Solar panels for an energy efficient home

Cantiaci’s DIY-er in Chief Frank explains the hows, whats and whys of installing solar panels on his Folkestone home: 

When did you decide on solar panels?

I bought my home in 2012, which was just an end of terrace house in Folkestone. I looked at ways of reducing my energy costs and, as this was supposed to be the sunny south east, I thought about solar panels. The government were gradually reducing the tariff year on year so I took the plunge in October 2014, before it went too low.

How much did your solar panels cost?

My solar panels were about £6000, which I got a loan for and paid some of it off. The KWh (Kilo Watt an hour) rate then was 14.5p and the feed in tariff (the amount the national grid pays back in unused electricity) was about 4.5p a unit. The figures for 2015, 16, and 17 will be progressively lower.

As a comparison, my cousin invested in 16 solar panels a few years before me, and gets (to this day) approx. 22p per KWh but the downside was he paid a lot more for his panels than I did.

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How many panels did you install? 

Even though my roof could only take 10 panels on a south east facing direction, I was able to have 6 extra panels on my rear flat roof, westerly facing. These are all individually controlled by micro-invertors, which change the DC current to AC and fed to meters in my electricity cupboard.

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How do your solar panels work?

When it is daylight, the panels automatically prioritise over the mains supplied
current until dusk. Suns-Energy in East Anglia installed all the equipment in one day and they monitor it by wi-fi and send me monthly email reports.

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How much money have your solar panels saved?

See below. This is over a 7 day period. To give a good example of my electricity in the last 6 months, Aug. 2016-Jan. 2017, using the actual billed amounts from my electricity company, I actually gained £12.50 per month!

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Obviously I have gas, broadband and telephone costs. The savings at this stage, at least 6-7 years later, will go towards the cost of the panels. These are part of the house and are mine. Not leased or owned by anybody else.

To help, I use, say washing machine and tumble drier, during the day. Even if cloudy, though not so effective, they are still working, remember, they work on ambient daylight.

What other ways have you found to save energy?

Early in 2016 I invested in air source heaters which extract heat from the air, even on freezing nights, so when these are used in the daytime; they are running off the solar panels, so therefore saving on my gas bill. The cost effect is not as dramatic as I am more likely to use them in the evening, but it does impact on my gas bill.

I still need hot water and the gas cooker, but heating, the biggest user, is considerably reduced.

The other new technology that helps heat gain is that I had installed new double glazing, in which the glass has a gap of 20mm (as good as triple glazing, but considerably less cost) and the glass is treated to enable a 3% solar gain into the property. It is argon filled, eliminating air which is prone to condensation.

I consider my energy use and ways to save and reduce my dependency on the national grid, completely in line with the aims of Folkestone Cantiaci. If I could afford approx £2000, I could invest in long-life storage batteries, and be totally off-grid! This would be ideal in a completely rural area. It shows that new technology can enable one to live a more ‘green’ lifestyle.