February 2011




What does it look like?

It looks like a whole set of windows on the roof.



What is PV?

Photo-voltaic (PV) solar panels produce electricity from light.

The alternative panels Solar Thermal or Thermodynamic heat up water directly.


What are FITS?

FITs are Feed in Tariffs where the Government has changed the rules and set the prices for the next twenty-five years for feeding electricity into the grid.  In Northern Ireland, the equivalent is NIROCs.


So what?

If you install solar panels now, you get paid for all the power produced and can use the electricity for free.  Any extra produced gets fed into the National Grid and you get paid a little more for it. Any extra you use is bought off your current supplier as now for 5-15p per kWh.


Prior to April 2010 you would get paid 3p per kWh for power you fed into the grid.


How much does it cost?

For a domestic property a £1,000 upwards.


Are then any other costs? 

This assumes that your electric connections and roof or grounds are ‘fit for purpose’. 

If the fuse box doesn’t meet the current regulations it’s probably time to upgrade it. 

If the roof doesn't have twenty-five years life in it, has broken tiles, no up to date ventilation then get it looked at. 

The system and installer has to be registered on the MCS scheme.

And in England you'll need an Energy Performance Certificate if you haven't got one.


Do I need planning permission?

If you live in a conservation area maybe - different areas have different rules - some will say yes over the phone!

If you live in a listed building then probably yes. 

Otherwise on your own roof probably not, but standalone and commercial systems probably yes.

Check with your local authority.


What issues are there?

The more south facing the better, but even systems facing directly east or west still produce electricity in worthwhile quantities.  Because of the complex electronics involved dark shadows at peak times reduce power generated – even the sharp shadow of a telephone wire.

The system produces electricity in winter but less than in summer.

Now you need a EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) of D or above - typically a house with decent wall and loft insulation, double glazing and a modern boiler will be up to standard.  It's best to get this up front before incurring any other expense.


Do my bills disappear?

Not completely: you’ll still be using electricity from the grid at night or in the middle of winter.  From dusk to dawn you will draw power off your current supplier as now. The Feed-in Tariffs are paid through your current supplier either once a quarter once a year depending on your contract with them.


How long does it take to fit?

Depending on the size and setting, expect it to take one to two days to install and fit for a domestic system


What do I have to do?

Wind it up? Switch it on? No the system is self managed and requires no user controls.  It is a protected, but live electrical system and should only be adjusted by a qualified electrician.


How do I claim the feed-in-tariffs?

Once installed and certified the system the suppleir should give you a certificate to send to your electricity supplier.


Does it need maintenance?

Not normally no, these systems have no moving parts.  The panels have warranties in excess of 20 years and an expected working life of 30 years plus. Imagine framed reinforced windows fixed in place. 

Some inverters need cleaning once a year, your installer should tell you what needs to be done. 


Does it need cleaning?

Systems that are set at an angle of greater than ten degrees are ‘self-cleaning’ so that the rain will wash off any dust.


Can you save the electricity and use it at night?

Off grid users do store energy in batteries and these are available.  The FITs scheme was designed to work without such batteries to make it more cost-effective.


What if there’s a power cut?

The system will re-start itself when the power comes back on.  Because of technical issues but not least because your power consumption will normally be higher than the system produces unless you have batteries to store the power it doesn't work in a power cut. (Shame - we had that idea as well when we first started)


What if you move house?

You can sell it to the new buyer who can gain the benefit or you can take the system with you.   The government is looking (in March 2010) to change the rules so the system is classed as an integral part of the building for mortgage purposes. Currently the systems are classed as fixtures and fittings. 


Why is someone else paying for it when you haven’t enough electricity to use? 

This requires second guessing government policy. Our interpretation is that they need to meet their renewable targets and they need to improve the generating capacity of the country very quickly to meet national shortfalls.


Is it green?

Yes, it is estimated that the carbon footprint reduces by approximately 0.5 tonne per annum per 1000kWh of electricity produced.


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