How To Have Solar Panels Installed For Free

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Solar energy can be broken down into two categories; solar electric and solar thermal. Solar electric consists of photovoltaics (PV) and concentrated solar power (CSP) that produces electricity. Solar thermal technologies capture the sun's thermal energy for water or space heating. For passive solar building design please see Publication 1293. There are 3 ways to put solar panels on your house for free. Hire a solar company to perform the free installation with a solar loan. Buy your own solar panels and install them yourself (not recommended) Get the government to pay for some of the solar panels with rebates.Disclaimer – You will notice a lot of sites online saying you can.

How To Have Solar Panels Installed For Free Without

Since 2010 we have been letting people know about great savings they could make by taking advantage of the free solar panels being offered by private companies but made possible by the government feed-in tariff scheme.

If you are looking to reduce the cost of your energy the best way to do so is compare energy suppliers. You can find prices on the regularly updated Safe Energy Switch page on the cheapest gas and electricity tariffs.

Like many most households in the UK they are paying more than they need to but are not confident or don't have the time or inclination to compare energy providers tariffs. I have put together some information on automatic energy switching services including reviews and an introduction on how they work by doing the comparisons for you.

100% free solar and 37% average saving on your energy bill

Upto 100% grants for home loft and cavity wall insualtion

Buy a solar PV system to claim the FIT grants yourself

Solar panels are one of a number of ways which can help you reduce your costs, you can expect typical average savings of 37% on your electricity bills.

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Latest

Solar quick facts

  • Current feed-in tariff rate (<4kW) is 21 pence per kWh
  • Typical households save 40% on their electricity bills¹
  • An average solar PV system is 2.7kWp¹
  • Most common sized PV system installed in 2010 is 3.3kWp²
  • Solar PV cost per kilowatt installed is £4-5,000¹
  • The optimum angle for solar panels in the UK is 30° to 40°
  • Solar PV installed in Cornwall will perform 20% better than in Scotland
  • In March 2011 the total number of registered FIT solar installations passed 100MW
  • Over 100,000 homes now have solar installed
  • 2012 has seen 4kWp systems available for under £10,000

¹Based on Energy Savings Trust figures
²Based on Ofgem installation data

How do I qualify?

The question that everyone asks is whether they qualify for free solar panels. In actual fact the criteria is based on your home and not your own particular circumstances. In general there are a few guidelines that mean your home may be suitable for free solar, you will not know for definite until you apply and a free solar installer with say yes or no. It is also important to note that even though your home may not qualify for free solar it does not mean that it is not suitable for a solar installation, it just means that your roof does not meet the criteria for that particular installer you applied with.

So here are the main criteria installers look at when considering your home for free solar;

Home Ownership - You must own the property for which you are applying, this can mean outright, with a mortgage or if you are the landlord of a property.

South Facing Roof - Most installers will consider a roof facing from south east through to south west, however the closer to due south the better.

Roof Size - The larger the better, the larger the south facing part of your roof is the more likely you will qualify. The roof size most installers are looking for is around 20m² and this should be clear un-shaded roof space.

There are other criteria that may come into play which may vary depending on the free installer. In general however these are the 3 main criteria that your home must meet in order to qualify for free solar. If you are buying your own solar PV system the criteria is not as strict because your options are more flexible which means a much smaller roof can have solar panels.

Free electricity for 25 years

This offer means that the company who install the panels gets the money to recoup their initial investment. However you get free electricity during the day without you having to make any investment. So consumers have the choice of paying for the system up front and reaping the financial rewards or getting it installed free and getting free electricity during the day.

The scheme has been set up so that if you do choose to buy the panels yourself you will get your investment back. It is even calculated that if you decide to get a 25 year loan to pay for the installation the feed in tariff payments that you get should be above the amount you pay back on the loan each year. Paying for the solar panel system yourself does give you a greater financial reward but you will have to either have the spare cash to pay upfront or be able to get a sufficient loan to cover the cost.

The cost of a typical photovoltaic system starts at about £5,000 for the smallest type of system. The largest system which is just under 4kWp and consists of about 22 panels can be bought from as little as £14,000 (see How much are solar panels?) fully installed but can cost as much as £20,000 so it pays to shop around and get several quotes.The initially outlay should easily be earned back through the governments solar cash back scheme with payback periods ranging from 7 to 11 years.

If you are choosing a company to either buy a photovoltaic system from or take up the offer of free solar panels you need to make sure that they are MCS certified. MCS is an independent microgeneration certification scheme that certifies the system and installer. If the system and installers are not MCS certified then the electricity companies will not pay you or the company that installed the system the feed-in tariff or the export tariff.

Install

Take action before the 2012 deadline

The benefits of having a solar voltaic system installed now far outweigh the costs. You are now eligible for a generation tariff of up to 41.3 pence for every kilowatt hour or unit of electricity your panels produce whether you use the electricity or not. This means that you can use the electricity that your panels produce which not only means free electricity but your energy supplier will pay you for it as well which is a double saving. For any electricity you do not use and feed back into the national grid you get an extra payment called an export tariff which is currently 3 pence for every kilowatt hour (unit). This means if you pay for the panels you get free electricity and two lots of payments. If you get the solar panels installed for free by a company the company gets the two payments but you get the free electricity.

The best time to take advantage of this system is now to lock in the guaranteed high payments before the March 2012 deadline. After this is may not be as cost effective to get solar panels installed. The good news is that if you take advantage now you are guaranteed the payments for 25 years. Who wouldn't want 25 years of free electricity especially as most peoples electric bills will rise dramatically over that time.

How do I apply?

There are now a number of companies providing free installations where they will install and then maintain the panels for at least 25 years. For the 25 year contract the company still owns the panels but you get the free electricity. After the contract end you then usually take ownership of the panels. The panels should still continue to generate free electricity for years to come. Solar panel manufacturer Sharp still has solar panels that are still working to their manufacturing specifications 45 years after they originally installed them.

You can easily apply by filling in the free solar panel enquiry form. Being accepted for free solar will depend on certain criteria. Solar works best on a south facing roof so you will need to have a largish clear roof space that faces in a southerly direction, it doesn't have to be exactly south facing. You also need to own your own home and your roof should preferably be un-shaded from trees or other buildings.

Free solar panel installers

There are a number of free installers in the UK, some of which also sell solar PV systems, some provide only free solar and there are also many free solar brokers that do not provide the solar systems themselves but instead either pass on your details to an installer or outsource the installation to another installer.

Here at FreeSolarPanelsUK.co.uk we were the first free solar site to maintain a list of companies where you can apply to find out if your home is suitable for solar. Our list of installers now includes information about whether the company is accredited under the Microgeneration Certification Scheme and whether they are a member of REAL.

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Your solar power system has been installed. What next?

Unless your solar installer is also qualified to work on your meter (usually, they’re not), you’ll have to wait for a separate sparky from your electricity retailer or network to come and reconfigure your meter to measure your exports. They may even need to give you a whole new meter.

If it isn’t part of your installation quote, this usually costs about $300. It’ll cost more if you have a three phase supply.

You are not normally allowed to switch your solar power system on until your new meter is installed. To help pass the time, you can do some simple checks of the install. I’m not recommending that you climb on the roof or try to do the job of a trained inspector, but there are simple things that can get overlooked. You can easily look for these and quickly get them put right so your system has the best chance possible of lasting 25 years or more.

Checking your install

Here are the things to look for.

On your wall

How

Check the following things:

  1. Inverters and isolators are protected from lengthy exposure to direct sunlight.
  2. Any outside, wall-mounted isolators do not have any electrical conduit entries from the top. This is a recipe for rain getting into the isolator, and that’s big trouble.
  3. The cables going into the solar inverter are neat and secured so they can’t be pulled or caught.
  4. All open conduits are sealed with a gland, not silicone.
  5. The inverter (or third-party monitoring system) is set to alert you if something goes wrong, so you don’t have to wait for the next bill to find out.

On your roof

If your house is single storey, you should be able to see all this from the ground – don’t go climbing up there unless you know what you’re doing.

Free Solar Systems For Homes

  1. The solar panels are neatly lined up and level. Anything else is just plain lazy.
  2. Any excess rails are trimmed.
  3. No panels are overhanging or less than 200 mm from the edge of the roof. Positioning panels close to the edge is asking for the wind to get under and damage your roof or stress your panels. If the solar panels are too close to the gutter, the rain running off them can miss the gutter altogether. Online Resource: If you really need to go closer than 200mm to the edge of your roof – it is possible with the right racking and enough roof fixings. This post explains how: solarquotes.com.au/edge
  4. Any cables between panel arrays are not via an ugly, sun-exposed electrical conduit but through the roof cavity.
  5. The solar panel clamps are in ‘clamping zones’. The clamping zones vary between panel makes and models. Usually, each panel will have four clamps on the long sides and they need to be 100–300 mm from each corner. If the clamps are too far away from or too close to the corners, your panel can flex in the wind, cracking the silicon cells and drastically shortening its life. Online resource: Learn more about solar panel clamping zones here: solarquotes.com.au/cz
  6. If your quote and design assumed no shading, your panels should be unshaded throughout the day. Be wary of TV aerials, roof vents and flues.
  7. All rooftop isolators should be shielded from the sun.
  8. Any tilt-racking legs should usually be at right angles to the solar panels for maximum strength. If they aren’t, check that this is allowed by asking to see the racking manufacturer’s instructions, which will contain the relevant diagram. I’ve noticed that solar installers are excellent at electrics but they can miss a trick on the mechanical side of things, so this is worth checking.

Online resource: You can find an illustrated checklist with photos of good and bad installations for each point here: solarquotes.com.au/installcheck

Documentation

Sadly, many solar installers – even the good ones – don’t give documentation the priority it deserves, so you may have to hassle them for this.

Documentation is important because:

  • you can refer to it if something goes wrong
  • it shows you how to safely shut down and start up the system, and
  • it tells you who to contact for warranties

If anyone comes to service or inspect your system, or do other electrical work on your house, it’s an important reference for them too. Moreover, the Australian Standard for solar installation says it has to be provided, so insist on a full documentation package.

This should include the following:

  • List of equipment
  • Warranty information – including which manufacturers to contact if the solar company disappears
  • Equipment manual
  • Equipment handbook
  • Array frame or racking engineering certificate (proves mechanical safety)
  • Shut-down and isolation procedure
  • System performance estimate
  • Maintenance requirements
  • What to do if there’s an earth fault alarm
  • System-connection diagram
  • Site inspection checklist
  • Testing and commissioning checklist
  • Declaration of compliance
  • Certificate of electrical safety

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