My Solar Panel Installation Story: Case Study 3 - Yarm in Teesside

Andy Alton was checking his emails in February when he saw a pop up advert about renewable energy options.

Here he tells The Eco Experts about his solar panel journey:

Andy's story

"As a recently retired degree qualified engineer I had some interest in this but thought the window of opportunity had passed with the reduction in the Feed-in-tariffs (FiTs).

The FiT is a government payment, solar panel owners receive for the energy they produce. This decreased from 43.3 p/kWh to 21p/kWh in March and was cut again in September to 16p/kWh.

However, I clicked on the ad and was directed to the EcoExperts site where I registered some basic info. It only took a few minutes and an automated reply followed almost instantly.

I thought it might produce some sort of response but I was definitely not expecting what happened next. Within 10 minutes my phone rang and I was speaking to a Sun Spirit representative who said a surveyor could visit first thing the next day.

30 minutes later another company called me and also offered to see me the next day, which I also accepted.

My installation

The Sun Spirit representative arrived bang on time and although not a technical specialist, he was able to answer most of my questions and contacted his office to clarify one or two points I raised.

He said they would be able to install a 4.0 kW system on my property within one week, meaning I would still be able to get the 43.3 p/kWh FiT.

The next representative arrived as the first was leaving and though he was totally professional he advised me he would not be able to install a system until after March 1, when the FIT would be in place.

I decided to accept Sun Spirit's quotation of just under £8900, which I thought was very competitive and less than I was expecting to pay.

Everything proceeded to plan and a week later I had the system installed and I managed to register for the MCS scheme on the very last day of the higher Fit.

Life with a solar panel

None of our neighbours have a direct view of the panels and my immediate neighbour has solar water heating panels. In fact quite a few people have asked me about the benefits of the panels.

The inverter, associated panel isolators and distribution board isolator were in the loft, which is easily accessible.

Immediately below is the garage where the power distribution board is, so the cabling requirements were straightforward and unobtrusive.

Sun Spirit did a great job, the system has worked perfectly since the installation and in July I received my first payment of £660 for the first 15 weeks of system operation. I should add the panels are aligned within 5 degrees of due south which enables optimum system output.

So far I have not recorded in excess of 3.6 kW but I wasn’t really expecting the full 4.0 kW.

The 16 panels installed are made by A-Sun, type ASUN245-M, each rated at 245 watts, together with a Power One PVI 3.6-OUTD-UK inverter.

Sun Spirit sub-contracts the scaffolding work and while this was put up in good time it did take a few weeks to get it taken down, which is my only criticism I have of the whole of Sun Spirit’s package.

Change in energy habits

Once the system was commissioned I started to think about our energy use habits and realised before the instillation, we did not put much thought into it because we had a fixed tariff.

While this hasn't changed, becoming aware of how solar FiT and export tariffs operate has lead to a change in behaviour.

In the summer months the system generates power from 6am to 6pm. So if possible we always put our power hungry appliances (washing machine / dishwasher etc) on at a time when the system is producing maximum power.

This means we use the free energy from our panels and not the imported power from the supplier.

We also try to use the machines in sequence rather than all at once because the power rating of each of these machines is 2000-3000 watts.

On a bright day the solar system will supply a single machine's entire requirement but if they are all on together the total load will be about 8000 watts, meaning you also will be importing and paying for power unnecessarily.

We try to avoid ‘heavy power hitters’ at night and use timers to start power hungry appliances during the day if you are at work.

Money, money, money

My generation tariff is 45.4 p/kWh and the export tariff is 3.2 p/kWh.

We have a generation metre which records all the energy produced from the solar panels/inverter system. However, what cannot be determined from the readings is how much of the solar power is consumed by the system owner and how much is exported to the National Grid.

All suppliers work on the basis that 50% of the system generation total is exported so the additional 3.2 p is paid on half of the generation meter total.

If my generation metre reads 1475 kWh on June 1 and 3145 kWh on September 1, the solar generation total for the quarter is;

3145-1475=1670 kWh

The payment from my supplier will then be:

1) 1670 x £0.454 = £758.18 [generation payment]

2) [1670/2] x £0.032 = £26.72 [export payment]

Total payment due is £[758.19+26.72] = £784.90

My total 2011 electricity consumption was ~ 5650 kW/h and my monthly direct debit payments to my supplier had climbed to £56/month.

Since installing the solar system this has been reduced to £41/month.

Despite the reductions in the generation tariff this year solar PV systems are still a financially attractive proposition, and of course there is the green aspect too.

I think I will recoup my capital investment in about six years and will continue to earn guaranteed, index linked payments for a further 19 years after that. The decision to install a solar system really was a no-brainer.

I was extremely fortunate to deal with Sun Spirit, to have my system installed so quickly and to have the higher FIT confirmed and index linked for the next 25 years.

I am a very happy bunny !!

Advice for others:

A] Make sure you have a southerly facing roof pitch that is not obscured from the sun by adjoining properties or trees etc.

B] Put in the biggest cell system you can fit on your roof, subject to the maximum peak power of 4.0 kW

C] Deal with a reputable and fully accredited supplier who will offer an inclusive, insurance company backed guarantee on both the panels and the inverter.

D] If you live in a very dusty location and it has not rained for while (some chance!) then a rinse down of the panels with a hosepipe jet will help the system deliver peak power and pounds in your pocket."

Spread the Word!