June 2018

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How to maximise your savings with solar panels

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Investing in solar panels is an opportunity to earn a substantial supplementary income. The benefits are environmental too: switching to solar energy could reduce your carbon footprint by around 1.8 tonnes annually. Solar photovoltaic panels are also a popular home-improvement measure as they can save you money on your electricity bills.

Maximising the amount you are saving on your electricity bills is achieved by ensuring you are using as much of your free solar energy as possible. Here listed are a few suggestions for how you can easily do this, including simple lifestyle adjustments and one relatively inexpensive but potentially financially-rewarding technology.

Making the Most of Solar Panels

1. Take advantage of the brightest hours: Solar photovoltaic panels are generating electricity whenever they are exposed to light. Therefore, it is advisable to use any electrical items with a high electricity demand during the sunniest hours of the day, to maximise your savings.

For example: the average washing machine cycle requires 700 watts of electricity, accumulating an estimated cost of £55.48 annually – which could be avoided if you were to schedule your washes for during the hours when your panels are generating energy. Many models of washing machine have built-in timers, which are useful if you are not at home during the brightest hours of the day. But if you don’t have in-built timers, external timers for your appliances are available cheaply.

2. Stagger use of your appliances: To avoid accidentally importing electricity from the grid by using more than your panels are generating, try not to allow multiple appliances to draw electricity simultaneously. So when making breakfast, boil the kettle for your morning drink before switching on your toaster. Small changes like this will lessen the chance of you using more electricity than you are generating.

3. Heat your water: Solar immersion diverters are small, automatic power controllers that are programmed to divert the surplus energy that your solar panels are generating, which would normally be exported back to the grid, to your immersion heater. These devices will generate a large portion of your hot water and are expected to save an average family £250 annually. They’ll also help to reduce your carbon emissions, as you won’t rely as much on your typical, non-renewable heating measure.

4. Storing the surplus: An often enquired-about method of maximising self-consumption from solar panels is to store your surplus electricity using a form of solar battery. These products can certainly help you in eluding rising electricity costs, and are particularly useful for those with off-grid properties.

For those connected to the grid, these types of systems typically will only feed electricity to the utility grid once the battery has been fully charged. You can then draw from your battery when you require electricity at moments when your panels are not generating. Solar batteries tend not to be the ideal choice for most domestic homes as, unlike a solar immersion diverter, these devices tend to be very large and expensive, resulting in a much longer payback period for your system.

How to choose your solar panels installer

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Choosing the right solar panel installer for you can be a confusing process – there are all sorts of installers to choose from, variously offering installation of different panels at different prices.

Before Installation:

  • Check your home has an EPC rating of D or above
  • Ensure you have the available space for an array and an inverter
  • Make sure you have chosen an installer who is MCS certified and installs MCS certified products
  • Have any planned works approved by your local authority, if your property is in a conservation area, area of outstanding natural beauty or if the building is listed
  • Check the warranties on offer from the installer for parts and labour, as well as warranties offered by the product manufacturers

During Your Installation:

  • They should check that the roof area is suitable for panels and that the loft can contain an inverter.
  • You should receive a quotation containing essential information about the system the installer has designed for your property. This would include: a system specification (details of the panels, inverter, isolators, etc), SAP calculations, projected savings.
  • After the panels have been installed, the system must be commissioned by an MCS qualified electrician. Once this has been done, your installation will be submitted to MCS and you will be provided with an MCS certificate.

After Your Installation:

If your installers have met all the criteria stated previously, then your solar panels should be covered by product and performance warranties, offered by the part manufacturers, and a good installer would have offered you their own warranty, for parts and labour.

Experienced installers will typically offer an aftercare service; this service should be performed by a technician and include: cleaning and checking of the panels, inspection of the condition and tightness of roof fixings and seals around roof penetration, examining the condition of the inverter, checking and recording open circuit voltage and current levels, and ensuring optimum functionality of the system.