Quality solar panels do make a difference

09 November 2013

"With over 4,500 companies operating in the UK solar PV industry since the introduction of the Feed-in tariff in April 2010, it's no wonder that by the beginning of 2012 the UK exceeded its output from this technology by 15 times its expected figure," says James Cass from leading renewable energy company Dulas, who have been running a series of seminars across Wales in conjunction with CLA Wales this week.

"87 Megawatts of output were expected by the end of 2011 but in just over two years more than 1.1 Gigawatts were produced with over 300,000 installations across the UK proving how popular the scheme had been as an incentive in getting people to embrace the technology," he said, adding that it also saved a lot more carbon emissions which was the whole point of the incentive in the first place.

During 2012, however, as the Government has reined back the tariff rates by more than half, the number of companies in the sector has fallen back significantly with some industry insiders claiming that there are only 1,000 proactive PV installers operating. "Sadly for many of the consumers the companies they used have long gone," explains Mr Cass.

"Our concern is what the future is with these panels which were sold with a quick easy, 'fit and forget' attitude. The quality of these panels is paramount," says James, who is concerned that micro cracking in panels or shading by trees that mature with age will affect the output of the whole array and huge expenses will be incurred sorting out the problem. It's true there are no moving parts on these panels, but they are complex pieces of kit consisting of several layers of material that can heat to almost 100 degrees Celsius in full sun.

Interestingly, Mr Cass said that the companies who offered the 'Rent-a-Roof' scheme used the best quality panels because they were aware that offering them as an investment meant they had to be working for the duration of the scheme – 25 years.

Today the Feed-in tariff rate for solar PV is very different. For example, if you installed a 4 kW system when the Feed-in Tariff rate was first introduced you would have received 43p for each unit of power generated. Today this figure has dropped to 15.44p. But this is wholly based on the cost of the technology which has been cut by an extraordinary amount meaning a typical return on investment still stands at about 12 percent depending on the size of the array says Mr Cass. In fact a system up to 4 kW returns 12 percent, going up to 18 percent for a system of 250 kW which is still a very attractive proposition.

Dulas also pointed out that to get this high tariff rate you do need an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) of at least grade D unless your building is exempt. In other words farm buildings that are climate-controlled will need an EPC, but buildings that are not do not require one.

CLA Director Ben Underwood comments: "Whereas many feel that they have missed the boat on installing solar PV when the tariff rates were slashed, the restructuring of the scheme and the massive fall in technology has now put this scheme back on track making it a very attractive proposition indeed."