Why Solar Panels?


Solar panel use is an excellent idea for several reasons.

  • Solar energy is free energy. You may have to pay for your solar panels and inverter, but the sun dispenses the energy that your solar panels capture, for free.
  • Solar energy does not release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
  • Through solar electricity, you can take your home off the grid.
  • Solar energy reduces losses resulting from transportation.
  • It is a good long-term investment for your home.
  • Your solar panels will earn you money.
  • The solar energy industry creates jobs and spurs economic growth.
  • Unlike energy from your electricity provider, solar electricity entails fixed costs and is therefore predictable.
  • Going solar is akin to opting for buying a home instead of renting. You will control your energy instead of renting it from a utility company.

In this article, we discuss several more subtle ins and outs of solar panel ownership. Such as:

  • What can solar panels power in your house?
  • Just how great are solar panels for the environment?
  • How much money can you make/save with your solar panels?
  • How soon will solar energy make a noticeable difference in your electricity bill?
  • Can you receive grants for your solar panels?
  • Can you install solar panels on a rented house?
  • What is net metering and why does it concern you?
  • Will solar panels increase the value of your property?
  • Some pros and cons of solar panels/solar energy.

What Can Solar Panels Power in My House?

From a technical perspective, solar energy can power anything in an average home. Every one of the appliances that run off the grid, runs just as well with solar power. The problem is one of efficiency. Some appliances are more power-hungry than others. Typically, the conversion of electricity into heat is a power-hungry process.

As a would-be solar panel owner, you have a choice to make:

  • You can add the PV panels to reduce your power consumption from the grid.
  • You can ditch the grid completely.

The former option is a relatively simple one. It is also the option most current PV array owners have chosen. They use up their solar electricity and feed the leftover into the local grid, for compensation. Whenever they run out of solar energy, they can use some from the grid.

Going off the grid completely is an undertaking of a different caliber. If you commit to such a move, the first step is to determine your monthly electricity consumption. Next, you will want to reduce it. The consumption resulting after your reduction efforts is the minimum your PV array will have to meet.

How do you estimate your power consumption?

Solar-digitalpublishin have compiled a table that makes a good starting point:

Appliances W rating Quantity Total power in W Hours of use per day Days of use per week Average daily use (Wh)
CFL bulbs 15 4 60 5 7 300
Incandescent bulbs 60 4 240 5 7 1200
LED bulbs 5 4 20 5 7 100
Fridge 100 1 100 7 7 700
Washing machine 1,200 1 1200 1 4 685
Laptop 50 1 50 8 7 400
TV 100 1 100 5 7 500
Microwave 800 1 800 0.2 7 160

Since you know exactly how many of these power consumers you possess, you can adapt this table to reflect your power consumption.

If your total energy consumption is below 2.5 kWh, you may be able to go off the grid. If it is above that mark, however, you likely will not be able to go solar-only. In this case, you should consider hybrid systems.

If you can cover your consumption and go off the grid, consider the following:

  • Oversize your PV array. You are better off producing slightly more electricity than you need.
  • Use a large capacity battery bank.

Both of these options lead to added costs, in wasted power and battery price.

How Great are Solar Panels For the Environment?

Scientists mostly agree that solar energy is good for the environment. While its benefits are multi-faceted, solar may not be as environmentally-friendly as you would think.

According to energysage.com the primary environmental impact of solar energy is the decrease in harmful emissions into the atmosphere.

– Solar panels do not release greenhouse gases during normal operation. Using solar electricity instead of electricity resulting from the burning of fossil fuels greatly reduces emissions. Thus, you can significantly shrink your carbon footprint. Reducing the demand for fossil fuels is also an environmentally positive development.

– Solar electricity is relatively clean, renewable and abundant. Efficiency in capturing it is the main problem currently hindering its widespread use. If we possessed the ability to capture all the energy delivered by the sun upon the Earth, all our energy needs would be solved.

– Cutting down on air pollutants sparks a chain of additional benefits. Some of these benefits impact health.

With fewer pollutants in the air, respiratory and cardio health problems become less prevalent.

According to the US’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, solar cuts down greenhouse gases such as:

  • Sulfur dioxide.
    • Nitrous oxides.
    • An impressive menagerie of particulate matter emissions.
    • CO2.

Despite the obvious positive environmental impact of solar energy, there are some downsides to it.

According to National Geographic, solar panel manufacturing does have some environmentally unfriendly consequences.

  • During solar panel manufacturing, harmful chemicals are used. Sodium hydroxide and hydrofluoric acid are two such chemicals.
  • Solar panel fabrication uses water, as well as electricity, which comes from greenhouse gas-emitting sources.
  • Fabrication also creates waste.

Some solar panel manufacturers are more transparent than others in regards to the sustainability of their production processes.

How Much Money Will I Save on My Electricity Bill Every Month?

The way into profits with your solar panels is through electricity bill savings and feed-in earnings. The FIT (Feed-in Tariff) scheme is no longer available to new solar panel owners in the UK. It does keep raking in profits for existing owners, however.

  • Energy bills represent the most straightforward way of cashing in on solar energy. In the UK, the most popular PV arrays are 3.5-4kWp ones. Under optimal conditions, such arrays generate 3,000 kWh of electricity per year. From a strictly mathematical perspective, this should cover around 75% of the electricity needs of an average household. The savings one can attain with the panels hinge on other factors as well, however.
  • The generation tariff is another way to make money with solar panels. Those who are currently in the FIT scheme can take full advantage of it. Generation tariff rates depend on the size of the solar system and its installation date. kWh rates range from 7.6p to 16p for smaller systems.
  • In addition to the generation tariff, solar panel owners earn money on the electricity they feed into the national grid. The Feed-in Tariff should earn 4.5p per kWh of electricity. To fully exploit solar energy, it is best to use up as much of it as possible, during the daylight hours.
  • The FIT scheme is no longer available for new solar array owners. The SEG (Smart Export Guarantee) is set to replace it soon. This new scheme will meter solar energy contributions to the grid, and pay out according to the exact contributed amount. It will also compel most energy suppliers to offer something for your contributions.

So, how much money will you slash off your bills? As mentioned, that depends on several factors. The location of the home within the UK is one such factor. Another important factor is how much time per day the user/owner spends at home.

Someone who is out all day, only returning home to sleep, will not be able to use up much electricity during daylight.

According to theecoexperts.co.uk, someone in London might be able to save as much as GBP 220 per year, with a 4 kWp system. Such substantial savings would require one to be at home all day.

Under similar circumstances, someone who only comes home at 6 PM, will only save GBP 90 per year.

These numbers do not reflect SEG earnings. With those in the mix, the maximum savings-per-year in London climb to GBP 390. The minimum may be as high as GBP 300. We have to point it out that those who only come home at 6PM will earn more off SEG than those who are at home all day.

According to the Energy Savings Trust, with SEG earnings, you will achieve simple payback in 17 years.

In Manchester, England, savings will be slightly less, ranging from GBP 85 to GBP 210. These numbers are GBP 195 and GBP 330 with SEG. Thus, simple payback becomes possible in 19-23 years.

Solar panels are least suited for the Scottish climate. Someone in Stirling, Scotland, will only save GBP 205 per year if he/she is at home all day. The savings shrink to GBP 85 per year, for a person who is out till 6 PM every day.

SEG tweaks these numbers to GBP 310 and GBP 180 respectively. For a Stirling resident, simple payback will take 20 years.

The bottom line, according to the Energy Savings Trust is that a 4 kWp array will save GBP 80- GBP 220 per year (GBP 180 – GBP 390 with SEG).

How Soon Will I Notice a Difference in My Electricity Bill?

“Right away” is the simple answer here. As soon as your solar system starts producing electricity, your bills should reflect it. You can expect a 50% drop in your electricity expenses, although some solar users have reported cuts of up to 90%.

Eventually, you may get to the point where your utility company owes you money for the electricity you have injected into the grid.

Will you still get an electricity bill after the installation of your solar panels? Yes. And this bill will reflect the amount of electricity you still consume from the grid. Even if you produce more electricity than you use up, you will still get a bill. This bill might be a negative one.

Will your electricity company pay you? According to ofgem.co.uk, it has to. If you build up credits by feeding more electricity into the system than you consume, you can request a payout.

Every energy supplier behaves differently. Large suppliers will periodically review consumer balances. They will automatically refund credit balances.

How Does Billing Happen After You Turn on Your PV System?

As soon as you fire up your PV system, your utility company offers you an option to get billed yearly. This yearly billing period starts when you turn on your PV system and wraps up exactly a year after.

The bill contains a breakdown of your electricity consumption and production. Thus, it makes it clear why you have to pay as much as you do.

In some cases, solar panel owners may end up with bills that are too high. Such problems could stem from three causes.

  • Your system does not work as it should. It is very rare for a solar panel system to not work properly. Still, it can happen. When your solar panels fail to deliver the amount of electricity they should, you will consume more electricity from the grid. As a solar panel owner, you should have an understanding of how the system works. Ask your contractor to talk you through regular PV system operation. Make sure you know what signs point to malfunctions. If you spot any of these signs, let your contractor know.
  • You use more power than you think. Estimating the power consumption of your home is a relatively simple exercise – as mentioned. You can, however, get it wrong. You may underestimate the power needs of your large appliances. Air conditioners, electric ovens, washing machines tend to consume a lot of power. Everything that turns electricity into heat is generally power-hungry.
  • You have metering problems. Under the FIT, this is not much of an issue. With the SEG, however, metering will become essential. You will have to learn to read the meter right. There will likely be cases when people misread their meters. Thus, they end up thinking they feed more energy back to the grid than they do. Make sure you know how to read your meter right. See more below.

What Grants Can I Receive for Solar Panels?

As a UK resident, you cannot apply for any government grants for solar panels.The government used to provide such grants, but that is no longer the case.  

Government grants started in 2013, as part of the Green Deal. The first version gave people loans to help them buy solar panels.

The second version, launched in 2014, turned the loans into grants. Unfortunately, the initiative failed to generate enough interest. As a result, the government scrapped the Green Deal in 2015.

The Green Deal Home Improvement Fund still exists, but it does not cover solar panels.

Back in 2010, homeowners could get solar panel installation companies to provide PV panels for free. The company would install the panels on your roof, for free. In exchange, the FIT payments would go to the company. The savings and the free energy would be passed down to homeowners.

Since then, FIT payments have diminished significantly. On the other hand, the cost of solar panels has dropped as well.

Nowadays, the only subsidy new solar panel owners can expect, will likely come through the SEG.

I Don’t Own the House I Live In; Can I Still Install Solar Panels?

The short answer to this question would be “no”. If you rent the house where you live, the property belongs to your landlord. Only he/she can decide to have solar panels installed.

Thus, your best bet is to convince your landlord to install solar panels. Moving into a house that already has solar panels installed is advantageous for the tenant. The electricity bills of such a property are much smaller than usual. You will be enjoying the benefits of PV panels without being saddled with the installation costs.

According to theecoexperts.co.uk, the downside for the tenant is that any government money offered for the generated clean electricity goes to the landlord. Since this money is meant to compensate the owner for the installation costs anyway, it is not really of much concern to the tenant.

What is Net Metering?

Perhaps the greatest conundrum presented by solar electricity use is storage. Proper batteries are expensive and they too are limited in what they can accomplish. Net metering, or net energy metering, is a great solution to this problem.

During the day, solar panels produce more energy than the household can use up. This surplus energy is transferred to the grid. Through net metering, the system can tell exactly how much energy one feeds back. Based on this data, the utility provider awards credits.

At night, when solar panels do not produce energy, the owner can use these credits to get energy from the grid. Storage problem solved.

Using net metering, a solar panel owner can produce enough electricity to match the needs of his/her household, during the day and the night. All it takes is the proper sizing of the PV array.

According to energysage.com, solar panels produce the most energy when most people are not at home and do not need it. At night and early in the morning is when people consume the most electricity. Perversely, solar panels hardly produce any energy during those time-frames. With net metering, the abundant electricity produced during the day does not go to waste.

The Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) scheme will use net metering to determine solar panel owner contributions to the grid. Payouts will be set based on these contributions.

Does Having Solar Panels Increase the Value of My House?

At first glance, solar panels should indeed add value to your home. At a closer look, however, a complex equation emerges. Here is what you need to consider in this regard.

Solar panels will add value to your home if:

– The panels are new and you are their owner. You are also the beneficiary of the FIT payments. Transferring FIT ownership is a complicated process that may prove impossible for someone who buys your house. That, in turn, affects mortgage.  If your panels are old, with few years of lifetime left, they are a liability rather than an asset.

– Due to their energy-efficiency, solar panels increase the Energy Performance Certificate score of your house. Thus, they may make it more attractive to buyers.

Cheap energy is always attractive. Savings need to outweigh complications associated with the panels though.

What are these complications?

  • The FIT payments may be difficult/impossible to transfer.
  • If you have rented out your roof to a solar panel company, it may be difficult to sell your house.
  • Solar panels complicate roof repairs/retiling.
  • If your goal is to rent out your property, solar panels may be an unnecessary hassle for you.
  • Some simply do not like the way solar panels look on roofs. They may turn off potential buyers.

We need to keep in mind that solar panels get cheaper and more efficient all the time. In a few years, their presence on residential roofs may be the norm rather than the exception. Thus, their effect on property value will likely change as well.

Pros and Cons of Solar Panels

As a solar panel owner, you will enjoy certain benefits, such as:

  • Lower electricity bills. This is the most important advantage from the perspective of the average consumer. Some may even achieve complete energy independence through PV panels. You will own your energy source, instead of renting it from a utility company.
  • Renewable, nearly emissions-free energy. To some, the environmental aspect may not matter. It is nonetheless an important part of the feasibility of solar energy.
  • Solar energy is more flexible and adaptable than grid-based electricity. Solar panels work in areas where there is no energy supplier. It also lends itself well to diverse applications, such as water distillation and heating.
  • Solar panels are easy to maintain. Aside from some cleaning, you do not need to do much to keep your PV system in proper working order.
  • Solar technology is evolving. Prices will drop in the future and efficiency will skyrocket, making solar energy more and more attractive.

On the downside:

  • Solar panels are still expensive.
  • Energy storage is, as mentioned, a major problem. Net metering is one way to deal with this problem though.
  • Solar energy is weather-dependent. It seems like it stops working when needed most.
  • While solar energy itself is green, the same cannot be said about solar panel manufacturing processes.
  • Solar panels take up space and may be considered unsightly by some.

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