Since 2010 we have been letting people know about great savings they could make by taking advantage of the free solar panels being offered by private companies but made possible by the government feed-in tariff scheme.
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Solar panels are one of a number of ways which can help you reduce your costs, you can expect typical average savings of 37% on your electricity bills.
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¹Based on Energy Savings Trust figures ²Based on Ofgem installation data
The question that everyone asks is whether they qualify for free solar panels. In actual fact the criteria is based on your home and not your own particular circumstances. In general there are a few guidelines that mean your home may be suitable for free solar, you will not know for definite until you apply and a free solar installer with say yes or no. It is also important to note that even though your home may not qualify for free solar it does not mean that it is not suitable for a solar installation, it just means that your roof does not meet the criteria for that particular installer you applied with.
So here are the main criteria installers look at when considering your home for free solar;
Home Ownership - You must own the property for which you are applying, this can mean outright, with a mortgage or if you are the landlord of a property.
South Facing Roof - Most installers will consider a roof facing from south east through to south west, however the closer to due south the better.
Roof Size - The larger the better, the larger the south facing part of your roof is the more likely you will qualify. The roof size most installers are looking for is around 20m² and this should be clear un-shaded roof space.
There are other criteria that may come into play which may vary depending on the free installer. In general however these are the 3 main criteria that your home must meet in order to qualify for free solar. If you are buying your own solar PV system the criteria is not as strict because your options are more flexible which means a much smaller roof can have solar panels.
This offer means that the company who install the panels gets the money to recoup their initial investment. However you get free electricity during the day without you having to make any investment. So consumers have the choice of paying for the system up front and reaping the financial rewards or getting it installed free and getting free electricity during the day.
The scheme has been set up so that if you do choose to buy the panels yourself you will get your investment back. It is even calculated that if you decide to get a 25 year loan to pay for the installation the feed in tariff payments that you get should be above the amount you pay back on the loan each year. Paying for the solar panel system yourself does give you a greater financial reward but you will have to either have the spare cash to pay upfront or be able to get a sufficient loan to cover the cost.
The cost of a typical photovoltaic system starts at about £5,000 for the smallest type of system. The largest system which is just under 4kWp and consists of about 22 panels can be bought from as little as £14,000 (see How much are solar panels?) fully installed but can cost as much as £20,000 so it pays to shop around and get several quotes.The initially outlay should easily be earned back through the governments solar cash back scheme with payback periods ranging from 7 to 11 years.
If you are choosing a company to either buy a photovoltaic system from or take up the offer of free solar panels you need to make sure that they are MCS certified. MCS is an independent microgeneration certification scheme that certifies the system and installer. If the system and installers are not MCS certified then the electricity companies will not pay you or the company that installed the system the feed-in tariff or the export tariff.
The benefits of having a solar voltaic system installed now far outweigh the costs. You are now eligible for a generation tariff of up to 41.3 pence for every kilowatt hour or unit of electricity your panels produce whether you use the electricity or not. This means that you can use the electricity that your panels produce which not only means free electricity but your energy supplier will pay you for it as well which is a double saving. For any electricity you do not use and feed back into the national grid you get an extra payment called an export tariff which is currently 3 pence for every kilowatt hour (unit). This means if you pay for the panels you get free electricity and two lots of payments. If you get the solar panels installed for free by a company the company gets the two payments but you get the free electricity.
The best time to take advantage of this system is now to lock in the guaranteed high payments before the March 2012 deadline. After this is may not be as cost effective to get solar panels installed. The good news is that if you take advantage now you are guaranteed the payments for 25 years. Who wouldn't want 25 years of free electricity especially as most peoples electric bills will rise dramatically over that time.
There are now a number of companies providing free installations where they will install and then maintain the panels for at least 25 years. For the 25 year contract the company still owns the panels but you get the free electricity. After the contract end you then usually take ownership of the panels. The panels should still continue to generate free electricity for years to come. Solar panel manufacturer Sharp still has solar panels that are still working to their manufacturing specifications 45 years after they originally installed them.
You can easily apply by filling in the free solar panel enquiry form. Being accepted for free solar will depend on certain criteria. Solar works best on a south facing roof so you will need to have a largish clear roof space that faces in a southerly direction, it doesn't have to be exactly south facing. You also need to own your own home and your roof should preferably be un-shaded from trees or other buildings.
There are a number of free installers in the UK, some of which also sell solar PV systems, some provide only free solar and there are also many free solar brokers that do not provide the solar systems themselves but instead either pass on your details to an installer or outsource the installation to another installer.
Here at FreeSolarPanelsUK.co.uk we were the first free solar site to maintain a list of companies where you can apply to find out if your home is suitable for solar. Our list of installers now includes information about whether the company is accredited under the Microgeneration Certification Scheme and whether they are a member of REAL.
The first company in the UK to offer free solar panels was Yorkshire based A Shade Greener.
Allan Burns, Free Solar Panels UK
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