Sustainability is close to my heart, and I try to embrace it wherever possible. Of course, it's not an exact science, nor do I always get it right, but Solar Panels, from my perspective, are one of the best sustainable money-saving moves I've made in a long time.
This is the second of two posts on the subject. Part 1 outlines the practicalities of using solar in the home, how your system can be customised, the pros and cons of Solar PV, how to optimise electric car charging and what impact it makes. This post is all about getting them installed in the first place.
How to get Solar PV installed Step by Step
1. Find and appoint a registered SEAI solar PV company
Get quotes from several registered companies on the SEAI website. I recommend around 4-6 quotes to analyse cost and product range fairly. Then, choose and appoint a company and agree to a formal contract with them to get the work done.
It is essential to shop around for prices; they can vary widely. It is also necessary to team up with a company you are happy to work with and explain the whole process.
Don't be afraid to call and chat about what you are looking for. Ask questions so you are clear on what you are getting. Once you have found the right contractor for you, agree on a system, price, payment schedule and timeline.
2. Make an application to SEAI for the grant offer
This next step is critical, do not start work until you have received the grant offer from the SEAI. Once the grant has been approved, it is valid for eight months, so there is ample opportunity to get the work done in this time frame. ( Most installations don't take any more than a day to complete. )
3. Apply to ESB Networks to connect the Solar PV system to the electricity network
Your installer will do this. The ESB has to be notified before installing a Solar PV system. This application process takes at least four weeks (20 working days), so as soon as you have your grant approval, get onto this step as quickly as possible.
4. Install your solar PV panels
Once the first three steps have been completed, it is time to install the panels. Depending on the system you choose, this should take no more than a day or so. Again, ensure that registered and qualified installers do any work carried out. This should not be an issue once you've sourced your installer from the service providers on the SEAI website.
5. Get a post-works BER
After the work is complete, a post works BER is required. This is needed to prove the BER is above the minimum requirement of a BER C after installation to be eligible for the grant. Generally, the cost of the BER is in addition to the installation.
6. Submit evidence of works to SEAI
Your installer will give you the documentation related to your installation, and they will submit copies to SEAI electronically. Most of this is carried out by the Solar PV company. So it is very little for you to do here.
7. The SEAI fact check
After submitting everything, SEAI will contact you to ensure that everything was completed as per the documents submitted and that you are happy with the installation. Usually, an inspection is carried out in person; however, it may happen over the phone in some cases.
8. SEAI process the claim
Payment of the grant can take 6-8 weeks and will be logged into your nominated account.
Depending on who your chosen Solar company is, some may require full payment before the grant is received. Others request installation payments, excluding the grant amount, and you forward the grant once you receive it.
Negotiate this beforehand so everyone is on the same page.
While it took several months from start to finish, the whole installation experience was relatively straightforward, and following these steps will make it even more so.
SEAI Grants available for Solar
There are grants available from the SEAI (Sustainable energy authority of Ireland) for solar PV. The grant varies depending on your requirements and the system you choose. Here's a quick overview of what is available.
Solar PV grant amounts are available.
Grant value for solar electricity
Solar PV grant is €900 per kWp up to 2kWp
E.g., €1800 for 2kWp solar panels.
€300 for every additional kWp up to 4kWp
E.g., €2100 for 3kWp solar panels and €2400 for 4kWp solar panels.
The total Solar PV grant capped at €2400
Planning is required for over 12m² or 50% of the roof space, whichever is less. Again, there's comprehensive information on citizens' information, so check that out.
A 3.74 kW system equates to approximately 11 panels in total. In addition, we installed a battery also to store any additional charge produced by the panels. Not every home will need a battery. Consider your lifestyle and usage level when deciding on this, as it will significantly impact the system's overall cost.
For solar panels and battery, the maximum eligible grant is €2,910.
There are a couple of caveats to eligibility for the SEAI grants. Homes must be built and occupied before 2011. The SEAI has not previously provided a grant for solar PV systems at that address.
Also, the home's energy performance following solar panels' installation must be BER C or better. So again, this is something to be mindful of.
Solar panels will probably raise the BER; however, knowing your BER before you begin is essential for ensuring you reach at least the minimum thresholds to be eligible.
How long will it take to earn money investing in Solar PV back?
The payback period depends on
Upfront costs - things like the panels' size and a battery or not will impact the price.
Maintenance of the panels - for the most part, maintenance is minimal.
Amount of sun falling on the panels - South-facing panels will produce the most electricity. North-facing panels will create the least.
The price paid for the electricity - changing electricity providers every year is essential to minimise cost.
Many Solar PV systems reduce the need to use oil, especially in the summer, by heating water using excess electricity generated. This is an indirect but often significant saving.
There is potential for the resurrection of the 'feed-in' scheme. A feed-in scheme allows households to get paid for electricity fed back into the grid. This is in the discussion, but it is not available yet and should not be a reason to install Solar PV. Do not get solar panels based on a feed-in scheme. It is not guaranteed that it will happen any time soon.
Typical Costs of Solar PV installation:
The typical cost for installation of Solar PV panels is €1,700 - €2,500 per kWp
What this looks like:
A 2kWh system should fall in the range of €3,400 - €5,000
A 4 KWh system should cost around €6,800 - €10,000
Batteries are in addition to these costs and tend to be the most expensive part of the system, so consider if you will get its value for the outlay.
How much did our system cost?
Our 3.74 KWh system with a 7.2 kWh battery came in at €10,410
The SEAI grant approved was €2,910
Hence our out of pocket was €7,500
Savings to date
Conservatively we have easily cut our electricity drawn from the grid in half. However, it should be noted that this does not cut the bill in half, as the standing charge applies to everyone regardless of usage.
However, the double win here is that oil consumption has gone through.
Oil usage has over halved, bringing the energy cost way down from previous years. However, it is hard to give like-for-like comparisons at the moment as energy prices are rising so fast.
Currently, we are saving over €1000 per year on electricity. This is for running an electric car and home. Oil is something similar.
The initial cost of installation recover time was approximately six years. However, with the present climate of inflation and rising energy prices, it looks like it will be shortened to closer to 5 years.
After that breakeven point, any reduction in costs is pure savings.
Note: There are a few assumptions here.
There is a night saver metre installed on the house. This means that cheaper night rates are available to us. The battery is set on a timer in winter to take advantage of this. So during the winter, the house can draw on the battery on the duller days when the panels cannot produce enough.
The water heater can draw from solar or the grid. Mainly, water is heated by solar in summer and from the night rate in winter. Thus keeping costs down further.
The battery is an expensive piece of equipment. However, one is unnecessary for many homes, and the additional cost may not be justifiable. Do your research beforehand so that you do not end up paying for a system that is more than you need and give you much longer payback.
The above was a rundown on our specific system. Other systems may vary in capacity, size and costs.
How long does the system last?
This will depend on the type and quality of the panels and systems themselves. Most panels have two types of warranty.
1. Linear output is the panel's ability to convert solar power into electricity you can use in your home. The datasheet for each brand of the panel will outline this. However, most panels give up to 30 years of guaranteed high linear output. Intense, long-lasting linear output is where it's at when it comes to efficiency.
2. A product warranty is how long the parts will last. Technology has been advancing so fast in recent years. Most panels have a warranty of 25+ years.
Payback will depend on many aspects, as mentioned above; however, the payback will be in the 5-10 year range for most systems.
With most panel products and linear output warranties having a life span of at least 25 years, the money that can be saved over the long term is quite impressive.
Every time you add up your monthly bills, you'll smile when you realise your savings through the year, and you have the bonus of knowing you're doing something to help sustain the planet.