Solar Panel Facts

The aim of this blog post on Solar Panel Facts is first to dispel any myths that you may of heard about solar panels, and also to remove any polish from the smooth sales talk of the company intent on selling you solar panels. Of course, no solar panel installer would be biased towards their solar products and would ever lie to you about the efficiency of your solar panels, or mislead you about what solar panels actually will do and their capabilities would they? However they probably won’t voluntarily also describe the negatives and limitations of solar panels either.

Many householders have a very rose tinted optimistic view of what a difference solar panels will make to their lives and their household energy bills, and whilst solar panels will reduce your energy bills by a proportional amount, it will not totally free you from the grid, or remove your need for a monthly direct debit from the Gas and Electricity suppliers. In short, Solar Panels are not an alternative form of producing electricity, just a means of reducing your electricity bills.

Many householders are under the illusion that fitting solar panels will heat their house during the winter months. This is actually almost impossible to do, just consider for one moment the time of year where the days are coldest and shortest, and the sun is at its weakest and low in the sky. Inevitably, this occurs during the October to March periods, which inevitably are also the times of year where you consume more energy. Its kind of ironic that the time of year when you need the most energy for heating and lighting, is also the time of year when your solar panels output is the least, and are probably outputting a fraction of that magical figure which the Solar Panel salesperson sold to you.

An average household array of solar panels will generate upto 3900 watts  of usable energy, although this is a maximum figure under ideal conditions, such as during a strong cloudless sunny day in mid summer. Solar panels will still produce an impressive amount of energy on a cloudy day in the height of summer, although highly unlikely to produce 3900 watts continuously all day, every day. The real life figures are likely to be much less than that, and will certainly be constantly variable.

I often read on forums, ludicrous ideas of solar panel owners wanting or thinking of heating storage heaters and running convector heaters during the winter months from solar panels. At 6PM on a freezing cold December night, your solar panels will be providing no electricity whatsover, certainly not the 2kw / 3kw required to power a single Electric Heater!. Even during a typical winter day, with a weak sun in the sky, solar panels will only be producing a fraction of their summer capability. Its actually quite perverse that solar panels produce the most Electricty and are at their most efficient during the baking hot peak summer months, often when household energy use is at its annual lowest. Of course you can still make back money from selling this unused energy back to the national grid during the summer months by using the feed in tariff system, however to benefit the most from this, you need to have actually bought and own your solar panels, rather than ‘rent’ them from a solar panel company.

Suffice to say, that in order to get the most from your Solar Panels, you actually need to buy them outright, rather than become one of the ‘rent a roof’ schemes, where the solar panel company gets the lions share of the profit, and you only save around £70 – £100 a year from your Electricity bill, for a period of 25 years.

Consider also that most Electricity Costs are also rising every year in response to the feed in tariff hand outs to those who own solar panels. Believe it or not, households with solar panels are actually, to some extent, subsidising themselves because the payouts they are getting back from selling their energy back into the grid are being clawed back by the energy companies  increasing the cost of the Electricity which they sell to you, and of course even with solar panels, you still need to use electricity, especially during the winter months, and your bills will continue to rise, just like households without solar panels.

If you can afford it, then buying solar panels outright will always be the smartest and most profitable option, as opposed to letting a company rent your roof for 25 years in return for a £70 – £120 a year saving on your annual electricity bill, especially as that £70 – £120 is likely to decrease each year as the electricity that you need to buy gets more expensive, largely as a result of more and more people fitting solar panels.

Another thing to consider when buying solar panels, is the length of guarantee which the solar panels come with. Its okay for the solar panel companies to promise a return on your initial investment after 10 – 20 years, if the solar panels work reliably and at peak efficiency for the same amount of time. But what happens if the solar panels fail or go wrong outside of their guarantee period, and before that original ‘investment’ has been returned?.

Looking at the warranty period of some of the common brands of solar panels, I find that there are two commonly used expressions when refering to solar panel warrant periods, and these may be of some confusion to the householder. Therefore I will do my best to explain what these warranty terms imply.

Workmanship / Materials Warranty – Largely implies the period of which the installation is guaranteed for. Usually this is the longest of the two periods of warranties given by solar panel companies. This warranty covers the installation of the panels, in other words, the quality of workmanship in relation to fitting panels to your roof, the wiring between them and the inverter / meter etc. If the fixings holding the panels to the roof should fail, then this would be convered under this warranty.

Manufacturers Warranty – This is far more the relevant warranty period in nuts and bolts terms, as the panels themselves are inevitably the most expensive part of the entire solar panel installation, and should they fail, these are the things which will cost the most to replace.

From looking at the various solar panel companies around the internet, the average period of manufacturers warranty on panels is around 5 years, this means that if the panels fail because of a manufacturing defect then they will of course be replaced / repaired under warranty.

But lets for one moment, consider the possiblity that you have paid £12,000 to have a solar panel installation on your property and the panels carry the popular 5 year manufacturers warranty. You work out that the payback period from the purchase of your panels will take 10 years to break even by selling your unused Electricity back to the grid. Effectively you have a 5 year period between the manufacturers warranty and the point where you have effectively paid back the insllation cost, so what happens if the solar panels fail or require maintainance during the warranty expired  ‘no mans land’?

Well, in short, if you own the solar panels, then you will have to pay to repair the panels, and for any maintainance which will then add more cost to the original installation cost and extend the pay back period. If you require several repairs or panel replacements in the warranty expired period, then this period could be extended significantly. Perhaps the solar panel manufacturers would be better to gaurantee their products for a life which accurately represents an average household payback time? or maybe the Government should also underwrite the costs, especially as it seems keen to roll out solar panels as a means of saving electricty.

Since some people are promoting solar panels to have a lifecycle of upto 30 years, then why isn’t this being reflected in the manufacturers actual warranty period?.

The other myth relating to solar panels is that it boosts manufacturing output. This may be true in America or Japan, where most popular solar panels are made, but the take up of solar panel installations is not benefitting UK Manufacturers,  because there are few of them based here.

There are also veils of doubt slowly being drawn over the actual ‘Green’ aspect of Solar Panels and their place in the Energy Food chain. Yes, solar panels do in fact replace some of the Electricity which would otherwise generated by Gas or Coal burning, although Solar is always likely to only produce a fraction of the energy requirements of the UK as a whole.

There is also talk of the fact that Solar Panels require more energy to design, manufacturer and export than they are likely to return through producing green energy during their designed lifecycle, which according to some manufacturers’ warranties, is only around 5 years!.

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