We had solar panels installed a week ago. A few people have asked about them already, and I thought I might write up some of the things that I’ve learned in the process.
1. Watch out for salesmen. I made the mistake of asking a company for an online quote, not noticing that it was a quote service that gave my details to several solar companies. I was harrassed for weeks on the phone. Ask around locally, get some recommendations, and choose a handful of companies to contact directly. Be aware that, like the double glazing industry, they will want to send a salesperson round with presentations. One kept talking at me for two hours.
2. Time is short. I would have liked to have had solar installed years ago, and for a number of reasons we couldn’t do it until now. As it happens, shortly after I booked the job in, the government announced the closure of the feed-in tarriff in March next year. If you live in Britain and have been trying to decide if you should invest in solar, you might want to do it now. There will be fewer benefits to having solar next year. More on this another time, because the solar industry may be about to take a hit – again.
3. Install as many panels as you can. When I looked at a fully itemised quote (you may need to ask for this, as the big companies don’t bother) it was clear that the panels are not the big expense. By the time you’ve paid for scaffolding, labour and the inverter, whether you’re going to put 10 or 12 panels on the roof is not going to make a huge difference. The more you panels you can fit, the quicker the installation will will pay for itself. Our system will provide twice as much electricity as we use in a year, scaled in expectation of our next car being electric.
4. Domestic storage batteries don’t add up yet. I wanted a battery. I still do – solar produces the most electricity in the middle of the day, and we use it most at breakfast and dinner time. Unfortunately when I looked at how much electricity we actually use, what we pay for it and the cost of a battery unit, there’s currently no saving. The price of batteries is expected to fall considerably in the next couple of years. There may even be government support for storage coming. We’ll get one later.
5. Solar installation isn’t disruptive. We had one engineer on site, and he fitted the whole system on his own in a day and a half: one morning inside, running wires through the loft, and one day on the roof. There was no drama, very little noise or mess. As home improvements go, it’s one of the least disruptive of the many things we’ve done with the house over the years.
6. Get live energy monitoring. One advantage to modern solar systems is that you can get live energy monitoring on a phone app. Ours is through Solar Edge, which shows us what the system is generating, what we’re using ourselves and what’s being exported. It costs more to import from the grid than you get from selling back into it, so ideally you want to use your own power and do energy-intensive things when the sun is shining. Here’s a cloudless September day last week:
7. Solar power changes the way you use energy. In the graph above, you can see the waves of the fridge’s cooling cycles through the night, then a kettle boiling in the morning. My wife made some bread rolls to take to work, just a little bit too early to make it solar baking. In the afternoon I mowed the lawn, did a load of washing and cooked dinner before the power dipped in the evening. I am thinking a lot more about energy and when we use it. I’m much more aware of how much power things draw, and it would help if some of our appliances were lower wattage.
8. Smart appliances make total sense. I haven’t paid much attention to smart appliances. Sticking ‘smart’ in front of something is often a way of selling it to suckers. But seeing how the fridge draws energy at various points, or the peaks in demand that can occur if the kettle and oven are on at the same time, it really brings home what a balancing act the grid is performing. Smart appliances that draw energy when demand is low, EV batteries that discharge into the grid at peak times, and distributed storage are much less theoretical than they were to me last week.
9. Ask for bird proofing. Solar panels make lovely dry places for birds to nest, but they can cause a mess of twigs and bird poo that can clog and damage guttering. Over time, they can damage wiring too. It’s a whole lot cheaper to fit bird guards while the scaffolding is up, than have to pay for it to be retrofitted later.
For anyone in the Luton area, our installation was by the local company Gechnology, who I can recommend.