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Solar Power – one year after installing PV cells

Just because the government’s FIT payments are lower than they were doesn’t mean solar power has become a bad idea. While you won’t get as much money back from the energy companies, you’ll still come out ahead – and there’s another place you’ll save loads: your own electricity bill.

A year ago last November we installed an array of solar panels and got them online just before the government’s proposed cut in the Fit payments. Of course, those were declared illegal and didn’t actually happen until early 2012, but nobody could be sure of that at the time.

We now have two electricity meters. One records our use and generates bills, and the other records power output from the PV panels and generates income. We send in the readings, quarterly.

solar panels, image

Solar Power generated…

When the array was installed, two of our neighbours said ‘Oh, you’ll never make back the money. It’s well known that it’s all a scam.’

Aside from the figment of any scam, this is Wales. While we have seen the sun once or twice in the 6 years we’ve been here, it doesn’t appear often. And it sure rains a lot. So installing PV panels here isn’t quite as profitable as it might be in some other areas of the UK.

Nevertheless, our FIT agreement generated £1470.51 for us over the past year. Straight into the bank, tax free and index-linked to inflation – and it keeps coming for the next 25 years. Not bad.

…vs. Electricity billed:

Yesterday we received our electricity bill. It was estimated, and based on our previous years use. It seemed high, so I went out to read the meter.

Incidentally, every so often we get a letter from the company hired to do the readings saying that they’ve been unable to contact us and therefore, yet again, our meter hasn’t been read. Since it’s on an outside wall and easily accessible I’m at a loss to see how they’re earning their money. Oh well.

The difference:

The power company’s estimate meant they’d billed us for using almost 5000 kWh for the year, taking our money out every month through direct debit. Our actual use for the year was roughly 500 kWh. Around a tenth of what they had billed.

Result!

Needless to say, with a big grin on my face I called our supplier. We’re now looking forward to a hefty (considerably over £500) check in the mail.

Our monthly direct-debit payments have also been reduced. Apparently, if it had been dropped any further they couldn’t have sent us a full refund. I pointed out that this means we would still be paying for far more than we were actually using, and was told to call back in 6 months time with a second reading, at which point it could be decreased further.

We don’t have gas, we don’t use the woodstove as often as we probably should (still waiting for the willow to grow) and everything in the house is powered by electricity. Our annual bill for the whole lot just fell to around £80, and a chunk of that is the ‘daily use’ fee.

While the FIT payments have dropped (currently 15.44p per kWh, plus 4.5p per kWh exported to the grid), so has the cost of panels and installation. You can now get a 4kWh array put in place for around £6000, roughly half what it was just over a year ago.

The amount exported to the grid is estimated at half of the total power generated, because until they come and change your meter an estimate is the best they can do.

One of the better questions on our FIT application form was ‘do you ever see your meter running backwards?’, which means your PV panels are feeding power into the grid. I’ve seen our meter running backwards. It’s a lovely sight. I could sit and watch it for hours.

The hidden benefits:

The thing is, whatever the FIT payments, if you install PV panels your household bills will plummet – and this is the hidden benefit. While it was mentioned, nobody talked this up very much during our own research. The focus was all on the FIT payments.

Only now have the financial benefits of PV panels become clear to us, and I haven’t even mentioned the long-term environmental benefits. Despite the reduced FIT payments, it’s still well worth installing PV.

And for anyone interested, our array was installed by Navitron. They were helpful, polite, on-time, and they came out and did a proper survey to make sure the roof could take it. And they used top-of-the-line materials. Very, very good people.

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3 Responses to “Solar Power – one year after installing PV cells”

  1. Kieran says:

    Hi there!

    I live in a static mobile, and I run all my lights at night [12v LEDs + small strip lights], the laptop and the stereo all from only 2x 88aH leisure batteries, two PV panels [about 180 watts total], with just a cheap 1k inverter.
    The whole setup cost around £400, it’s not turnkey – I just bought all the seperate parts from ebay and figured it out. At the moment, panels and charge controllers are cheaper than they have ever been, and maybe as cheap as they’re ever going to be.

    My thinking is that if people want to dip a toe in the solar world, I recommend people consider a small backup system say, the kitchen and the outside light . . whatever . . you could do this very cheaply – then you can just start adding, once you get the feel for it[more panels, batteries or inverters] That’s the beauty of it. Once you are working with 12v [yes, or 24v] and solar . . . you can slowly move more and more things over to it. This also educates one in the power useage of various appliances [sometimes called a ‘power audit’]

    There’s a lot of good setups on youtube if you look around – sadly almost none in the UK, but despite the chronic lack of sun, I can say that it’s well worth it . . .and you don’t ‘have’ to involve contracts, the grid, fits, or any third party!

    However, the main element of an off-grid system, which people often do not realise, is the battery bank, not the panels. FIT goes straight back to the grid, obviously, but with off-grid, you have to store the power you generate in the day, to use at night.

    If one had the money, it would actuall;y be very easy to install enough panels and an industrial battery bank, with large inverters to cover any power needs, totally off-grid. That could be done for a spurprisingly low outlay, meaning free power for, well, a very long time indeed. This would be totally legal, and free of any third party.

    All the best.

    Kieran.

  2. Rachel says:

    In my area there are lots of solar farms going up and inevitably on a building site they have a fair few accidents. Very often the damaged panels only need a new pane of glass and the PV cells are fine. As long as they haven’t been rained on and the cells are intact, you can pick up solar panels for free or very low cost.

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