Sunny side up

You shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmeared with sluttish time

According to the consumers organisation Which, the deals offering ‘free’ solar panels aren’t such a great thing.

Get away. There are several companies, including British Gas, with swish looking adverts, offering householders the opportunity to ‘rent out’ their roofs in exchange for free electricity.

They get the solar panels – the PV variety- installed for free and benefit from the ‘free electricity’ that is generated. Well some of it anyway. The householder can get whatever they need to power their appliances, be they TVs or heating the water, and anything that is left over is sold back to the Government. That’s how the Feed-In-Tariffs work. Except the panels -and anything generated by them – will actually be owned by the company installing them and that’s who will get the rather generous tariff paid by the government.

In fact, the report found that, by and large, householders would do far better, financially, to take out a loan and pay for the work themselves and thereby get the benefit of the tariffs than they would by just taking the ‘free electricity’. It reckons that even in the sunniest parts of the UK, panels on south-facing roofs could only save a maximum of £412 of electricity a year. A lot, maybe, but I know plenty of reasonably thrifty people whose electric bills are far higher than that.

I was stopped the other day, coming out of a store (OK, OK, it was Homebase, but it’s right next-door to Sainsburys and I was already in the car-park) by a chap who offered me a rent-a-roof deal.

When I said I already had solar panels on my roof (they were there when I moved in), he launched into a lecture on how solar thermal would not give me a return on my investment, and that I would do so much better if I removed the existing system and replaced it with his PV version which would “supply all your household electricity needs forever” and that his company would install it for free.

There’s a lot of rubbish/mis-information/’green’wash going around at the moment about solar and the tariffs and, as is usually the case, there are companies out there taking advantage of householder who really don’t understand the technology or the finance but just want their energy bills to come down.

And there’s a line in the Which report that struck a chord with me. It said: Before investing in any kind of renewable energy, you should also make sure your home is as energy efficient as it can be.

Well exactly. Before you go through all the hassle and expense of getting the latest technology put on your roof, for goodness sake go up into the attic with a tape measure and check you’ve got enough loft insulation. And one of those nifty little jackets keeping your water tank warm. Measures like that will pay for themselves in no time. And, you can get them all from your local builders merchant. So everyone’s happy.

I am, incidentally, completely in favour of doing whatever we can to save energy – our reliance on fossil fuels cannot go on forever, but that’s probably the subject for a whole other blog.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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