Friday, August 5, 2011

What would Mr Sunshine say?

My experience of going Solar.

I've looked into solar a lot over the years. I really like the idea of generating your own electricity, being more self sufficient and out of the clutches of the greedy power companies.
I filled in a survey a couple of years ago when the Free Solar Government initiative started, and was unsuccessful, though I didn't know why at the time.

A few months ago, I filled in another online survey, this time at a website called: which is actually a company called PV Solar UK. They are the largest solar installer in the UK, and at time of writing, the only company covering the whole of the UK.

So, I filled in the online form again and gave it a whirl.
I was called shortly after to say a salesman would be in touch.
Then I was called again to ask if I had concrete tiles.
I don't, which apparently means I yet again wasn't eligible for free panels.
To be eligible you need to be south facing (I'm about 20° off), have a 25 square meter roof area (I didn't), and have concrete roof tiles. So all in all it was a no show on these 3 criteria.

What is important to know now is this: the Govt, through the Carbon Trust has guaranteed that solar panels on houses will be eligible for a payment for every kilowatt of electricity the panels produce. At the moment it's about 43p a Kw. On top of that you also get paid for the electricity you don't use and send back to the grid. That's about 3-4p. Now, because your electricity meter only runs 1 way, there's no way of knowing just how much you are sending back, so the Power companies have agreed a figure of 50% of what you generate. Nice and simple.
This money is paid to you through your power supplier, who claims it from the Carbon Trust. The carbon trust gets their money from us…apparently there is a payment in all our fuel bills that goes to the carbon trust for just such instalment payments.
I have seen people complaining that if you take advantage of these payments you are robbing from people…huh?
Anyway, back to the free panels… what's the catch? This is it, you get them installed for free, you get the free electricity they generate, the installation company get's all the carbon trust payments. That's how it works, and to be honest, it's a pretty good deal.

So, I couldn't have them, but before I put down the phone in disappointment the operator said there may be another option, and we kept the appointment.

How do I afford a solar system on the cheap?

OK, so the sales guy turns up and gives his pitch. It's a good one. It's very good.
How do I afford it? We work out that to put the maximum number of panels on the roof (12 large or 16 of the new smaller variety), a 2.88KW system is 15K. 15K!!! I don't even have 1K of savings.
Incidentally, all the panels from PV Solar are made by Sharp, so a very reliable make.
Back to the story…

So, it just so happens that Barclays Bank have had an eye on PV Solar for a while, keeping track of their business. Also, to date Tesco's have as well and you now have an option for this next part:
Barclays (and now Tesco) have gone into partnership with PV Solar. They will loan you the money to buy the system over 10yrs. For 15K my loan is about £180 per month.
How do I pay that? You pay for it with the money you get back from the Carbon Trust, plus the savings you make on your electricity bill, which is supposed to be about 1/3rd.

(the figures for savings etc are based on my house, the angle to the south, the amount of shading the roof gets. Each will be different, so these figures will probably change for you).

So, I signed up. Your given 7 days to cool of and change your mind, then the surveyor comes and checks the property to make sure it will all go to plan. The panels themselves don't take any drilling, they clip onto the tile rafters. The fitters remove the tiles, put some brackets onto the beams, then put the tiles back. Then the panels slot onto the brackets.
We are a 3 story townhouse end terrace, so had to have quite a bit of scaffolding.
The installation took 1 day, the scaffolding was removed and the job of PV Solar was done.
You do get a pack of pre-paid postcards to fill in each month to let them know how the system is doing, and to date I've filled in 2.

Now the bit that was like pulling teeth.
To complete the deal with the Carbon Trust you need to get a Feed In Tarriff form from your electricity supplier. Mine is British Gas. On the BG website their is a number to ring. I tried, and after 15mins thought they must be busy and gave up. The next time I tried for 20mins. The final time I left the phone ringing and ringing. It took 90mins for someone to pick up. 90mins!
If you are not patient, give up now. I was told in reply to my letter of complaint to BG that the amount of people taking up the Solar Panels is phenomenal, and there is a 4 week backlog.
I eventually get the form, fill it in sending the certificates that come from the Solar company, and then waited for the Terms & Condition's form to sign. After a couple of weeks I sent a letter. I had tried e-mailing: but all I got was an automated response. The letter did get me the T&C form, it is now signed and dated. I lost about 64KW from the installation to getting the form, so I won't get money for that.
Apparently, what happens now is every 3 months I have to e-mail the readings to BG and I will get a payment within 28 days.

Does it all work?
I can't answer that fully yet, I haven't got to the 3 month period, and when I do I will have lost the first 64KW from the reading because of the above delay. So far, according to my rough estimates the amount may not be enough to cover the loan, but it may be only by £10 or so. Oh, and it's not so bad when you also realise, that although the loan is for 10yrs, the guaranteed carbon trust payments are for 25yrs.
Last month (July) it produced about 300 units, so that would be:
300 x .43 = £129
150 x .03 = £4.5
(my electricity bill has just come and I am £30 in credit), so all together = £163.5
These are rough figures, I think the actual figures are higher, and also linked to inflation, and tax free too!

I will report back more when I know more and the first payment has proceeded, but as there is so little info of this type on the net I thought I would write my story so far.

I thought i would mention that solar panels really does alter the way you live and do things.
We have bought lot's of timer plugs from Amazon so all the power hungry items come on at midday, when the electricity coming from the panels is at it's peak. We've turned to slow cookers for a lot of meals, all energy saving bulbs, and are also looking at updated washing machines/hoovers.
So far, we can have 2 slow cookers on, radio, fridge & freezer and it doesn't cost a penny. Obviously as soon as daylight (not sunlight) goes, you are taking power from the grid, and thus paying.
Also we boil the kettle once in the morning and fill a flask rather than keep boiling. Charge laptops up at midday and then unplug. Anything to use free power rather than pay.
I've also just started buying low wattage 400w electric radiators to help in the winter. Gas is a real killer, I'm still paying off last winters bill for central heating.

If you have any questions, please ask, and if I can I will answer them.


  1. Great write up. As an enthusiast of solar panels , and wish you to rate my website Heat my Home and hopefully will gladly add your listing to our website too.


  2. Follow up: I've finally had my first cheque which covers the first 2.5 months of having the panels up. The cheque was for £394.23. So, do I break even?
    Well, I had 3 full loan installments to pay for, so that was: £555 which is a minus of roughly £261. My electricity account is currently: £116 in credit!!! which leaves £145 out...but remember the first month was only a half month.
    Conclusion: The savings and payments are enough to cover the loan. The sales pitch about having lot's of money over to pay the loan of in half the time is very exaggerated.
    It's a good investment, but realistic estimates are needed to be used by the sales team.

  3. By my calculations if your system produced 300KwH in June and July it should produce about 2000KwH a year.

    At the 11p/KwH that electricity companies charge that is £220 worth. The Carbon Trust subsidies mean you should get £890 back as well as saving £110 on your electricity bills so you should break even after 22 years or so.

    Without the subsidies it would have taken 98 years to pay back the £21600 the loan will cost.

  4. A bit of a late follow up, the tariff isn't 11p, it's 43p and then there is another calculation on top for electricity put back to the grid which is 3p for another half of the power generated.