Over the years when I would tell people I was working in solar power they would ask many questions to try and understand if these bizarre blue panels being placed on their British roof would be worth all the fuss they had heard about them. Questions like Are solar panels worth investment? Do they work in the UK? What if my roof doesn’t face the sun directly? became regular.
These are all valid questions and it’s great that so many people are considering making such a positive step and financial investment into renewable energy. I have performed many solar feasibility studies on Local Authority housing and public building portfolios but in order to know whether solar panels will represent a viable option for your household you will need to consider a few factors and seek expert installer advice.
In this post I will look at what you need to think about and who you can approach for a quotation on your property as well as for in depth advice specific to your situation.
In the UK we obviously get less sun than many countries around the world and so people’s concerns about how much energy would be produced are valid but with technology improving the way it is meaning there is higher efficiency and affordable battery storage on the horizon it is a sure bet that energy usage can be maximised from your PV array.
As mentioned in previous posts, the orientation of your roof is essential. You will obviously need to have a roof with a southern incline but even a slightly east or west facing roof will receive sunlight and will be suitable for panels. Once you have identified this you can then think about whether your roof is in the right state to support your eco dreams.
If the roof is in good condition and there is no shading this will be the ideal conditions for a solar install.
How does the roof fare?
The condition of the roof and it’s ability to actually support the panels is of utmost importance. A solar panel weighs about 20 kg each and most pitched roof installation will be secured to the wooden roof structure under the roof substrate. The tiling and foundation structure need to be relatively new; if your roof is damaged, there are roof tiles loose or there are damaged rafters you will need to make sure these are taken care of before you go any further. You can receive a structural survey from most solar installers for little or no charge.
So, your roof does meet the neccessary standards? Great, then are you allowed to put panels up there?
Since 2008 in the UK solar panel installations have been classified as Permitted Development and so do not require Planning Permission. However, there are still factors to be considered such as if the property is in a Conservation Area. If so, then you might run into issues as there are regulations about maintaining architectural style within these areas. If the panels are likely to be out of view of the general public then this will weigh in your favour. You can always get in touch with your Local Authority Planning Officers to find out about your area.
Beyond the permission needed from the Local Authority you also need to consider the ownership of the building. Owning the freehold on the building is obviously the most straightforward and requires no additional consulting; shared freehold will mean consulting among your fellow dwellers and possibly seeing if they might like to invest with you for a share of the energy and financial returns. Lastly a leasehold will present the most complicated scenario as you will need to consult not only the freeholder but also the other leaseholders. Should your building have many tenants, like in a block of flats then it could be an idea to look into community energy schemes which organisations like Repowering (my previous employer) and SELCE in London assist to deliver. If the building belongs to the Council you will have to create a lease agreement with them to use the roof space for the 20 or 25 years expected lifetime of the panels.
Energy Use Patterns
Once you know that there is consensus to the installation and that the structure can support it, you will need to think about how many panels you can install, how much energy these will produce and how much of your energy demand it will provide. This involves energy monitoring and looking at your energy bills. If battery storage is an option then the timing of your energy use is less critical as you can draw on the stored energy at any time. If not (battery storage increases cost considerably at this point in time) you will have to consider that energy being generated during the day will either be used in the building or sent to the grid.
Whilst you will make money selling energy to the grid, it will be less than you pay to the energy companies and so you would rather use the solar energy to do your clothes washing or cooking. Again solar installers will guide you through this process of understanding your energy consumption.
The Feed In Tariff (FiT) is a government led subsidy which rewards renewable energy generators for producing clean energy. As long as the panels you have installed are MCS accredited and connected by an appropriate installer then you can register for this through Ofgem. For a house owner this tariff is likely to be about 4p / kWh (as of the end of 2017) though this is periodically reducing as the government looks to have solar being subsidy free.
A typical solar panel is rated at 250 W, which is 0.25 kW. An average UK house’s roof can accommodate between 8 and 14 panels which gives a system of between 2 and 4 kilo Watt Peak (kWp). An installation of about 3 kWp will provide 2,500 kWh over the year (this is calculated using an approximate figure for yield of UK sunlight hours). Given that the average UK household consumes 4,600 kWh your average household system won’t provide for all your energy needs but can definitely contribute significantly to savings on existing energy rates as well as providing an income from the FiT. Once secured, the FiT will increase year by year; payback can be expected by about year 8 and over the lifetime of the install you can actually expect a fairly handsome income on the energy generated and sold to the grid.
An Energy Performance Certificate shows how energy efficient a property is, as well as it’s optimum potential. Solar Panels will increase the rating.
Every property being sold requires an EPC but these Energy Performance Certificates are also required when having solar PV installed. A surveyor will look over your home for stipulated levels of energy efficiency including ventilation and insulation. As you probably know there are different bands for a home to fall into. Having solar panels will boost your EPC rating adding value to your home. This should not be taken as a way to avoid making improvements to insulation or the heating system.
Solar Panels on the Horizon?
The above gives you an insight into what will form the basis of your decision making when looking into installing solar panels on your home.
Where do we stand in regards to the questions people have about solar power in the UK:
What if my roof doesn’t face the sun directly?
In this case you should probably avoid installing solar panels as they will be lacking the key ingredient: sunlight!
Do they work in the UK?
Undoubtedly, yes! We have shown how a typical house in the UK can expect to generate about half of the year’s energy use. Solar panels operate even in ambient light so even winter will see energy generation. Expect the bulk of your production during the summer months though.
Are solar panels worth investment?
Yes, definitely. Beyond the environment benefits and direct energy income and savings you will don’t forget that solar panels on your roof will increase the value of your home.
So to take your renewable energy transition to the next stage get a free quote and see just how much a solar panel system will actually cost as an initial investment:
Solar PV calculator provided courtesy of Solar Guide.