What You Need to Know Before Getting Solar Panels

April 15, 2015 Updated: April 15, 2015

Solar panels are a green tech success story. Visit the south of England, Germany or Italy and almost every other home will be adorned with the signature navy blue panels. But more cautious home owners worry that the savings made might not outweigh the price of installation, that the installation could be disruptive, and even more concerning, that the value of their house might fall as a result of installing panels.

So what is the truth behind the conflicting headlines and what should you consider before taking the plunge?

Do I Qualify?

The first thing to establish before planning a solar installation is if your property is suitable. You need to consider the size of your roof, the direction your house faces in, and the angle of the roof. The exact space required will depend on the size of the solar panel system you have installed. An average solar panel system will need a 21-square-metre roof space. The minimum space you will need will be approximately 8 square metres for a 1kW system.

The direction of your roof also impacts how much electricity your solar panels will produce. The ideal direction is south, but west- and east-facing roofs will still perform well. Your roof should not be crowded by trees or buildings, which could cast shade and reduce the amount of sun that gets to the panels. Angle is also important. Flat roofs can have solar panels installed, but you may need to have an angled frame fitted to get the angle required, which ideally should be between 10 and 60 degrees.

While most homes do not need planning permission to install solar panels, if your home is a listed building or in a conservation area you should speak to your council prior to making enquiries.

Before installation you should get a free inspection of your property to make sure it meets all of these criteria; most companies offer this as standard. Solar panel comparison site The Eco Experts has a solar calculator that allows you to do a preliminary check by inputting your postcode: solarcalculator.theecoexperts.co.uk

Installation: What to Expect

Typical installation time is between two to three days, which includes putting up and removing scaffolding. You will need to be at home for at least one of the installation days to grant access to the electrician, but most companies will happily work around your schedule to keep disruption to a minimum.

Jon Whiting from The Eco Experts comments: “The new generation of solar panels can be fitted extremely quickly, with minimal disruption to the homeowner. In most cases all of the planning and angle calculations will be carried out in an earlier visit so that the actual fitting takes very little time.”

Return on Investment

Though installation is not cheap, costing an average of between £4,000 and £6,000 (cost based on covering 21 square metres of roof space) over time there are considerable savings to be made. For an average family, in the first year such an installation could earn you around £695. After 15 years, you will have earned back the cost of installation and could have made a clear profit of £3,425 over this period, thanks to government incentive schemes and the saving you will make on energy bills.

With energy prices set to rise further owing to a lack of energy resources, your savings could increase in the coming years. This, combined with the positive environmental impact was the incentive for one solar panel user, Mike from Surrey: “My motivation: a combination of communal responsibility to reduce use of hydrocarbons and the economic advantages – I believe energy prices will rocket over the next 5–10 years.”

Environmental Benefits

For the majority of people, installing solar panels is not just driven by making a saving on their energy bills, but also because they want to reduce their impact on the environment. Solar panels harness the energy of the sun and convert this into electricity as a completely clean and renewable energy source.

Solar panel systems will automatically use the free renewable energy and then switch back to the grid as needed, though you only need light to create solar energy so even wintery days can create lots of green power. A typical household will reduce their consumption of non-renewable energy by 50 per cent, which is a considerable contribution to sustainability.

Moving House

One of the prevailing concerns about solar panels is the effect they could have on house prices. Many have suggested that the presence of panels could put off potential buyers and reduce the price of your property. New research, however, suggests quite the opposite, as Jon Whiting confirms: “Research by the Energy Saving Trust found that renters and buyers are actually more attracted to properties with solar panels due to the promise of free energy, especially since all of the installation has already been done for them. Many estate agents will actually add to your home’s evaluation based on the savings the new owners could make so solar panels could actually be a real bonus for your house’s potential appeal.”

Solar panels are for life, not just for summer. Choosing to opt for them should be a considered and well-thought-out decision, as once fitted they cannot be removed. However, with the persistent rise in energy prices, coupled with a global climate crisis, installing solar panels could be good for your wallet and your conscience.

By Grace Garland, MVF Global, www.mvfglobal.com