Free Solar Panels
Are They a Viable Option?

We've all heard about free solar panels, but there's got to be a catch, right?

Not really!

Once you understand the motivation of the companies that offer free solar panels it all makes a little more sense. They simply put the panels on your roof  and then they take the feed in tariff or NIROCs payments.

You simply provide a roof for them to use and in return you get whatever  free electricity the panels produce.

When were Free Solar Panels Introduced?

It was actually the introduction of the FiT (Feed in Tariff) and NIROC (Northern Ireland Renewable Obligation Certificate) schemes that kickstarted the use of free panels. 

Under the FiT (in England, Scotland and Wales) and NIROC (Northern Ireland) schemes your electricity supplier is obliged to pay you for each and every unit of green electricity you produce from your PV panels (regardless of whether you use it in your home or not). 

These schemes also allow the owner of the panels to earn an additional payment for any units that aren’t used. These unused units are exported back to the grid and the owner of the panels then receives a second payment for these exported units. 

free solar panelFree Solar Panels

The payments are so attractive that the photovoltaic companies, and some private companies offer to install photovoltaic panels on your roof and then let you use the electricity they produce free of charge.

Why would they offer free panels?

Simple, they can still make good profits from receiving the FIT or NIROC payments in addition to the fee they receive for selling any unused electricity back to the grid.

So, just to make sure we’re clear, you get free panels on your roof (installed and maintained) plus you get to use as much of the free electricity as you can.

Don't get me wrong. For many of us who can't afford residential solar panels to produce electricity, this system can be fantastic, as it can (on average) halve the cost of your annual electricity bill.

But, as with most things there's a little more to it.

All the firms offering the free panels will have them fitted by a MCS (Micro-generation Certification Scheme) registered installer, otherwise the installation won't be eligible for the FIT or NIROC scheme and the company won't get its payments.

Who qualifies for Free solar panels?

There are certain criteria you'll need to meet and each supplier will likely have slightly different requirements, so always check with your local companies first, but in general the criteria are as follows:

  • Your roof will likely need to be less than 40 years old (to ensure it is strong enough to take the weight of the photovoltaic panels).
  • Your roof should ideally be south facing, but south east to south west should be ok and an elevation of around 30º - 40º degrees is ideal but not essential.
  • Your roof cover should be un-shaded (i.e. no overhanging trees or buildings that cast a shadow on the roof). Solar panels will work in shade but not at their optimum level.
  • You'll need approximately 25-30 square meters of roof available for a typical installation of 4kW home solar panels.
  • You must be the home-owner and if you have a mortgage on your home you'll need the permission of your mortgage provider. Most of the big lenders don't have an issue with granting permission for free panels.

And that's pretty much it, sounds great doesn't it? So what are we all waiting for? Well as with anything, there are pros and cons you need to be aware of.

Advantages of free solar panels:

  • You don't have to pay anything for the system, either out of your own pocket or by way of a loan.
  • You'll get the use of the electricity produced by the panels for the duration of the lease (typically 25 years).
  • Your annual electricity bills will be reduced.
  • When you sell the house the new owners will have to take over the contract (this can also be a disadvantage, see below).
  • You shouldn't have any maintenance costs as most companies will include the cost of maintenance in the contract. Always check this before signing as different companies may have different terms, although PV panels require very little maintenance.

Disadvantages of free solar panels:

  • The panels won't provide all your electricity, so you will still have to buy some electricity from your supplier.

  • If you work during the day most of the electricity produced by the panels will be produced while you're at work and would be sold to the grid as you're not there to use it as its produced.
  • The lease agreement with the free solar panel company can complicate the process of selling your house, especially if the buyers don't want to take over the contract.

    Always check what the contract says about selling the property before you sign on the dotted line.

    Also consider what happens if you want to remortgage in a few years time. Your current mortgage provider may not have an issue with the lease but your potential new mortgage provider may not be prepared to lend on a property with a roof lease in place.
  • If you bought the PV panels yourself they would definitely add value to your home.
  • Some companies offer free panels but only offer you the electricity they produce at a discounted rate, which reduces the benefit to you.
  • If you bought the PV panels yourself you would get 'free' electricity and benefit from the FIT or NIROC scheme payments (which should be more than your loan repayments for buying the system over a 20 or 25 year loan period).
  • You must be the home owner, as this is not a government scheme. It is provided by private companies and they will only deal with the home owner.

You should also consider the general advantages and disadvantages of photovoltaic panels before making a decision as this will have a bearing on whether you think this is the right way forward for you as an individual

As you can see there are benefits to paying for the photovoltaic panels yourself. Namely, you get the benefit of the FIT or NIROC payments and if you sell some of the electricity to the grid you'll get an additional payment.

Both of these payments are on top of the free electricity your photovoltaic panels are producing. Whereas if you go for the free solar panels you can get free electricity but you will not benefit from the FIT or NIROC payments etc.

If you have the money to pay for the PV panels or can get a low rate or interest free loan to buy them, it's likely to be more financially lucrative to buy them yourself.

If you can't afford to buy your photovoltaic panels, free solar panels could be worth considering as they should reduce your annual electricity bill.

If you decide to buy the panels yourself have a look at my articles on how solar panels work and the installation requirements for PV panels.

› Free Solar Panels.

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