Nearly one million UK households now have solar panels on their roofs.
Around 850,000 homeowners were lured in by the promise of free electricity from the sun, huge savings and lucrative financial rewards for using renewable energy.
But this gravy train is about to end. In a little over two weeks the Government will put a stop to the generous reward scheme — the so-called feed-in-tariff — which has proved rich pickings for many homes.
Those with solar panels already installed can continue to pick up their juicy inflation-linked payouts for generating electricity for years to come, but households getting new panels installed will not – and there is no sign yet of what if anything will replace feed-in tariffs.
Panel owners also benefit from the export tariff which pays them for excess electricity they send to the National Grid. This rate has always been anchored to a market price
Mr Jones says that rogue salesmen are now also pushing poor-quality £4,000 batteries to homeowners who might be better off storing the excess energy rather than giving it away or receiving paltry rates.
He says: ‘There has been a bit of an upsurge in complaints about batteries. People are being sold cheap batteries that aren’t really suitable.’
But he adds: ‘There is still a good reason to invest in solar panels, just do your research first.’
Liverpool-based solar firm ESE Services was fined £4,682 by RECC in August after it was caught offering thousands of homeowners ‘free health checks’ in cold calls and letters.
The firm’s director, Gary Fredson, admitted breaching the code by misleading homeowners into thinking that they needed to get a ‘health check’.
Customers were also wrongly told that ESE had taken over the maintenance of their system, while others were sold or offered ineffective and unnecessary products.
The firm is no longer a member of the code. Since April, the Financial Ombudsman has dealt with 950 complaints about solar panels on top of the 2,000 it received in the previous financial year.
Are solar panels still worth it?
The absence of any alternative to the feed-in-tariff means anyone who installs panels from April 1 will be handing their excess electricity over to power giants for free.
But Money Mail analysis shows that without any bonus payments, solar panels could take more than 70 years to pay off through electricity savings alone — nearly three times longer than a system’s average lifetime.
If the panel costs you £6,500, and the solar power saves the average of £90 a year on your bills, then it would take 72 years to make your money back.
Whereas those who installed panels in 2010 might have paid off the panels in just five years.
So it may be worth waiting until the Government implements its new scheme before investing in solar panels.
Anyone who is already receiving both tariff payments will continue to do so when the scheme closes to new applicants at the end of the month.
To beat the deadline you will have to have a MCS certificate issued before April 1 this year, and apply for the feed-in-tariff before March 31 next year.
And the Government says that those who install panels after this month’s deadline will later be able to sign up to the new payment scheme.
But to benefit from the new SEG tariff, homeowners will need to have a smart meter to accurately measure how much extra power they are producing.
Many solar panel owners have already reported teething problems with using smart meters — and some people even claim that their bills had trebled.
The Government advises homeowners to seek legal advice before entering an agreement with an installation company, to ensure they are sufficiently protected.
A Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) spokesman says: ‘We have consulted on a Smart Export Guarantee to follow on from the feed-in-tariff scheme, and will respond in due course to minimise any disruption.
‘A generator that misses the closure date would be eligible to apply for the SEG once it is implemented.’
Sharp sales tactics to watch out for
Here, we expose the tactics desperate solar sharks might try on you . . .
‘YOU QUALIFY FOR A FREE HEALTH CHECK’: Qualified tradesmen should charge for work, so anyone promising to give a system a ‘free health check’ could be a scammer trying to get their foot in the door.
‘WE CAN BOOST YOUR SOLAR POWER BY 25 per cent’: Optimisers can slightly improve power generation, but only significantly if your system is partly in the shade.
‘YOU NEED A BATTERY’: Expensive solar storage batteries are not for everybody.
They can cost up to £4,000 and only guarantee savings for people who generate far more power than they can use in a day.
‘YOUR INVERTER NEEDS REPLACING’: Many panels came with a five-year warranty for the inverter — the part that turns the solar power into domestic electricity. But if your inverter is still working, it does not need to be replaced.
‘YOUR COMPONENTS ARE FAULTY’: Cold callers claiming that you need to replace broken or faulty parts won’t have access to your output data and therefore cannot know how your panels are functioning.