17 May 2017

Article taken from The Telegraph website 17.05.2017

Russell and Sally Dixon had the panels attached to their south-facing roof

With the sun ostensibly now starting to show itself, homeowners may be toying with the idea of harnessing some of that energy with solar panels.

Just six per cent of homeowners use solar energy at the moment, according to Ovo Energy, but almost 20 per cent are planning to install solar panels in the future. This means that more than a quarter of all British homes could be running on solar energy in the next few years. 

While the initial expense can be high, photovoltaic panels can eventually pay for themselves by bringing down the cost of energy bills. You can even make money from them: householders get paid for the surplus electricity they generate via the Government’s Feed-in Tariff (FIT). 

Richard and Jane Stillwell were early adopters of solar panels, taking the plunge when the FIT scheme was launched in 2010. “We don’t regard ourselves as ‘green warriors’ but were attracted to the scheme by the generous returns on offer at the time,” says Richard. “We paid £12,500 for 16 panels – the maximum number permitted on a residential property.”

Russell and Sally Dixon with their daughter Alice

The sixtysomething couple, who live in Great Rollright on the edge of the Cotswolds, were concerned that the solar panels would be an eyesore. They had the panels attached to their slate roof; “aesthetically, the impact has been minimal”, says Richard. 

The move has paid off for the Stillwells, whose five-bedroom home, Tyte Court, is for sale for £1.65 million through Strutt & Parker.

“More than half our annual electricity bill is covered by the energy we produce,” Richard says. “And our panels yield an income of more than £1,500 per year via the FIT.”

Lee and Penny Bateman, 70 and 69, were also among the first users of panels when the FIT scheme started. “We were quick to jump on the bandwagon,” says Lee, who lives in the rural village of Woodleigh in the South Hams, surrounded by land belonging to the Woodland Trust.

Someone installing solar panels today wouldn’t do quite so well. The initial rates of FIT were so generous that the uptake of solar panels was faster than expected, leading the Government to cut the rates for new installations

“Back then we paid around £11,000 to have the panels fitted. However, the tariffs were much higher then than they are now, making this investment a lot more appealing than putting money into savings.” Last year, the Batemans got £1,477 in cash for the surplus energy their panels generated. 

Someone installing solar panels today wouldn’t do quite so well. The initial rates of FIT were so generous that the uptake of solar panels was faster than expected, leading the Government to cut the rates for new installations from January 2016. 

“Since the cuts, domestic solar has become less about making money and more about saving money,” says John Evans from energy-saving comparison website “Your focus now should be on finding a system which caters for your needs, rather than on trying to create as much electricity as possible to sell excess back to the grid.”

A four-bedroom house in Kingsbridge, Devon, has solar panels and is on the market for £450,000 with Marchand Petit

Of course, not all considerations are financial when it comes to alternative sources of energy for the home. 

Dan and Maria Bromley, both teachers in their late 30s, paid just over £4,300 for 10 panels from Connect Electric in 2015.

“I’m quite environmentally aware, and when Maria and I talked about having our third child, I felt it was important to put something back given our energy consumption was going to increase with a growing family,” says Dan.

“For us the decision was first and foremost environmental,” he adds. “The financial benefit was a secondary consideration, but has definitely made a difference. We were lucky to get in before the cuts to the Feed-in Tariff, and currently get around £600 a year back in cash.”

The Bromley family lives in Dan’s childhood home, a three-bedroom semi in the leafy suburb of Didsbury, Manchester, which he bought from his mother four years ago. 

The solar panels at Tyte Court yield a yearly income of £1,500 for Richard and Jane Stillwell

The solar panels were installed on the south-facing roof at the back of the house, visible only from the garden. But for many homeowners, the prospect of having huge black panels bolted to the roof can be off-putting, despite the financial and environmental gains. After all, what will the neighbours say?

Installing solar panels can often be done with minimal change to the aesthetics of the house – or hidden out of public view. Roof-integrated photovoltaic panels blend in better, particularly on slate roofs, but can be significantly more expensive. 

Like the Bromleys, Russell and Sally Dixon had the panels attached to their south-facing roof, as well as a heat pump installed on the garage roof. Neither is visible from the road. 

“We have managed to retain the look and character of our house while making it more sustainable,” says Russell. “This proves that an eco-driven home doesn’t have to be radically different in appearance.”

The Dixons, who live in a four-bedroom house in Worcester with their 11-year-old daughter Alice, installed Greenskies solar thermal panels and a Greenstar Plus Hybrid heat pump system six years ago, notably reducing their boiler use. They later added photovoltaic panels to generate electricity, and now get around £1,800 a year via the FIT.

“We were replacing our band-G gas boiler with an A-rated model, and felt it was an ideal time to look at whether a combination of renewable energy sources would offer better efficiency for our home,” Russell says. “We have made our home much more self-sufficient. We now control how our home is powered.”

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