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Are you thinking about getting solar electricity for your home, but don’t know where to start?

In 2011, I was working with a renewable energy company designing solar systems for homes and businesses. At the same time my family and I decided to make the switch to solar. It’s been great for lowering our impact on the environment, but also made us more resilient and less susceptible to fossil fuel price increases. In this blog I am going to share some of my top tips for how you too can make the solar switch and why now is the time to do so.

If you can move quickly, you could still benefit from the government's Feed-In Tariff Scheme which comes to an end on 31 March 2019. This has been a great scheme to help consumers make the switch to solar. It enables homeowners to use the energy they generate for themselves before topping up from the ‘grid’, thereby saving on their electricity bill.

The tariff has helped to create a solar industry and to drive down costs. It is paid by all electricity customers through their electricity bills. Each solar panel owner submits their own solar meter reading every three months and receives tax-free and index-linked payments for 20 years.

But even if you can’t act quickly, it’s still worth making the move to solar. After widespread campaigning, the government announced in January that it would launch a new scheme, called the Smart Export Guarantee, to replace the Feed-In Tariff scheme. A consultation on how this would work is underway, but there will be a gap between the end of the Feed-In Tariffs and the start of the new scheme.

Six reasons why you should switch to solar

  1. A solar system could still be a good investment because it helps protect you from future electricity price increases. Power shortages are even possible, with traditional thermal and older nuclear plants being decommissioned and new nuclear power plants taking years to construct.
  2. A solar system will last for 20 years with minimal maintenance, only the occasional clean.
  3. If your home has 15–20m² of unshaded space (roof or garden), then you could save around 40 per cent of your electricity bill, and considerably more if you have a battery to store the solar power – either a home battery, or an electric vehicle.
  4. To maximise your returns, you can put appliances on a timer on sunny days sequentially.
  5. You could also future-proof your property, as house battery storage and electric vehicles are predicted to gain in popularity in the next five to ten years.
  6. Having solar power and a battery could give you energy security, so that during a blackout you would still have electricity available.

Making it work

In my old job I would tell customers that solar systems need to have three elements: be well designed, properly installed and use quality equipment. Missing out on one of these elements could mean a system may not produce the optimum energy. For example, a good installation of quality kit, but with bad design such as on a shady roof, would mean poor performance. These top five tips below are practical things to look out for:

  1. Use a specialist solar PV company that has a Microgeneration Certified Standard accreditation and get three quotations for the same equipment. This will help you figure out how much it should roughly cost.
  2. Ensure they produce a detailed design including roof plan, ideally using modelling software such as PVSol, and look for any areas where ‘shading’ could reduce the solar performance. If the roof is mildly shaded then Solaredge optimisers should be specified. Each company should give you a sun path diagram with the quotation.
  3. Check the solar PV module quality. You can get information about the quality of different brands from websites such as DNV GL and Clean Energy Reviews.
  4. Ensure the inverter (a device that converts the DC solar energy to AC energy that can be used in your home) is not located in the loft, as it is less accessible and may get too hot, which will reduce its efficiency. Using an inverter with a heat sink is better than one with a fan, and again check out which brands are recommended.
  5. Ensure that the correct roof fittings are used and the mounting kit has been designed to account for wind loadings and has suitable clearance on the ridge and all edges of the roof.

We hope these top tips help illuminate some of the myths around solar! Do let us know if you install solar power – or share your stories with us if you’ve already made the switch. Moving towards renewable energy and away from fossil fuels is a crucial way to tackle climate change, which threatens all of our futures, but especially people living in poverty around the world.

Steve Young
I live in beautiful south Cornwall with my wife and two children. I love kayaking and swimming in the bay and often see dolphins and seals around me! I have recently joined Tearfund as Waste and Renewable Energy Specialist.