Want Free Solar Panels? Not So Fast…

Are you based in the United Kingdom and looking for free solar panels?

You’ve probably heard of the old saying “nothing in life is for free” and here in this guide, I’ll explain why there’s no such thing as free solar roof panels.

I’ll also explain how the grant/discount schemes being touted by hundreds of companies actually work – to milk you of money the government earmarked for you.

This page is part of our blog, be sure to explore more of our great content.

photo of free solar panels on roof

The Old “Free Solar Panels” Schemes

Years ago when the UK government decided to “go green” they offered a feed-in tariff to anyone that purchased solar panels.

It was a great scheme that was and still is supported by all the major suppliers, meaning you could switch supplier without any issues.

The initial payment was for every kilowatt-hour produced by the panels. Over 20 years or so, this amounted to a whopping £12,500 for the average home.

On top of this, the owner of the property would get free electricity during the day when the weather was favourable and the solar panels were producing enough power.

With so much cash being offered and free electricity, companies popped up all over the country offering “free solar panels” – they would install the panels for free but you would need to sign an agreement where the feed-in tariff was paid to them.

You would get free solar panels and free electricity but not the feed-in tariff.

The solar panel installer would get the feed-in tariff (typically £12,500 over 20 years) so it made financial sense for them to offer free panels.

Key Point:

The government’s initial feed-in tariff rates from 2008 – 2015 meant companies could offer free solar panels and still make a profit.

Why You Won’t Find Any Free Solar Panel Offers Now

In 2015, the government drastically reduced the feed-in tariff rate to new customers.

This meant a new purchaser of solar panels on a typical roof would see their income from the tariff reduced by 64% compared to when the scheme started.

With less money being offered by the government, it was no longer viable for companies to offer free solar panels.

The feed-in tariff over a 20 year period might cover the cost of the panels but wouldn’t leave any left for profit.

As of 2018, most free solar panel schemes have disappeared.

Key Point

The reduced feed-in tariff rates mean it’s no longer viable for firms to offer free solar panels.

The Rise of the “Grant” and “Discount Schemes”

With the feed-in tariff no longer generating enough money for scheme operators to offer free solar panels, some have now switched to offering “grants” and “discounts”.

Some firms mask these as “subsidies” or similar.

These schemes are similar to the free solar panel ones that came before, the only difference is you only get a discount off the solar panels, you can’t get them for free.

To cover the cost of the discount, the scheme operator will keep the payments from the feed-in tariff and you get free panels and free daytime electricity.

Key Point

Some companies now offer reduced installation fees, the firms often promote them as grants or subsidies. To recover their costs, they keep the valuable feed-in tariff payments.

Should I Consider a Grant or Discount Scheme?

You should note that it isn’t the government that offers these discounts and so-called grants but private companies.

Most scheme operators want to get their hands on the feed-in tariff which is still worth up to £5000 over 20 years.

If a scheme operator discounts the solar panels by £2000 but gets back £5000, then it’s just about profitable.

Such schemes have pros and cons:

Pros

  • Discounted so cheaper than paying the full price upfront.
  • You’ll get free daytime electricity, weather permitting.
  • Good selling point should you wish to move home.

Cons

  • You don’t get to keep the feed-in tariff.
  • You’re still paying a lot of money up front and may only save small amounts off your bill, especially if you’re out of the home during the daytime.
  • It could take you over 30 years to get your investment back through reduced bills*.

Try This Simple Calculation Because the Devil is Always in the Detail

I recently saw an advert on Facebook for discounted solar panels, the offer was for “half price panels”.

As always, the devil is in the detail.

The scheme operator would keep the feed-in tariff for 20 years.

Here’s a quick calculation, in the first table you’ll see how long it takes to get your money back if you pay £6000 for your panels upfront. On the bottom table, you’ll see how long it takes should you take up this offer of “half price solar panels”:

Table 1

  
Initial cost£6000
Feed in tariff per yr£145
Export tariff per yr£85
Bill savings per yr£100
Total savings per yr£330
Number of yrs until you get your investment back18 Years

Table 2

  
Initial cost (50% off)£3000
Feed in tariff per yrNone - paid to scheme operator
Export tariff per yrNone - paid to scheme operator
Bill savings per yr£100
Total savings per yr£100
Number of yrs until you get your investment back30 Years

The prices above are just examples, explore the following page to see how much solar roof panels cost in 2018.

Key Point

Without the feed-in tariff, it would take you a long time to recoup your investment.

Be wary of grants, discounts or subsidies where your energy provider pays the feed-in tariff to the scheme operator.

How Where You Live and Your Lifestyle Affects How Much Money You’ll Save

The bottom line is this:

The south and the south-west gets considerably more sunshine than the north of the UK.

Take a look at the table below to see the difference in sunshine hours:

Location:Yearly hours of sunshine
London1481 hours
Birmingham1364 hours
Glasgow1265 hours

Your lifestyle is also a key factor in how much you’ll save off your energy bills.

If you and any other occupants of the home are typically away during the day then you won’t be using the free energy provided by the panels.

If you’re signed up to the feed-in tariff, you’ll still get some money back from the government. This is usually enough to cover the cost of the installation but you’ll save very little directly off your bills.

Graphic showing solar energy creation and household energy usage

The Bad News About Solar Panels

The feed-in tariff wasn’t just the cherry on the cake, it was the carrot that made the whole idea of solar panels appealing.

Not only would you save money off your bills and eventually get your investment back, you could actually make a profit and do your bit for the environment too.

With the payment reductions and the possibility that the feed-in tariff will be closed to new customers, the days of free and subsidised solar panels look numbered.

If you missed the boat, don’t have a home or lifestyle that’s suited to solar panels and can’t get on a feed-in tariff, you may never get your investment in solar panels back.

So much for the UK going green.

Key Point

The UK government has drawn up plans to close the feed-in tariffs to new customers in 2019. Source: Yougen.

The Good News

While it’s disappointing the UK government has reduced the feed-in tariff rate for new customers and may even ditch it altogether, there’s some good news worth considering.

To put it bluntly; solar panels have never been cheaper than they are today.

Year on year, the cost of the product and the installation fee has fallen.

If your property has a large south facing roof and your lifestyle means you use most of your electricity during the daytime, you can still make a long-term saving by installing solar panels.

Key Point

The cost of solar panel manufacturing and installation is falling faster than the experts predicted. Source: Greener Ideal.

Why Now is the Best Time to Buy Solar Panels

This is isn’t a sales pitch but now really is the best time to buy solar panels, if you can afford to stump the money upfront.

Here’s why:

  • Solar panels have never been cheaper.
  • There’s plenty of competition so installers are reducing their prices just to compete.
  • The current feed-in tariff might be lower than it was in the past, but an average installation will still generate around £150 per year.
  • The government is planning to close the feed-in tariff to new customers in 2019.

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