My personal experiences of solar panels – from thinking they’re a good idea to deciding to go ahead

Author: 26/06/2014

I’ve had an interest in solar panels for a number of years and earlier this year I decided that the time was right to have them fitted at home. This is my first blog about my experiences of becoming an independent electricity generator.

Since we moved into our house in 2002, we’ve made a real effort to use less energy and make it more energy-efficient. The house was built in 1982 so it’s never been particularly leaky or draughty and it already had both double glazing and gas central heating when we arrived. There’s still more to do but, since we moved in, we’ve taken the most cost-effective steps of:

  • Fitting a new boiler.
  • Insulating both the loft and the cavity walls.
  • Replacing some of the older, more inefficient radiators.
  • Installing a new room thermostat and thermostatic radiator control valves.
  • Replacing any misty/faulty double glazing panes.
  • Fitting radiator reflectors.
  • Replacing our most heavily used light bulbs with LEDs.
  • Turning the thermostat down!

My interest in solar panels

Like many other people, I first became interested in solar panels after the Government introduced Feed-in Tariffs in 2011. The increased media coverage and the obvious growth in the solar industry prompted me to look into domestic PV more closely so I researched the subject on the internet, read widely and even attended a supplier open evening in an effort to learn as much as possible.

However, from my point of view, there were two sticking points:

  • Cost. Although the Feed-in Tariffs were very generous at the time and the return on investment was 6-8 years, I simply couldn’t justify the initial outlay I was being quoted.

  • Aesthetics. To be honest, I just didn’t like the thought of blue, silver-framed panels being ‘plonked’ on my grey tiled roof.

So, solar panels were ‘parked’ as far as the Dean household was concerned.

Interest in solar panels turns to reality

In July 2013, I joined the National Energy Foundation as Communications Manager. In a world where energy costs continued to rise, I became increasingly aware of the importance of saving energy and using energy more effectively, so I began to think about mitigating myself against future price increases as much as possible.

Needless to say - as part of my job, lots of energy-related information, articles, blogs, etc. pass across my desk and it soon became apparent that both the technology and the costs around solar panels had moved on rapidly. Towards the end of 2013, one story in particular caught my attention. A nationwide furniture/homewear retailer announced that it was entering the PV market by selling solar panel systems. Having got past the media’s ‘flat pack PV’ and ‘DIY solar’ take on the subject (neither of which were anywhere near the truth) this particular development seemed to remove the barriers that had previously prevented me from taking the leap into solar panels.

The systems on offer were supplied through a specialist provider and fitted by experienced installers; the store was simply the conduit to reach new customers. The panels were completely ‘black’, incorporated thin-film technology and were specially designed to maximise performance in the cloudy, less sunny conditions we get in the UK. What’s more, the cost had come down by 50% – 60%. However, despite all these attractions, a busy life and more important priorities at the time meant solar panels were put on the ‘back burner’ once again.

And there they sat until five months later when I happened to be in our local branch of the store concerned buying a glass trophy cabinet for the National Energy Foundation (yes, the job of Communications Manager is a varied and glamorous one) and I was attracted by a large display on PV systems. I wasn’t in any rush so I stopped and had a chat with a salesman who gave me a provisional quote based on my postcode and information provided via Google Maps. I took it home and thought about it very carefully. They were keen to sign me up but I took my time so that I could understand as best as possible what I was being sold, the process involved, how it would impact on the look of my house and whether it was a good investment.

Eventually, I decided to go ahead and took the first steps in the journey towards greater energy independence and putting myself in the exciting position of producing my own renewable energy and reducing my reliance on the traditional energy suppliers.

Top solar panel tips:

  1. Work out if your roof is suitable in terms of its size, pitch and orientation, and how big a system is appropriate for your roof and your personal needs and expectations.
  2. Have a clear understanding of how the panels are going to look once they’re on your roof. Once they’re fitted, it’s very difficult to change your mind and they’ll be there for a long time!
  3. Research whether they’re a good investment. How much are they going to cost? How much income will they produce from the generation and export (feed-in) tariffs? How long will it be before you get your money back? How much will you save on your electricity bill – and not a notional one assumed by the solar panel company?

In my next blog I talk about my experiences in the lead-up to installation and on the day of installation itself.