SOLAR PANEL BUYERS GUIDE
There are several good reasons to consider buying solar panels, whether it be Photovoltaic or thermal, but the 3 most commonly quoted reasons would be to save on your household energy bills, make an income from feed in tariffs and to reduce reliance on buying your energy from giant energy corporations who seem to be regularly in the news media for unfair or unclear pricing.
This is all very good, but how do you go about buying fully fitted solar panels and what factors should you be aware of before signing a contract.
Is my home suitable?
Most residential property roofing can accept solar panels (except asbestos or thatched) but it should be primarily free of shading and have a Southerly facing surface, or be within 55 degrees of south facing.
Flat roofs and ground areas can also accommodate installations, but will need special mounting. Slate roofs can be more expensive than concrete tiled roofs to fit solar PV panels on, as generally the mounting systems are more labour intensive to fit.
Your property should have an Energy Performance Certificate (see miscellaneous FAQ”S) showing your home is rated Band C or above to get the highest Tariff – be aware that if you fit solar panels to a D rated property, even if you improve the property rating later you will not be eligible for the higher Tariff.
Listed Properties, properties in Areas of Outstanding Natural beauty or National Parks may need planning permission. Most properties will not require planning permission, but go to your local authority website to see if they have guidance or give them a call as there are some rules to abide by. Your installer should be aware of the rules but it is your responsibility at the end of the day. (more info here)
Getting QuotationsMost important – only deal with companies who are MCS registered for 3 reasons:
- They have been certified as competent by an independent government body
- You will not be eligible for the Feed in Tariff if your installation is not certified by an MCS registered contractor or company.
- They have to abide by the RECC (renewable energy consumer code)
Have your home surveyed – make sure you are having a proper survey & quote, not an estimate from a Sales Rep (ask if the person visiting your home is a surveyor or a salesperson)
Sales Representatives should:
- Discuss the visit limitations
- Tell you your home should be properly surveyed
- Disclose if they are commission based
- Tell you that it is not recommended to sign contracts based solely on their visit
A Surveyor Will:
- Check which way your roof is facing and the angle of inclination of the roof itself
- Asses the condition of your roof from the inside (loft) & outside
- Ask you about your property EPC (energy performance certificate)
- Take into account all shading issues (allowing for times of day & seasonal changes)
- Investigate your fuses & meters
- Discuss your current & future consumption (have some previous bills to hand)
- Review & discuss siting of cable runs & equipment (such as the inverter, which can be noisy)
- Identify ongoing costs, such a inverter replacement (the will need to be replaced after 10 – 15 years) & maintenance costs
Subsequent to your survey, the company should provide you with a full written quote which will not only clearly show the cost of the work but also an official estimate (SAP approved) of potential income from the feed in tariff & savings on your utility bills.
This quote should also clarify the type of panels & inverters (including the warranties & guarantees). You should also clarify who is doing the work – the main contractor or sub-contractors
Advance Deposits at time of signing the contract should be no more than 25% of the total cost and it is best to work with a company that has some kind of insurance backed deposit guarantee in place. The RECC also specifies that companies are not to offer large “on the spot” special offers or discounts or any other method that can be viewed as pressuring the customer to buy.
Get at least 4 quotes from MCS certified companies – take your time to review them in detail and only go ahead when you are satisfied that all your questions have been answered.