DIY Solar Panels Vs Getting An Installer

If you're a capable DIY enthusiast you may be asking yourself whether or not it would be more cost-effective to buy the panels and install the system yourself. Getting the best system you can afford and cutting installation costs may seem a reasonable way to save money short term, but if you do go down the DIY route, you'll not be able to make the maximum income from your installation. So, the simple answer to that question is - do not DIY.

If you're thinking about installing a solar panel system because you need back up energy or you want to provide electricity to a property that's not connected to the grid that could be a different matter. For a holiday home, caravan or boat, it might make sense but the information in this book is for householders who want take advantage of the Feed In Tariff and maximise their income from solar energy. In order to get the best return on your solar energy system the product used and the installer chosen must both be Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) accredited.

MCS Accreditation Explained

For Installers, MCS accreditation means that they had to take part in a recognised quality assurance scheme which demonstrates to their customers their commitment to meeting rigorous standards set by the industry. It is a mark of competency and proof that they are able to install their systems to the highest quality – every time. When a product is given MCS accreditation it assures the customer that the quality and reliability of that product has been approved only after satisfying rigorous test standards.

MCS accreditation has become the preferred standard in the market place, especially when it comes to utilising schemes like the Feed In Tariff. It is an EN45011 certification scheme and complies with the government's criteria for eligibility to access financial incentives.

How To Find An Installer

To begin the process of finding the right installer for your needs, go to: www.theecoexperts.co.uk

This is a site where you can find MCS accredited installers in three easy steps.

1. Just fill in the simple form about yourself to get matched with accredited local suppliers and find the best quote for the service you require.

2. You will be given a reference number and you have the choice of simply waiting to be contacted or you can speed things up further by calling the telephone number: 0207 424 3132 - given with your reference number.

3. You'll be matched with several suitable suppliers so you can compare to see which you prefer based on your individual requirements and priorities.

It's a simple as that! The service is free and unbiased.

On this site you'll also find plenty of other information on green energy products and sustainable ways to heat and power homes and offices.

What You Can Expect From Your Installer

A Thorough Survey

They should arrange to do a thorough survey of your property and site. They will want to take into consideration such things as the area available for the installation and the orientation in regard to capturing the best sunlight conditions throughout the year. They will also carry out a shade analysis and then decide on the best type of system to meet the needs of your household.

Calculations

They should prepare a detailed design of the array they're proposing with a quote of how much the product and installation will cost. They should include an estimate of how much electricity your PV panels will generate, amount of income anticipated through the Feed In Tariff Scheme and the payback period for the system.

It's a good idea to get 3 or 4 quotes from reliable MCS accredited installers before making up your mind who to go with.

Planning

Once you have decided on the installer and product and agreed on the design and cost, they should complete all the necessary planning applications and ensure proper authorisation has been obtained before commencing work. Planning permission is not generally required for this purpose but it's worth checking first, especially if your home is in a conservation area, heritage site or listed building. At this stage they will also be able to let you know a day when installation can take place.

Installation

A typical domestic installation can usually be completed within a day. You can expect the installers to erect scaffold to enable them to have fast, easy and safe access to your roof with the minimum of disruption to you.

Getting started

Installing your system is one part of the job done, but connecting it up is another. It will probably be the following day when certified electricians will arrive to connect your PV system to the National Grid.

Proof for FITs

The installer should have already prepared the paperwork required to claim your FIT; on completion of the work you will need to sign the documentation and send it to your electricity supplier as proof that you now qualify to receive the tariff.

Warranties and Guarantees

MCS accredited PV systems carry a manufacturer backed parts guarantee as standard, covering something like 10 years and can usually be extended by the installer to 25 years for a little extra a month. PV solar panel systems are incredibly strong and have no moving parts so breakdown is extremely rare.

The product itself is designed to last long past its 25 year warranty. However, electrical systems of all kinds can fail on occasions. So when considering extending your warranty,find out what is guaranteed in respect to customer service and how easy it is to contact someone and how fast a service engineer can be at your door. It should be within 48 hours.

Aftercare

Many installers offer planned maintenance and cleaning services to ensure your system is working at optimum performance.

Installer - Checklist

Is your installer a large recognised company with sufficient financial standing? If not, how will you be sure they will be around to maintain the system?

Do they have Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) accreditation? It's a mark of quality assurance without which you will not be able to claim your Feed In Tariff.

Check out your installer at:

MCS Website

This is where you can find out all you need to know about their certification along with their exact contact details.

Similarly, do their products have MCS accreditation?

Is their home survey free or do they require a deposit prior to preparing it, making you obliged to use them for the installation or lose that money?

Do they calculate the level of electricity your PV system will generate using sunlight data specific to your exact location? The nationwide average sunlight level may give a false impression.

How long will the PV system operate at full efficiency and how will it decrease over the years? Your installer should be ready to advise you that an average PV panel loses 1% efficiency every year and they should have taken this into consideration when they were preparing your calculation, so you know what your Feed In Tariff will be.

Do they offer a separate warranty on their inverters in case something goes wrong with the electrics? If they do, how long is it for and is it backed by the manufacturer? Is it free or do you have to pay extra for it?

Are they going to deal with the planning authority and national grid on your behalf? If not, it means that you will have to sort out the paperwork yourself.

2012, 2013 - Dates To Remember

It's never easy to predict the future, especially when a new government takes power, but fortunately the Feed In Tariff has made it through the talks of new rounds of cutbacks, virtually unscathed. One thing's pretty certain, there's never going to be a better time to install solar energy and be part of the government's Feed In Tariff scheme as now.

Why? Because this sort of financial incentive scheme is specifically designed to ramp down to nothing as the market for it grows, technology develops and industry costs are driven down.

Those already signed up to the FIT scheme will continue to receive the 43.3p/kWh for the full 25 years, as originally promised and, although it was in the balance for a while, the review of the tariffs is set to take place in 2012 as originally planned. Any changes made at that review are expected to take effect from 2013 onwards.

It's likely that a sustainable reduction of the Feed In Tariff will begin in earnest in 2013 and those coming into it late will not see the type of return that we are trying to achieve in this book. So, although the cost of this relatively new technology will come down in time, it's still better to install solar power today rather than tomorrow.

Frequently Asked Questions About Installing Solar Energy

Q: Why the rush to invest in solar PV?

A: The financial returns produced by solar PV Systems are currently far greater than what is available in most banks. The return is guaranteed for 25 years and indexed linked to the Retail Price Index, all helping to make it a secure investment.

Q: The financial returns sound too good to be true. Are they genuine?

A: They are genuine. The government has introduced the Feed-in Tariff scheme as an incentive to get as many people as possible installing microgeneration technology, which in return assists them in meeting their EU targets for cutting CO2 emissions and tackling climate change.

FIT rates have deliberately been introduced at a very attractive high level. What better way to help kick start the Solar PV market and get consumers interested in it. The cost of the scheme is met by the utility suppliers, so the government has no incentive to cancel the scheme.

However, the FIT rates are set to be reviewed in April 2013, at which point it is predicted that they will be lowered. They do have to start coming down eventually. So now is thetime to have a system installed and be guaranteed the current FIT rate for 25 years.

Q: Wouldn't it be better to wait until the cost of installing solar PV comes down?

A: No. Installation costs will come down but the government sets the Feed-in Tariffs to reflect the current installation cost. When they reduce the FITs will do so as well, meaning the payback period isn't reduced. Plus, the current FIT rates are the highest that they are ever likely to be. If you take into consideration the fact that once your system is installed you're guaranteed the rate for 25 years, you can see for yourself that now is actually the best time to do it.

Q: I can't afford a Solar PV system at the moment, but I still want one. What should I do?

A: Full capital investment is the best way to gain maximum return on your money. However, if you haven't got the funds up front there are other viable options Please see the Financing Your Solar Panel Installation chapter of this book.