Many people will have thought about whether solar panels are the right choice for them personally, or as landlords, whether they are an investment that they should be making. But many aren’t really sure where to start researching the subject. So we have put together an introduction for anyone thinking about moving to this form of renewable energy.
What are the main types of solar panels?
There are two main types of solar panels: -
Solar Photovoltaic (Solar PV) which converts sunlight into electricity.
Pic: PV panels in situ
Solar Thermal which uses the sun to heat up your hot water tank.
Pic: Thermal panels in situ
Why would you install solar panels?
There are three main reasons for installing solar panels: -
- To reduce the cost of energy used in your house / charge up an electric car.
Solar panels are a long-term investment, so if you are not planning on having the property long term, then it may not be the right choice for you. At the moment, the breakeven point is somewhere between 7 and 11 years, but this varies considerably between properties and whether someone is at home during the day. The main problem is that electricity is generated on a sunny day, but we mostly use electricity first thing in the morning and at night. You don’t get paid much for exporting it to the grid so using a home battery and/or charging an electric car during the day are ways to maximise returns.
- To improve the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) score for a property
It is expected that residential landlords will need a minimum EPC grade C by 2027 in order to legally be allowed to let their property. Solar panels often gain a property enough EPC points to move a whole band i.e., from D to C. Installing them is less intrusive than other improvements and means the tenants can remain in the property.
- To increase the long term asset value of a building / move to Carbon Zero
It is expected that buildings will have to become more energy efficient and use less fossil fuels. This means moving away from gas heating to electricity. Using solar panels to generate electricity is a key part of the building energy strategy. In the long term it is expected that carbon efficient homes will be more valuable and attract cheaper mortgage rates.
Do they suit every building?
Does the house has a pitched roof, primarily south facing and mostly unshaded? If so, panels on your roof will catch the sun’s rays and produce electric and/or heat up your water tank.
Ideally, for solar PV panels some should face south-east to catch the morning sun and some face south- west to catch the evening sun. This is because we use most energy first thing in the morning and in the evening. If there is any shading or if the panels face different directions the solar PV should have optimisers fitted so that not all panels have to be running to produce electric.
You will also need to consider if there are any planning restriction on your property. Generally solar panels do not need planning permission but you should check the government planning portal as there are some exceptions such as listed buildings and flat roofs.
There is not much disruption inside a property when installing solar PV as it’s only necessary to bring a cable down from the roof to a suitable location for an inverter. The inverter will then have a cable connecting to the consumer unit (fuse box). An inverter only needs a space a bit bigger than a consumer unit so could be located in the loft space. However, ideally you should locate it in an area like a utility room so that in future a battery can be fitted next to it. A battery weighs about 100kg and is about 800mm x 900mm by 200mm deep.
Pic: An inverter
Some may also be thinking that during the winter months, there isn’t enough light to capture enough rays. On a sunny winter day, you could still produce 10Kw of electricity (enough to power a portable electric heater for 3 hours). You may feel that the savings wouldn’t be enough to make a difference to heating bills in winter, however, we must also remember that our summers are getting warmer, so you could run an air-cooling system with the free electricity off the roof.
How much do they cost?
This will of course vary depending upon the size of the property and some other variables but according the Energy Savings Trust a 3.5kWp average domestic solar PV system will cost around £4,500. At the time of writing this is VAT exempt. In our experience the cost at the time of writing (Jan 2023) is closer to £5,500. The availability of materials and contractors has a major baring on the cost. There are variables which include things like ease of access to the roof, whether you choose panels or tiles, whether they are integrated into the structure of the roof or they sit on top. They are relatively low maintenance once installed, some coming with guarantees of 20 years and the only part you are likely to need to replace over that time is an inverter, which costs around £800, but these can last up to 25 years, so it shouldn’t be a concern early on. There is also a consideration as to whether you purchase a battery too. These are expensive, around £5,000 for a 10KW but will be more cost effective in the long term than selling your excess power back to the national grid.
A solar thermal system (which heats up your hot water) will cost around £4,000 for a 300-litre water cylinder. Solar thermal is not as worthwhile as solar PV. This is because producing electric could still heat up the hot water through the immersion heater on the hot water tank. Solar thermal also requires a pipe run from the roof and the hot water cylinder has to be suitable for solar thermal. Solar thermal is often installed in addition to solar PV when a property is significantly refurbished.
What are the savings?
This will be determined by your energy supplier and the type of tariff that they offer. However, according to the Energy Savings Trust, the amount you could save with solar PV could be between £500 -£600 per annum for a property where someone is home all day and around £200 -£350 for a house when people are predominantly out of the house during the day. With current energy prices set to increase further, this amount is likely to go up, increasing the savings you could make. Adding a battery could significantly improve the return especially if you are out during the day. There is also the option to sell back some energy to the national grid. Although this is no where near as profitable as it once was, this is still a way to make more money from your investment. When it comes to selling excess power back to the national grid, the amount a company is willing to pay will vary considerably. Check out moneysavingexpert.com to see the current rates.
What are the benefits?
There are three main benefits really. Firstly, moving away from our reliance on fossil fuels which is an inevitable step as we try and reduce global warming and also as we focus more on energy security as a nation. Secondly, the financial savings that could be made to energy bills and thirdly, by installing solar panels you are future proofing the property. We expect that over the next few years that mortgage companies will offer better rates for energy efficient homes. So whether you are looking to sell the property in the mid term or hang onto it as a long term investment, solar panels are a good capital investment.
If you are a landlord looking to improve your EPC in order to continue letting your property then in some circumstances solar PV could be the most cost effective immediate fix.
If you would like to find out more about the feasibility of Solar PV for a specific property, then this online calculator is a useful place to start. To find out what impact solar panels will have on a properties EPC then please get in touch with us.