Thursday 18 June 2015 1:02 am

The future is bright: Buy solar panels now to lock in 20 years of savings

Energy costs have been rising – but you could cut your bills with solar panels. A government scheme aimed at increasing take-up of alternative energy means you will be paid for the amount your solar panels generate – both for the quantity you use yourself and the amount sent to the grid.
The Feed-in Tariff (FIT) programme was launched in 2010, and while the rates offered have been lowered since introduction, if you install panels now you will still be paid a guaranteed price every quarter for 20 years.
How much you could save depends on your postcode, the power of the solar panels you buy and how much you currently spend on electricity. The Energy Saving Trust has an online Solar Energy Calculator to help determine your potential savings. But in brute figures, the current price for new joiners to the scheme is 13.39p per kilowatt hour (kWh) of energy generated for your own home, and 4.9p per kWh exported to the grid.
Government support for solar energy was only ever intended to stimulate a new industry. Since 2010, solar has been hugely popular, and the tariff has been gradually reduced. In the near future it is likely to disappear entirely. This means time is running out to install solar panels and lock in a 20-year rate, before the scheme is over.
The upside of solar’s popularity is that the cost of purchasing and installing panels has fallen substantially. The most popular hometop set, a 4kWh system, will now cost around £4,000 to install, whereas in the past it would have been closer to £12,000.
One caveat to this potential money saving endeavour is that you will need to have a roof or wall which faces south, or at least within 45 degrees of south. The roof ought to be unshaded during core sunshine hours of 10am to 4pm – without this you will not have maximum benefit from the panels. Your home must also have an Energy Performance Certificate of category D or higher.
Once you have ascertained the direction of your roof, find a local supplier willing to install your panels. Get several quotes for comparison, and always choose a company and a set of panels that are covered by the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS).
The installation company will send you an MCS certificate once the job is done, and with this you register by post with an energy supplier involved in the scheme. At the moment, these include British Gas, E.ON and EDF.
Regulator Ofgem outlines more details on its website.