingham, no shade on my slate roof pitched at about 40 degrees. I currentlypay an average of £77 per month (for both gas and electricity) and a four bed house.
Nobody seems to know. I shall be grateful for an answer

Member

One site says “A typical 4kW solar panel system will generate savings of £8,080 over 20 years and cost around £6,000. That’s a return on investment of over £2,000.
Proportioning this to your £5000 gives a return of £1733.

If you achieved the average return on premium bonds you’d get back £1473 (assuming you reinvested the winnings).

If you invested in a stocks and shares ISA you should get around £5000 gain, before charges.

If you had an existing £5000 overdraft, I’d use it to pay that off first – it would cost you £159 443.41 otherwise 🙁