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Solar Panels–worth it or not?

All that effort for £70 a year?

Back in October 2010, a company visited my home village of Wark  in Northumberland, offering free solar panels for anyone who wanted them – while offering to sell said panels for those who were keen to pay and take advantage of the “generous feed-in tariffs”. By solar panels I mean photovoltaic panels, the ones that generate electricity, not the ones that heat up water.

I was originally very cynical but decided to “give it a go”. I missed the original meeting at the town hall where the benefits were discussed but called up the company who then came to visit me. The plan was to fit panels to our flat roof here in Wark but also to our more standard roof up in nearby Bellingham.  Both are south-facing and therefore able to make best use of the sun. We opted for the free version. We received paperwork suggesting that we could make a saving of around £220 a year.

To explain, when the companies fit free panels to your home, they make money not only on solar power you use, but also solar power you don’t, via the frankly ludicrous “feed-in tariff”. The government used to give grants for buying solar panels but in 2010 changed that to one in which they pay you for all the solar electricity you produce – whether you use it yourself or “feed it back into the grid”.

This quickly became big business – but it was always entirely artificial – making money for those who provide these systems for free – or for those who buy them outright, NOT because it is green or in any way an alternative to other forms of power, but because of the taxpayer-funded highly-inflated feed-in tariff described above… so when you’re told that someone has “gone green” – they can be as inefficient as they like – and you, the taxpayer, are paying them an economically unsustainable amount per kilowatt that they generate – even if they use it for their own purposes – how stupid is that?

After much conversation and receiving brochures of suitable panels, the company finally admitted that the flat roof on our house in WARK was a non-starter which left us with the property in Bellingham. We signed up for the panels but then heard nothing for months. I rang up and was told that due to changes in funding, for the pitched roof in Bellingham we’d have to re-do the paperwork.

I then read this which is suitable for a UK audience (and has been updated January 2017, the grant situation in the UK having recently gone downhill)…


American audiences might find this one more interesting – https://understandsolar.com/much-can-solar-save-time/

It would appear from the former that if you take the free option you could be looking at savings of around £70 a year, a figure significantly LESS than was originally suggested to us… the company on the other hand stood at the time to make £1,030 a year, no doubt less today. Assuming the panels last £25 years (that is a big assumption) and the tariff lasts that long, that’s not a bad rate of return on their investment – which according to Money Saving Expert is typically around £12,000.   That profit is coming presumably from the tax-payer. George Monbiot of the Guardian called the whole thing a rip-off – read his blog here. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/mar/01/solar-panel-feed-in-tariff

And what happens if you sell your house? Best check the fine print on that one…. would potential buyers of your home be wary of getting involved with a house where the roof is leased out? What if your roof gets damaged underneath the panels? Who pays for repairs and refitting panels?

The government says the feed-in tariff payments will run for 25 years – but then this is a government so broke it is reducing public sector pensions after it’s predecessor took every cent they could out of businesses and still left us in the lurch. What if tomorrow there is a major breakthrough in solar or wave power, dwarfing current efficiencies and finally making a practical alternative to coal and oil and reducing the cost of electricity– does anyone believe that a broke government will keep to that 25-year commitment for the older technologies – and trust me – as things stand in the UK the government is not going to have a lot of spending money in the next decade.

So, £70 a year real saving on the one hand and “earn up to £1,500 a year tax-free” thanks to publicly-funded payments on the other (http://solardirectsavings-px.rtrk.co.uk/?utm_source=Reach%2BLocal&utm_medium=PPC&utm_campaign=Reach%2BLocal)

How green is this? Doesn’t seem very green to me.  How else could you save £70 a year?

Well, it’s been suggested that unplugging your mobile chargers could save you money – personally I think (I KNOW) that is rubbish. I went out and bought an inline meter to check electricity use – not one of those units which tells you how many kilowatts you’re using (though they are great) but one you put between the wall socket and an individual appliance. The amount of electricity used by modern “switched” chargers is insignificant. The amount used by your SKY box on the other hand, in my case is 23 watts and not much less on standby – that is all day, every day.

Let’s look at that, 23w, 24/7 totals 200kw/h a year. At 15p a kw/h that’s £30+ a year.  It does not therefore take too much thinking about to realise where you can start to make savings. Put the Sky unit on a timer 9check the power consumption of the timer) so that it is OFF during times you’re unlikely to be making recordings or watching TV – which for some of us is 75% of the day.

Let’s take lighting – I recall some time ago listening to two women in Tescos supermarket as they were looking at the lighting section and one, rather horrifyingly ignorantly said “Oh, we don’t use those in our house” referring to compact fluorescent lighting… well, at the time I did and today (2017) I’ve moved on and use LED lighting. High power incandescent lamps have been taken off the shelves and rightly so – if it were up to me I would ban ALL of them – especially the new “trendy” filament lamps as there are LED equivalents which are just as authentic looking. I’m working under powerful, warm LED lighting right now and it is wonderful. I have 3 LED spots, using 3w each  and replacing what would have been at least 20w halogens though I suspect the output is half way between the 20w and 50w halogens. Compact  fluorescents were cheap a while ago (subsidised) but are no longer so and simply are past their time. For now LED is the future and if you can avoid getting ripped off on purchase cost (which means don’t buy them at B&Q) they will repay the investment quickly.

So the saving by converting to low-current LED lighting and perhaps putting that Sky box on a timer could match the total savings you make with a complex and risky solar panel installation – and you can still opt for solar panels in the future when they make them a lot more efficient – or as is likely to happen ultimately, a large second hand market appears?

So what of solar hot water? Isn’t that a better bet? According to the energy savings trust you’re looking at anticipated savings of between £50 and £85 a year… a mere drop in the ocean.  http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/Generate-your-own-energy/Solar-water-heating

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