All About Solar Energy
So you're thinking of installing solar panels for electricity? Well, you're not alone! More and more UK residents are turning to solar panels to help them manage their utility bills, reduce their ecological footprint, and maybe even make a few pounds in the process.
Solar panels mounted on your roof can harness energy from the sun, transforming it into electricity that you can use to power your household appliances. If you're on a feed-in tariff, any surplus can be sold back to the grid. Given the right circumstances, a solar energy system can not only save you money, but can even put some extra in your pocket!
Before you run out and sign a contract, though, you have to be sure that solar panels really are the best choice for you. They're a big investment - anywhere up to £10 000, depending on the product that you choose - and there's no guarantee that you'll make that money back, especially if you don't consider your options carefully before making the plunge.
There are several things that must be considered before you invest in a solar panel system for your home.
Is your roof right for solar panels?
First of all, you need to think about the physical requirements of such a system. Solar panels run most efficiently on roofs with a 30 to 35 degree slope. This is pretty standard on houses in the UK, so that probably won't be a concern. But having direct access to the sun - preferably South-facing, with little shade from trees or other buildings - is an absolute requirement.
When do you use the most electricity?
By definition, solar energy is dependent on the sun. You'll get the most from your solar panels if you use the bulk of your electricity during the day. This is the opposite of time-of-use or economy 7 tariffs, which generally encourage people to use more electricity during off-peak hours. If there's no one at home during the day using appliances or heat, then you might find that you're getting less out of your solar energy system.
How long will you be in your home?
While the exact numbers will depend on the system that you install and your family's lifestyle, solar panels are generally a long-term investment. If you aren't going to stay in your home for at least five to ten years, then you might find that this isn't the most economically sound decision.
Will you pay for installation yourself?
At one point, a wide variety of private companies were offering free solar panel installation, providing you with the opportunity to use any energy that you produced. The catch? The companies got to keep any profit earned through feed-in tariffs. While these schemes are less common now that the rates for feed-in tariffs have gone down, they can still be found. This option might be right for someone who just wants to lower their utility bills, but it might not be the best long-term decision for you and your home.
Will a feed-in tariff really save you money?
There are lots of different tariffs available across the UK. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages. A tariff that is very economical for one family might end up costing another family money out of pocket. There's no guarantee that a feed-in tariff will be the most cost efficient for you. Before committing to anything, plug some numbers into one of the many electricity cost comparers available online. It's possible that you might find better rates with another plan or another supplier.
Do you care deeply about the environment and your ecological footprint?
The sun can provide infinite, renewable, pollution-free energy that requires no raw materials. For many people, this clean and sustainable form of energy is all the benefit that they need when making the decision to switch to solar. Even if they don't make money with a feed-in tariff - or even break even on the installation costs - some people might feel that the environmental trade-off is well worth the cost. If you're one of those people, then this becomes an important deciding factor, regardless of the answers to the other questions.
Given the right circumstances, using solar panels for electricity can be a great choice - both for the planet and for your wallet. If you use the bulk of your electricity during the day, you have a sunny South-facing roof and you shop around for the best rates, you may very well find yourself saving - or even making - some money with solar panels.