If asked, most people would probably describe a solar roof as being a normal roof that has somehow had a huge solar panel attached to it. Whilst this is still a true scenario in many cases, technology has moved on greatly to the extent that near enough an entire roof can be ‘tiled’ with smaller solar panels, which all add up to create a significant power harvesting source – right on your own property.
Why install a solar roof?
With a very strong lobby for greener technologies, there is a greater interest in individual households taking control of their energy requirements. Coupled with a rise in traditional fuel and energy bills, seeking methods of generating your own powers is becoming a truly viable option for many householders. There is no getting away from the fact that fossil fuels represent a finite source of energy and with the government dragging its heels on investing in greener, renewable, there is really no better time to think about installing solar panels on your roof and start reaping the rewards.
Solar roofs are so expensive, is it worth it?
Plenty of people who have concerns for the environment will unequivocally state that yes, it is certainly worth it from an environmental point of view. Hard and fast economists may disagree, citing the installation costs being far in excess of what is likely to be recovered via energy bill savings. There is also an argument that solar technology ‘isn’t quite there’ yet and that it would not be the best time to make such a substantial investment in a science that is still very much being developed. However, there are greater incentives available now that are making this an increasingly attractive option and very much worth looking into.
How does the solar roof system work?
Solar panels or solar roof tiles are installed on the roof and they are known as photovoltaic (PV) cells. There does not need to be direct sunlight as the PV cells designed for use in the UK can make good use of natural daylight. The cells are made from layers of silicon. When they are exposed to light, an electric field is created which causes a current to be created. This creates power which can be directed to the property or it can be exported to the National Grid. This is where the incentive lies: any electricity that is sent to the National Grid will earn the householder a payment. This scheme is known as the ‘Feed-In Tariff Scheme’.
The Feed-In Tariff Scheme
This scheme has been in existence in Great Britain since 1st April 2010. Under the scheme, the 6 main energy providers have an obligation to make regular payments to anyone who generates their own electricity as well as make payments for any surplus that is exported to the National Grid. Systems that generate up to 5 megawatts of electricity are included in the scheme and payments made can offset the initial costs of installation. Many householders take out a 25 year loan and the monthly payments can be covered by the scheme. Tariffs do vary according to when the system was installed and by whom. Typically, if the system was installed after 1st April 2010 using a certified system and installer, a full payment will be received. It is worth noting that the whole scheme is currently under review and the new terms will be announced late in 2011. It is impossible to determine how much a system will cost or how much is likely to be paid as there are a number of factors that must be taken into consideration and each home will have different requirements and budgetary constraints.
Variable factors include:
A simple example is as follows:
A 2.5 kW Photovoltaic System is installed at a cost of £12,500 to an existing property. The householder will be paid 43.1p per kWh (kilowatt hour) of electricity that is generated. This will give them an annual payment of £900 in addition to a saving of £140 per year on their electricity bill. This could be an attractive option to higher – rate tax payers in particular as all payments under this scheme are tax exempt.
Payments will also rise in line with inflation and it is expected that householders who choose to adopt this type of solar power system will recover their initial costs of installation within 10 years.
It is certainly worth looking into this scheme especially if you have a south facing roof that is clear of any obstructions such as overhanging trees or nearby buildings creating shade, as this represents the best chance of making a good return. However, with technology constantly improving, it will not be long before any situation will be able to maximise the power from natural daylight.
Aesthetic and practical considerations of solar roofing
Installing solar generating panels need not cause an unsightly change to the roof line or overall appearance of the property. It is now possible to use individual roof tiles that look the same as regular tiles and fit much the same too. They are designed to fit in with any existing roof covering, meaning that you can add as many or as few as you would like. In many instances, they are barely detectable and only need wiring together during the installation process. 200 standard tiles replaced with 40 C21 solar tiles gives a 2kW solar system and they should last for about 30 years, requiring minimal maintenance. Each C21 solar roof tile can achieve about 52 watts of power with 8 square metres of tiles required to generate 1 kW maximum of power. Solar cell efficiency is 20%. They are designed to fit in with standard UK roof tiles and can be fitted simply by any competent roofer.