If you are looking to get free solar panels installed there are currently quite a few companies to choose from. Most of the companies are concentrated around London and also concentrated in a central corridor following Derbyshire up to South Yorkshire. If you live in these regions then you will have more choice when it comes to finding an installer.
To find the best deal you need to compare the size of the system that will be installed, how long the contract lasts and if you get ownership after the contract ends. There are also a couple of companies offering payments if you choose them to install the free panels. You must take into consideration all of these factors in order to get the best deal.
The first thing you should do is confirm as to whether you are actually eligible for free solar. The criteria for all installers is that you own your own home and it has an unshaded south facing roof with enough space to accommodate the panels. If your house is not exactly south facing you may still qualify with some of the companies that use the more capable panels.
You also need to be in the catchment area of the installer. Some installer only cover the local area and may have a maximum distance they will travel from their base of operations. Other companies cover several locations of which may not necessarily be on their own doorstep. You can check if there is a free solar installer in your area by viewing the list of free solar panel installers and the map of solar installers to see if your area is covered.
If you are going to rent your roof you are going to want to get the best return. This means getting a system that will bring you the most benefit and this means reduced electricity bills. The main benefit of free solar is that over the years as the cost of electricity rises you will be partially sheltered from these costs. Every year as costs rise you should make a greater saving on your bills. So these are the different factors that you should be considering.
The size of the array will determine how much electricity it produces, the larger the array the more free electricity for you. Each company has different sized systems that they install, most have at least two different sized arrays. An array is made up of a number of panels, the larger the size of your roof the more panels can be installed.
The size of the solar PV array is measured in kilowatts, for free residential systems these can go up to just under 4kWp (kilowatt peak). The installer will let you know the largest sized system they can install. A larger system is more beneficial as it means that there will be more free electricity available during the day for you to use. This will be particularly beneficial during the winter months were solar PV produces less electricity and a larger system will make more power available than a smaller one.
Another important consideration is the length of the contract and whether or not you get ownership of the panels after the contract ends. Ideally you want the shortest contract available where you get to keep the panels at the end of it. The minimum term for all of the contracts is 25 years however some require a slightly longer term.
After the contract ends the panels will still generate free electricity for you and may continue to do so for 40+ years. You may also be able to earn money from selling the surplus electricity back to your energy company. During the summer months you will generate more electricity than you can use. The installer would have previously earned this revenue but as you would be the new owner you could earn this revenue.
There are now a couple of installers who provide free solar panels plus a cash payment after installation is complete. These cash payments are being introduced by some companies in order to attract new customers.
At the other end of the spectrum are the Eon free solar panels where they charge a £99 non refundable admin fee. On the plus side if you have a large enough roof you can have their 3.89kWp system installed which is about the largest sized array you can get for free.
Currently the best offer is from Reflex Energy who offer a 3kWp system plus a £500 payment that they pay you after the installation is complete. This offer is only currently available in the Leicestershire and Rutland area. Sol et Libre have a similar offer that covers the south of England. They offer a £250 payment but their contract is for 27 years making it less attractive.
update 22 June 2011: I have been contacted by Robin of Sol et Libre who has clarified the situation with the 27 year contract. They will continue to maintain, insure and monitor the panels over this extended period even if they no longer receive the Feed-in tariff payments. For customers this means you will have peace of mind for longer with their extended maintenance.
If your roof can only accommodate a 3kWh system and you are in the Leicestershire area then Reflex have the best offer. If you have the roof space then any of the systems that are just under 4kWh are the best for you as they will generate the most free electricity. Eons offer seems poor as you have to pay a relatively small admin fee but people may be reassured by the brand name.
If you are at home during the day then these free solar offers will make much more financial sense as you will be able to use the power the panels generate during the day. If the house is unoccupied during the day the offer seems less attractive as the electricity will not get used and will be sold back to the grid where you will not benefit.
To put it in context a family who is at home during the day will save up to two thirds on their electricity bills. A family who is out all day will save up to a third on their bills.
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Grants & Schemes
A roof facing as far as a West-South-West (almost West facing) direction or East-South-East (almost East facing) can still potentially generate up to 90 percent of a roof facing South.
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