Given the right installer, buying solar panels is a quick and painless process. Here’s a short summary of what you can expect to happen in the run-up to the installation.
Process for buying solar panels
The first step is to find a local MCS-certified installer and arrange a site visit. MCS certification is required for receiving payment through the Feed-in Tariff (FiT).
The initial survey will determine:
- What size the solar installation should be: This will depend on your budget, how much space is available on the roof or other desired site, and your electricity demand.
- If your roof or desired site is suitable for solar panels
- Whether planning permission is required or not: As long as your house isn’t a listed building or located in a conservation area, this shouldn’t be a problem.
- Your Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) is acceptable: Your EPC must be valid (less than 10 years old), and your property will need to be rated band D or above to qualify for standard FiT rates. Adding loft insulation and/or cavity wall insulation can raise your EPC band if you’re below band D.
The installer will then go away and put together a quotation (which includes the performance estimate) and a contract. Once you’re happy with the quote, you’d return the signed contract, and the installer would arrange the install date and begin the commissioning process. The installation should take no longer than 3 or 4 days, after which you’ll begin generating your own electricity.
What should I be looking out for in the quote?
It’s best to get three or four quotes together to be certain you’re getting the best deal – prices vary from installer to installer, as do their cost for parts and labour. You can also investigate the installer’s previous jobs or look at reviews online to be sure.
Savings and return estimates
The quote should give you a detailed breakdown of the costs involved, giving you a clear picture of what each area of the installation will cost, which makes comparing between quotes relatively easy.
Installers use several assumptions when calculating estimates of savings and return, but these can be overexaggerated to make your quote look more appealing. For instance, the Feed-in Tariff rates are subject to rising inflation. Considering how the rate of inflation in 10 years’ time is unknown, customers should double-check that the calculation is using realistic figures.
Estimated output of electricity
The true amount of electricity produced won’t be the same as the Total Install Capacity (the size of the system) as the solar panels won’t always be operating in peak conditions. The estimated output will give you a much clearer idea of how much electricity your solar installation will generate.
Again, the estimated output will be overambitious if the assumptions used in the calculation aren’t accurate, for example if the geographical location and level of shading isn’t properly assessed and incorporated into the calculation. The estimate will look a lot more attractive, but the data will ultimately be skewed.
Solar panel manufacturer
As the efficiency of the solar panels vary depending on the manufacturer, it’s worth double-checking that the model and parts suggested by the installer are from a tried and tested source, and the products are MCS-certified. Take a look at some of the solar panel unit’s reviews online.