My personal experiences of solar panels – getting them installed

Author: 25/07/2014

In my first blog, I talked about my experiences in the stages between first looking into having solar panels and eventually deciding to go ahead. I opted for a system supplied through one of the country’s best-known furniture and homewear stores and, in this blog, I talk about the next steps and preparing for installation day.

Having decided to go ahead, I then had to confirm the panel layout. To me, how the panels looked on my roof was important. On the face of it, the layout was a simple decision as I have a south-facing, continuous roof with no shading issues. However, the roof includes a protruding soil ventilation pipe near the front so it took three iterations before I settled on a simple layout of three rows of 10 panels, the lowest row being just above the pipe. This gave me a total maximum notional capacity of 3.6kWh.

Having a solar panel energy assessment 

The next step was to arrange an energy assessment, for which I had to pay a non-refundable £100. Among other things, this provided me with an Energy Performance Certificate, something that’s needed later for registration for the Feed-in Tariff. I should point out that you only get the EPC after your system is installed. If you decide not to go any further, you don’t get your money back, nor do you get an EPC.

The assessment was arranged quickly and efficiently – only a week or so after I called to book it – but it could have been sooner, it just wasn’t convenient for me. The assessment itself involved an Energy Assessor spending a couple of hours at my house inspecting my electricity meter, consumer unit, light fittings and loft insulation, as well as measuring all the rooms and asking various questions about the energy efficiency measures we’d had installed. The Energy Assessor also collected other information and took photos, some of which were used to check that the roof was capable of taking the extra weight and for registration with my local council under the NAPIT competent persons scheme to self-certify work for building regulations.

I received the energy assessment a few days later and there were no issues and I had no questions, so I gave final confirmation of go-ahead, paid a deposit and arranged the actual installation date – which was also done quickly and efficiently.

Solar panel installation day

On the day itself, I woke up and it was raining, as it had been for the previous few days. It didn’t look good, particularly as the installers hadn’t arrived by the agreed time - but a quick call reassured me that they were on their way, after having been delayed in heavy traffic. The team of two installers and an electrician duly arrived and set to work quickly, first putting up the portable scaffolding. They worked hard and were friendly and courteous.

I was particularly pleased that they found a way of running the armoured cabling down the inside of the boxing that surrounds my soil ventilation pipe when it runs through the bathroom and into the ground floor toilet.

Normally, the cabling is fitted to the outside of the building but I didn’t want this as I thought it might look unsightly, especially as the cable run would have been very long in my case. Doing it this way also made sense as the internal boxing was on the other side of a wall to both my electricity meter and the consumer unit.

 

However, full marks to the electrician as it was far from a simple job and involved removing a few bricks and running the cable round two rather awkward right-angle bends.

Anyway, the team persevered and they were finished by around 4pm, after which the power was turned back on and my panels were quickly generating clean and renewable electricity.

Monitoring my solar panels

The electrician also set me up with the online monitoring system and a whole new world of personal electricity generation and consumption was opened up to me. I was ‘home alone’ on installation day and I confess that I spent that evening going round the house turning various lights and appliances on and off to find out how much electricity they used. Although the results in themselves weren’t really surprising, they put flesh on the bones of my understanding. They were truly fascinating and focused my mind: the kettle, iron and tumble drier were among the biggest power guzzlers but the monitor also confirmed that our move to LEDs had obviously paid off. For example, the four-bulb light fitting in the kitchen only consumes a total of 16 watts per hour.

Solar panels change behaviour

Right from day one, I was already thinking about how and when we used electricity. In my next blog, I’ll reflect on our experiences after the first few months and how having solar panels has prompted us to change our behaviour and be more aware of our energy consumption and how we can improve our use of it.

In my third blog I'll look at my first year living with solar panels, and how being an independent electricity generator has changed the way my family and I view and use energy.