Installing solar panels to generate electricity may or may not make you a better citizen. But let’s face it: most households and businesses will not go solar unless it is cheaper than other alternatives. The government knows this, which is why they created the Feed-In Tariff and other tax incentives to encourage you to adopt and stick with solar power.
There are certain requirements you’ll need to fulfill – such as planning permission, depending on your location, and a mostly south-facing installation site, for starters. Nonetheless, the UK landscape is increasingly dotted with solar panel installations, and for good reasons. Let’s examine them.
Strong fiscal incentives
Starting this year the amount UK businesses can write off as tax-deductible capital expenditure jumped from £25,000 to £250,000 for investments made in 2013-14. Solar PV systems qualify for the allowance, meaning in many cases the full cost of an installation could be written off.
The UK government Feed-In Tariff (FIT) scheme, begun in 2010, has spurred a growing army of solar panel providers offering increasingly efficient, affordable systems. Your electricity provider will pay you a set rate for each kilowatt of power you generate with your solar panels, and additional money for any excess power generated and returned to the national grid. The scheme guarantees payments for 20 years, providing a powerful incentive to stick with your solar panels.
A cost-effective long-term energy source
Since you’re generating your own power, you will naturally buy less of it from your electricity provider. The Energy Saving Trust estimates that a 3.5 kWp solar PV installation can generate up to 3,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year – enough to satisfy 75% of a typical household’s need. Such a system currently costs about £5,000, though the actual cost will depend on your location, the size of your installation and other factors. The clincher is that this system will generate close to £650 in FIT savings and income in the first year, with more to follow in subsequent years.
Solar power is essentially free and, even in perennially overcast Britain, abundant. Direct sunshine is not even required; simple daylight is enough. And it does not pollute. The UK fueled its rise to world-power status with coal, but those days are over. The future is in clean energy, for both producers and consumers. Why else would the government give away millions to urge you to become both?
The cost of solar panels will depend on the size of your installation – naturally, the larger the installation, the higher the cost. As we saw above, a typical home can satisfy its electricity needs with a 3-4 kWp installation, which costs roughly £5,000 but eventually pays for itself thanks to FIT.
Numerous Do It Yourself (DIY) installation kits are available on the market. This is a viable option if your solar panels are only for backup power or if you are not interested in the fiscal benefits of going solar. But if you want to take full advantage of FIT income-generating potential, both your panels and the installation professional must be accredited by the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS), a quality assurance scheme that guarantees adherence to rigorous industry standards.
How do solar panels generate electricity?
Photovoltaic (PV) panels contain layers of silicon cells connected electrically and packaged in frames. When sunlight reaches the cells, some of it is absorbed into the silicon. The energy knocks electrons loose from the silicon. This creates an electric current, which flows through wires built into the solar panel leading into your property to be used for power or stored in batteries for later use.