Mythbusting Solar PV Panels

Solar photovoltaic panels are now widely recognised; having adorned over 650,000 UK roofs. Since government tariffs were slashed over three years ago, and a resulting swathe of poor press coverage, the UK population in part went cold on the idea of solar panels. Since then the economic model for the domestic market has slowly turned back around in favour of the consumer; but for many the financial benefits and practical facts concerning solar pv are not fully understood.

Read on as we clarify some of the key questions and misinformation you may have heard…

Myth 1: If I install PV panels it will take 20 years to get my money back

This was true in 2007, now most people installing PV on their homes today enjoy a 10-14% return on the money they have invested. That equates to an 8-year payback, on top of which the government actually pays you for 20 years; so you benefit for a further 12 years after the system has paid for itself. The tariffs are also linked to the retail price index (RPI) and the income is tax free.

Myth 2: Solar PV panels are ugly and unsightly

Whilst on-roof systems can be classed as a bit obtrusive there are a number of solutions to combat the “eyesore”. The simplest and most cost effective is to buy dark coloured panels with black anodised frames. For some this softens the look enough to make it acceptable at little extra cost.

If you have a little more money to spend, roof integrated panels can be installed; both saving on roof tiles and not protruding from the roof. These systems are best camouflaged on slate roofs or dark tile roofs due to the blue/black colour of the pv crystals.

Myth 3: You need roof space

Many people are unaware that panels can be mounted on the ground or on outbuildings. All manner of creative solutions have been implemented across the country to place panels away from the main home and yet still generate power and a healthy income.

If you have an area of ground at the end of your garden hidden from view but not shaded by trees during the day there is a possibility you can place a ground array there. For some, mounting systems on the ground allows them to benefit both from a due south facing array, and an optimised angle of tilt toward the sun. Instead of being constrained by a roof pitch as many are on homes.

Myth 4: My roof if not south facing roof so there is no point

Very few people have a due south facing roof and this is really not an issue. If your roof faces 45 degrees from due south (SE or SW) you only lose around 4% on generation. In fact even if the roof faces due east or due west you still only lose around 10-12% of maximum capacity. As long as the panels are not put on a Northerly facing aspect of the home you can still generate significant sums of energy throughout the year.

Myth 5: Solar PV panels don’t work in the UK because of our cloudy days

This is a very common question for most installation companies but again another complete myth. Solar panels rely on ambient brightness and do not need direct sunlight and clear blue skies to operate efficiently. Many days in the UK are cloudy but bright and as a result yields remain high all year round. Even my solar array at home produces energy on all but a handful of days a year. Often the only days it doesn’t is when snow is covering them!

Myth 6: You make more money returning electricity to the grid

Many people think that money is made from solar panels by selling energy back to the grid. The reality is that there is no way, in a standard installation, to measure returned energy to the grid; let alone get paid for individual home export readings.

Money from PV is generated as follows:

  1. The FIT payment. A generation meter is fitted to the installation which measures how much electricity the panels generate. On this basis you are paid on a quarterly basis by your FIT supplier based on the agreed tariff and the meter reading.
  2. Assumed exported electricity. An assumed 50% of the generated energy is “assumed” to go back to the grid and on this basis a nominal tariff rate of a few pence is paid, related to your meter reading, in addition to the FIT payment mentioned above.
  3. Using electricity at source. Whilst the previous payments are generated whether the house is in use or not, this saving/income most certainly is optimised if you are using appliances and electricity during the day. Electricity produced from the panels will naturally be used by appliances in the home before going to the grid, hence reducing your imported electricity bill.

So as you can see Myth 6 really is a whopper, but hopefully has now been clarified.

With such high returns solar remains one of the most sensible investments for many householders especially as electricity bills continue to rise. We just hope that home owners continue to speak to the right companies, get the right advice and continue to benefit from sensible and robust investments whilst they remain on offer.

Do you have any questions or comments? We would love to hear them.

Doug Johnson

Doug is a chartered mechanical engineer and has had the pleasure of being involved in the UK renewable sector since 2008. With wide-ranging operational and design experience in both the domestic and commercial sectors across a wide range of recognised technologies he hopes to be able to share his experience to help enlighten and save you hassle along the way.