Back last summer, we decided not to put solar panels on our roof, but recently we have reconsidered the pros and cons and decided to get fresh quotes.
On the con side are the aesthetics. This was the deciding factor last year, since our house is part of a terrace of coastguard cottages which are a local landmark. The roof is mellow dappled Delabole slate. The terrace is not listed, however, and one of the houses already has panels. The other con is the uncertainty about how long we will remain in the house and whether it will be long enough to get our money back (I don’t buy the argument that panels will increase the value of the house on resale: panels are a depreciating asset so even if they add value initially, they won’t after a few years).
But, there is one big pro, which is that the FIT (feed in tariff), even now it has been reduced several times, makes panels one of the best financial investments we can make with our savings, possibly yielding as much as an inflation proofed 9% p.a. compared with less than 6% fixed from an annuity.
I could also argue that it is our civic duty to utilise our prime south facing sunny site, but actually I think the ethics are fairly evenly balanced pro and con. On the one hand the FIT is a ‘middle-class subsidy’, and George Monbiot makes a convincing argument that due to the inefficiency of panels in our maritime climate, it is a poor way of spending public money to reduce our carbon emissions. On the other hand, this is a democracy and this is the way we as a society have decided to fulfil our commitment to combat climate change, so is it right to opt out when I agree with the objective and only object to the method?
Last year I was also put off by the difficulty of comparing quotes and checking the information provided by salesman and I’m not relishing going through the process again. There doesn’t seem to be any industry standard for comparing the efficiency of panels. A label system for panels similar to that used for electrical appliances would be very helpful for consumers. The Energy Savings Trust provides a useful solar energy calculator which estimates the savings for the first year after installation, which is a better guide than the figures provided by salesmen.
Most installers seem to be small local firms, which means that any guarantee they give for their workmanship is almost valueless, so a national guarantee scheme would also be helpful. Not that there seem to be many complaints about workmanship, but it is of particular concern to coastal dwellers like ourselves, whose panels will have to withstand high winds and salt-laden air.