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My experience with solar panels

Paul Hudson | 13:05 UK time, Friday, 22 July 2011

I thought I might share a recent personal experience of mine. Having considered the idea of generating my own electricity by way of solar photo voltaic panels on my roof for the last few months, I have finally taken the plunge.

My house is directly south facing, so the roof is in a prime position for capturing solar energy.

I now have a roof with 16 solar panels - a 2.96 Kilowatt (kw) array, producing an estimated 2467 Kilowatt/hours of electricity (kw/h) in a year.

The government are so keen to encourage all of us to help them reach their legally binding target of generating 30% of electricity from renewable sources by 2020, that they have made the level of subsidy available to you and I really quite high.

The main subsidy is called the Feed in tariff (FIT), 43.3p Kw/h, index linked each year to RPI inflation, currently running at over 5%.

Next is the export tariff, at 3.3p Kw/h, index linked to electricity price inflation.

And this is the interesting bit. Because it is not yet possible to determine how much of the solar electricity you are selling to the national grid, and how much you are using, it is assumed that you are using 50%, and are paid for the other 50% by way of the export tariff.

But of course you can use as much of the solar power as you want. So by changing how you use your main appliances, you can in theory save even more.

This is how figures for my house stack up:

The cost of Installation, inc VAT at 5% came to £11,000.

In round figures I then receive £1100 per year in tariff payments, and save an estimated £150 on my electricity bills. That equates to a yearly income, index linked to inflation of £1250. An 11% tax free return.

This means that in just 8 years, my solar panels will have been paid for, leaving 17 years of tax free index linked returns, and much cheaper electricity bills.

So where does the money for such generous tariff payments come from?

Perhaps controversially, it turns out that every single one of us are paying by way of a hidden levy on our electricity bills, whether you take advantage of this scheme or not.

And if you can't afford to pay for your own solar panels, there are numerous companies who will fit them for free. They pay for this by taking the feed in tariff and export tariff themselves, leaving the householder free to use any electricity generated.

But as impressive as the figures are, there are a couple of points to bear in mind when choosing from the ever growing number of companies in the solar power sector.

A Which? report earlier this month found that some companies were offering customers misleading information.

For example the amount of sunshine available each year has been exaggerated in some instances, which in turn exaggerated the amount of electricity likely to be generated, and income receivable.

Some companies were quoting sunshine totals for Cornwall for other locations around the country which get much less sunshine. The figure for Northern England, and used by the Energy Saving Trust is 833 hours of sunshine each year, based on the solar irradiance map shown below.

Also worth pointing out that some companies will quote a higher figure of electricity savings such as 70%, which again would increase the savings on electricity bills, rather than the industry standard 50%.

Finally, this is a long term investment - so check that the panels come with a 25 year warranty - which will come into play should the performance drop below 80% of total output - and that if the solar panel manufacturer goes bust - the warranty is insured.

Follow me on twitter @Hudsonweather


  • Comment number 1.

    What a brilliant idea, I think I'll get some as well......that should guarantee the poor summer continues!

  • Comment number 2.

    I'm keen to hear how you get on, and although its not measured, would you be able to record your consumption versus generation, especially through winter.

    I suppose if the government were serious about solar generation they would be fitting panels like these to every public building in the country to generate electricity 'for free'.

  • Comment number 3.

    well Paul it seems to have worked. No global warming round our way since you fitted your solar panels. If anything we have got global cooling. Do you think you could perhaps remove, say, half the panels and see if that warms things up a bit. Thanks.

    smoke me a kipper

  • Comment number 4.

    I installed solar panels 2 weeks ago and have generated 186 kw/h I have 21 panels my house is south facing, and weather has not been great this week has it paul!
    If you are thinking of installing solar panels you should be aware that the FIT tariffs Paul metioned change next year to a yearly tariff which will be lower, so if you are thinking of installing solar panels do so before next April, you get the rate for 25 years + RPI increases.

    Tread carefully there are a lot of cowboys out there. Use the Energy Saving Trust websiteit is a good souce of information.

  • Comment number 5.

    Sorry to be a pedant. Used to be a teacher. Can't help it. Have international abbreviations changed in the last decade? Why not abbreviate Kilowatt Hours to KwH rather than Kw/H which says Kilowatts per Hour to me? Not that anyone would want to use joules/second/Hour. Accelerating energy... hmm?

  • Comment number 6.

    "Perhaps controversially, it turns out that every single one of us are paying by way of a hidden levy on our electricity bills, whether you take advantage of this scheme or not."

    And therein lies the rub isnt it...without all these hidden green taxes our power bills are likely to be several hundred pounds cheaper than they are now.

    However, thanks to the green mob and politicians like Huhne we are being taxed covertly for the great religion of Mann Made Global Warming (tm)! Perhaps if politicians actually had to pay their own power bills they wouldnt be so inclined to lump tax increase after tax increase chasing fairies and unicorns!


  • Comment number 7.

    Paul when you have a minute? have you considered what happens if you loose the Government Subsidy? will you ever pay for the panels?

  • Comment number 8.

    Bearing in mind, the number of houses and businesses there are in this country, solar panels should be able to be provided more cheaply and over time become more effective. The government should be looking at ways of getting British companies to invest in this technology, so that foreign companies don't profit out of as, like all the Energy companies are and provide good jobs in the UK. Government shouldn't be subsidising this technology, either make it cost effective or do away with it. Nuclear isn't that cheap, when you consider the waste and cleaning up costs. I understand that the Germans have fields of solar panels, to produce cheap energy, if so, why is our government asleep on this matter.

    Our government has a massive opportunity, to create a new industry in green technology, that could re employ many people in the UK and be exported. I am not just talking about solar, there is wind, wave etc. We started the industrial revolution, it is about time, we took it to the next level.

  • Comment number 9.

    How did you manage to get a 16-panel PV solar electricity system for just £11,000. I live in York and the going rate is £13,000. Please tell me who you used!!

  • Comment number 10.


    I looked into this when it was first announced as I have some south facing roof. I wasn't in the position to invest such a sum myself so I looked at the 'rent your roof' options. I found that most companies are only interested in very large roofs. Mine was the right area for British Gas to consider, who I think accept smaller roofs than most, but unfortunately when measured it was the wrong shape for the standard panels.

    mailmannz wrote:

    "And therein lies the rub isnt it...without all these hidden green taxes our power bills are likely to be several hundred pounds cheaper than they are now."

    They are hardly hidden. We all know where the subsidy comes from. Most of the energy price increases we are suffering from and are driving more people into fuel poverty don't come from your 'green taxes' but from rises in the wholesale price of fossil fuels. Believe me that price may fluctuate over the short time but will only ever get more expensive in future, where as the cost of alternatives can only get cheaper through the scale of adoption and improvements to technology.

    If we are going to build a national infrastructure for energy going into the future the money has to come from somewhere. We don't have a road network because drivers only built and paid for the bits they use.

    My only criticism of this scheme is that it helps the better off more than the poor. Poorer families are unlikely to have the roof area or the capital to take advantage of such schemes so what you could end up with is that large houses that only the better off can actually buy have the best efficiencies essentuially being subsidised by the poor.

  • Comment number 11.

    Paul, you're not robbing from the poor efficiently enough, David cameron's father-in-law gets £3.5m from his wind turbines, paid for by the taxpayer. You and your wimpy solar panels pfft, i wondered why the sun was shutting down, its the Hudson curse.
    On a totally different subject, I've got some magic beans you can have for around £11,000.

  • Comment number 12.

    Lazarus # 10

    it's not just that only rich people can afford to take advantage of the scheme. The extra cost of energy hits poorer families much harder than richer families. That is of course one of the reasons that the developing nations are not going to embrace the AGW lunacy. They know that the best way to deal with any threat is by building wealth. History shows that wealth is built on cheap energy. Artificially increasing the cost of energy is lunacy. Anyone who advocates such policies clearly does not have the intersts if his fellow man at heart. For some reason the word hypocrisy just popped into my head.

    smoke me a kipper

  • Comment number 13.

  • Comment number 14.

    "a 2.96 Kilowatt (kw) array, producing an estimated 2467 Kilowatt/hours of electricity (kw/h) in a year".

    Wholesale power prices are around £60/MWh currently. So your 2.5MWh being produced leads to a return of £150 per year.

    You've spent £11k on this investment, so we're looking at a return of around 1.4% per year.

    The rest is being sponged off taxpayers and energy users and making hard working families lives even more difficult. It's something I wouldn't have expected you to boast about on a blog Paul.

  • Comment number 15.

    This is a real incentive to install solar panels on the roof of your home and the arithmetic also makes sense. This is the government message about investing in renewables.

    The Government subsidy however is paid for by an unseen surcharge placed upon each and every one of our domestic energy bills.

    Will the sun shine strongly and regularly enough to meet the claims made for solar panel efficiency, especially in Yorkshire?

    Alas, two neighbours of mine have said that the energy produced by theirs is usually only enough to produce enough hot water for one shower a day, however the latest solar panels are said to be more efficient. Some user feedback would be most welcome Mr Hudson.

  • Comment number 16.


    Have you heard of the "Energy Catalyst" being developed in Italy by Andrea Rossi?

    It's some kind of nuclear fusion unit that's supposed to produce between 6 and 30 times the input power.

    Search google and youtube for Ecat and Rossi to see the demonstrations.

    It could be a hoax, but if it works we won't be buying solar PV systems.

    He says he's being ignored by the mainstream media - that must be you then!

  • Comment number 17.

    We too have recently fitted solar panels, in Sheffield. Re the reference to companies who will fit panels for free, thereby owning the panels and leasing the roof, with the house owner receiving only the free solar energy: Beware! A recent Money Box programme on Radio 4 discussed this and it seems that Building Societies would be unwilling to lend money on a house which has leased out its roof, so the house would be very difficult to sell.

  • Comment number 18.

    If what I read was right in the International Herald Tribune, the world is on the cusp of a energy boom with both shale oil and gas. If the Americans are right there is an abundance of it throughout mainland Europe. They also think that within the next decade Australia will have more oil reserves than Saudi Arabia.
    I believe that the recent spike in both commodities is a case of the producers filling their boots before the decline in prices caused by over supply. The only reason the government does not intervene in the madness of price increases in energy is that it helps idiots like Huhne push harder for the madness of so called "renewable energy". I sincerely believe that unless this idiocy is stopped we will not have any industry left!

  • Comment number 19.

    Sounds too good to be true. And it probably is.

    A moments thought:-

    Energy at the surface from the sun, 300w/sq.m. 1330w/sqm enters the atmosphere but over 1000w is lost in the atmosphere. The 300w figure is the best you can get though not in the UK north.

    Your array of 16 penels for a, claimed, generated 2467Kwhr gives 154w per panel

    Panels are 9% efficient or approx 30w per sqm so each panel should be just over 5 sqm.

    This gives an array size of 80 sqm. Have you measured yours?

    The latest, very expensive, panels are 20% efficient which halves the size required.

    The guarantee seems good remembering the research by Leicester University which gave a useful life, with maintenance, of 20 years.

    Are yours under a maintenance contract?

    You also state that repayment is guaranteed. No it is not. It is guaranteed within current government policy. But governments change their minds all the time especially when it starts to cost them more than estimated. And we all know what government estimates are like, always wrong.

    So I wish you all the best but do not feel let down if things don't turn out as advertised.

  • Comment number 20.

    It seems that you were somewhat over charged for your 2.96kWp array. Different manufactures have different size and power rating for their panels. For the 16 panels that you say you have got. If you had got panels rated a 200 you would have fot 3.2kWp, the small matter of .4kWp over 25 years would have made a difference to your return. Secondly, a complete install inc VAT should have cost less than £10,000. Make sure your company is accredited by MCS and also subscribes to REA Ltd scheme, check that the warranty is from a Tustmark Company and have all the qualification for an electrical installer.

    Sorry to break your heart over money!

  • Comment number 21.

    Before the Feed In Tarif arrived (FORTY THREE PENCE!!) I considered setting up a business supplying them and calculated a RORI - rate of return on investment - below the rate of inflation. Conclusion: I would have been suckering my customers into an investment with an infinite payback period when considering inflation.

    The FIT is a game changer, of course. Those who invest in solar are driving the poorest of the non-solar public deeper into energy poverty. All in the name of the Global Warming myth. A sorry tale of delusion and greed.

  • Comment number 22.


    Sorry mate but until the green taxes are shown CLEARLY on my power bill exactly as green taxes then they are hidden.

    As has already been pointed out, the people who are most affected by this green lunacy are those who can least afford to pay for it...the poor. Thanks to clowns like Huhn we now have a energy policy based on fairy tales that does nothing to protect us from the grip of Gasprom. In fact, you could almost say this is sheer recklessness from the Government.

    Its all going to end in tears I tell you...tears!



  • Comment number 23.

    Robbing Peter to pay Paul.

  • Comment number 24.


    So ordinary people see their power bills go through the roof to pay for something on your roof that may or not break even before it breaks down.

    This is robbing Peter and Bob and Mary and Jane and Susan and Kevin and Hitesh and Brian and Ahmed and Roisin and Dave and 200 other people to pay Paul.

  • Comment number 25.

    German "solar park" lies in ruins after just 18 months:

    "The author of the photo provided the following information along with the photo:
    ‘A rather large, obviously run down facility, which as one sees is overgrown everywhere. I took this photo on June 25, 2011 shortly before 6 pm as I happened to be driving by..."

    Australian sun park dead just 2 years after upgrade:

    "A multi-million-dollar solar generator is no longer operating in the far north Aboriginal lands of South Australia.

    "The $2.5 million state- and federally-funded sun farm was built at Umuwa in 2003.

    "Another $1 million was spent upgrading it in 2008, but it has not been running for the past year. "


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