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Confessions of an ignorant solar panel owner

People holding solar panels

I’m known to boast about my energy efficient flat and share my love of my solar panels. Trouble is, until recently I knew nothing about them. How do I look after them, what type are they – and where exactly are they?

My neighbours must have thought I’d had a bit of a funny turn this week. I’ve been circling our building trying to work out where our solar panels are.

I’ve seen them on other buildings – shiny, big… and pretty obvious. But mine were nowhere to be seen.

Confession one – anyone seen my panel?

I’ve hunted through contract documents – you’d think there would be a drawing of some sort to detail where they were – but nope, nothing there. So I gave in and called the company that installed the panels.

I was pretty chuffed when the guy on the phone knew where they were at the mention of my road – it didn’t sound like he was verifying the details on a computer as he answered so quickly.

Bingo – they’re on the flat part of the roof!

Confession two – solar PV or thermal?

Whenever I say I have solar panels the first question on everyone’s lips is ‘thermal or photovoltaic (PV)?’. My typical response is ‘I don’t know but my energy bills are pretty cheap’. That answer seems to bide me a bit of time, but it’s pretty embarrassing to not know.

Well, I can now say that I’m the proud owner of solar thermal panels – they heat my water and are potentially saving me £60 a year on my gas bill. They typically cost £3,000 to £5,000 to install. Lucky for me they came with the house, otherwise I think I’d struggle to reassure myself that I’d break even by the time I’m 78!

Confession three – FIT or lazy?

I’ve always been a bit intrigued as to why people ask if my solar panels belong to the FIT scheme – also known as a feed-in tariff. Well I’m now feeling slightly jealous that I could be making money on excess energy generated by our panels (if they were of the PV variety).

But as it is, they’re solar thermal. They’re not eligible for the scheme but might allow me to take advantage of the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme in 2012. I could receive a payment for every kilowatt hour of renewable heat they produce.

Confession four – in need of some TLC?

Other than telling people I love my panels – and shouting at the roof from time to time – my other concern is how to look after them. So far I know that I have to check the tubes and give the panels a quick clean – I think I’ll be getting a professional to do that bit!

I’ll be logging on to our solar panel Q&A today with some questions I’m still seeking answers for.

Is renewable technology something you’d like to have in your home? Are you put off by the prospect of getting your head round it all? If so, ask your questions on our solar panels Q&A – Thursday 6th October from 12.30-2.30pm.


Hi, which is currently the best (most efficient) panel available? thanx

OK, now it’s all over I have a spare moment.

Every day almost I get a card in the letterbox or email pitching solar. Often implying a ton of ‘free’.

As with lunches, I have my doubts.

The latest I look at has more industry/quality logos than an F1 champ’s cap, but what should I look for really?

Can’t help but notice the *installation costs apply in 4pt type, too, vs. savings of £941.00 (not £940 or almost a thou, but £941). Potentially.

Plus with efficiencies in solar kit going up like Moore’s Law on PCs, is there a point at which one can aim on the basis of genuine envIROI vs. subsidy supported smoke & mirrors?

Hello – just wanted to add for anyone that missed yesterday’s solar panels live Q&A, you can replay it here: http://www.which.co.uk/environment-and-saving-energy/energy/reviews-ns/solar-panels-live-qanda/, or read through the PDF transcript we’ve added to the bottom of the page.

Our experts were kept extremely busy – we were inundated by literally hundreds of questions! A big thank you to Jim Kenney of Chelsfield Solar (a recommended Which? Local solar panel installation company) and Ian Cuthbert, microgeneration manager at the Energy Saving Trust, for coming along and sharing their expertise.

Blimey, just had a phonecall now as well.

How many companies are there ‘in the area’ on this mission?

There seems a heck of a lot of money out there in support of this.

How much goes to the consumer, or to reducing GHGs, and how much into the pockets of get-rich-quick subsidy dealers will be interesting.

Well unlike many you have at least done the sums.
A saving of about £60 per year on your gas bill is about right and your estimate of around £4000 installation is also not far off the mark.
Now £4000 divided by £60 comes to a 66 year payback. Ok to be fair gas will increase over time so it will be less than 66 years but still a very long time.
You have to be some tree hugging planet saving fanatic to lash out that sort of money because a good economic deal it most certainly ain’t.

More money and Co2 could be saved by spending that £4000 on insulation to cut down on space heating energy usage and cost.

Hi – in reply to the last two posts.

Before anyone gets suspicious, yes we do install solar pv panels!

There are a lot of benefits with solar pv – there are also a lot of crazy claims by some firms. There is some free electricity – but only if you’re using it in the day when the panels are producing power.

The major benefit is through the Feed In Tariff. On systems we have installed and checked later, we find they are over-performing very slightly based on SAP 2009 calculations. If you’re seeing figures such as £941, this tends to suggest that the company quoting them is using SAP calculations – which we are supposed to use under REA guidelines. They are probably – quite correctly – following the industry’s code of conduct.

Efficiencies in panels may go up, but you can still currently only install a G83 compliant system, so a more efficient panel won’t mean you can get any more power!

Panel efficiencies are one of the most misleading things in the industry for domestic consumers who tend to get themselves obsessed by it. A 250w panel should produce 250w. A smaller panel is more efficient as it produces its power from less area. It doesn’t make it any better – you’ll still only get 250w! Low light performance is much more important, but more difficult to quantify.

There is some talk of ‘grid parity’ in the industry, where the payments back to the producer reflect the value of the power produced. A bit worrying when you consider how much electricity prices would have to rise to meet this – even as the equipment becomes cheaper.

Also, don’t forget FIT rates decrease in April ’12, making possible savings on lower priced equipment less attractive.

Just posted this on Plebble Review Site As usual no one is monitoring or regulating such as Energy Saving Trust . It is a call centre unable to address issues of fraud? BEWARE ….!
Something is not quite right here . First they[ The Eco Experts? spam you with email under Money Saving Tips ??!! Then when you investigate they phone within 1 sec even though Iam on preference service.
They gave average figure it was £8000, ” for how many panels ” I asked . They said would have to quote I said how many panels did £8000 relate to as picture has 28 ??! The girl said to look at picure. Isaid any good company could estimate cost of one panel ? Then she put the phone down??!!There is no contact address or email .i got it from the spam [ sounds like Martins Money Saving Tips [ reputable site] who suggest solar panel savings??!!
It also says they the Eco Experts collaborate with eon npower etc ??!!I According to them this is not true so are they acting illegally?

You can find the Eco Expert’s contact details on their website here: http://www.theecoexperts.co.uk/contact-us

ael solar says:
11 November 2012

Eco Experts NOT they are miss sealing on there web site there costing chart is totally wrong pay back to high
install cost to high when phoned did not have any idea just sales jumping on the band wagon
total rip off
regards solar eng

One thing that people may not be aware is that Inverters cease operating if the volatge coming in from your supplier is too high. The statutary voltage level is a maximum of 253 and if the volatge goes much above that the inverter ceases operating until the volts reduce. This can be very expensive if it happens during the best sunny weather. The standard meter fitted with a PV system only shows the kWh generated not the instantaneous generation. So if you have high volts your days generation may be quite low. If that seems to be lower than you would expect it is probably worth having your supply voltage checked.

My inverter warranty has expired, and I’ve been approached with an offer of a ‘maintenance package’ for my solar panels. It looks quite expensive (£20 per month), and I’m wondering whether it’s worth taking out such a package. Which says nothing about maintenance, other than that the inverter might need replacing at some stage.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Michael – To see whether this would be the best option you need to consider very carefully what is included in the maintenance contract you have been offered. Better terms and service arrangements might be available elsewhere – there are plenty of service contracts listed on-line. It might even be more financially advantageous for you to put £240 a year away into a savings account at the best rate of interest you can find and then, if and when something goes wrong, you will have a cash reserve available. It is unlikely that a £20 a month contract would cover any serious expenditure [like replacement panels or even a replacement inverter] but do examine the contract carefully, especially minimum contract duration, exit notice periods and terms, price changes, what happens if you move, and so on.