Most people are surprised when they find out about the free solar panels offers available from many companies. It is especially confounding when people find out the cost of solar panels and find you can pay upwards of £s;4,000 for one of the smallest types of system.
As people are naturally cautious many people have assumed that there is some type of scam involved. I have even read lengthy discussions on internet forums where people are trying to figure out what the catch is. If you didn't realise how the scheme was funded then of course anyone would be naturally suspicious. There have even been unfounded accusations against individual companies such as the A Shade Greener scam where people were making quite frankly ridiculous claims. I have personally spoken to the people at ASG and they really have a passion for renewable energy.
The reason why so many companies are offering to install solar panels free is because they get the cost of the system plus a profit paid to them via the government's feed-in tariff. The Feed-in tariff replaced the old style solar panel grants for homeowners and pays anyone for all the green electricity that you produce. Under the old grant system you would get a payment towards part of the cost of installing solar panels. Under the new system you get periodic payments for up to 25 years that will more than cover the upfront cost of buying the system. In fact most systems have paid for themselves after 10 years.
The new FiT scheme is much more attractive because the payments you get are guaranteed by the government, increase every year with inflation and are totally tax free. Under the scheme it is the owner of the system that earns the payments so this means that you could install solar on another property and claim the payments for yourself. This is essentially what the free solar panel installation companies do.
It is important to point out that you are not getting free solar panels from the government or any payments from the government. The solar panels come from private companies who cover the up front cost of supplying, installing and maintaining the system. They then get the payments from your energy supplier.
These offers really are totally free, the only exception being the Eon solar panel offer where they charge a £99 administration fee. There may also be a charge if the installation of the panels requires a larger scaffolding system which can happen if the scaffolding has to be set up around a conservatory. This is true for all installers.
Not all homes are suitable for solar PV, there are certain requirements that you need to meet in order to qualify. Is my house suitable for solar panels? This explains what the general criteria is for getting solar installed and answers some common questions.
To give you an outline of the requirements I will briefly cover them here. The acceptance criteria are based solely on your house which you should be the owner. Your roof needs to face south, ideally with a 30 to 40 degree angle on the roof. There is some leeway on both the orientation and angle.
You will also need to have enough space on your roof that does not get shaded by anything. There are smaller systems for smaller roofs but most companies insist on there being no shadows cast on the roof.
Depending on the company the exact requirements can vary but the factors mentioned are generally the same across the board. The free installer wants the panels they install to produce as much electricity as possible so any factors that get in the way of this goal will reduce your chances of getting free solar panels.
Once you have decided that free solar may be for you and you think your home might be suitable then you can fill in a short free solar application form. You will then be contacted to determine if free solar is suitable for your home and a free survey arranged. The survey will determine the size of the system that can be installed and to confirm your homes suitability.
Once everything is confirmed a contract is signed and a date agreed to install the panels. It usually takes 1 or 2 days to install the system depending on the size and complexity of the solar installation.
Once the system is installed you will get all the free electricity that the panels produce. In return for getting a completely free system that will produce free electricity for at least 25 years the installer gets to claim the feed-in tariffs. These tariffs will cover the cost of the installation and provide a tax free profit for the company.
If you decided to buy your solar panels then you would get the feed-in tariff payments rather than the company providing the free installation. The payback period for solar is about 7 t o11 years depending on the size and cost of the system.
To give you an idea of how buying your own solar system would work we will go through the payback period for a 3.96kWh system. This is the largest system that attracts the highest level of government tariff payments. The system could cost around £13,000 and produce about 2,448kWh of electricity a year. This would earn you £1,059 in tariff payments, save you £159 on your electricity bill and also earn£75 for the electricity that you sell back to the grid every year. This means that you would be over £1,200 better off every year, about £100 a month.
After 7 years you would have earned back your initial investment. After 25 years you would have a tax free profit of over £31,000. This is the reason solar photovoltaic is so popular.
You have the choice of getting a free solar PV system which will not incur any costs to you at all and benefit from the free electricity for at least 25 years. Or you could buy your own system and earn the tax free profits for yourself.
People have their own reasons for either choosing free or paid solar and it very much depends on their own personal circumstances. If for example you have been retired for a few years and did not want to tie up your finances in solar but want to help reduce your electricity bills then free solar would be a good option. If you are planning on staying in your home for many years to come and have the capital or can get a low interest loan then buying your own system would be the most financially rewarding option.
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Grants & Schemes
In 2010 the UK invested 3.3 billion dollars on clean energy technologies, half of this went on offshore wind farms. Germany invested 41.2 billion the same year, over 12 times as much.
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