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‘Free’ solar panels not such a great deal

Installing your own panels could save you £10k

Map showing earnings from free solar offers

Free solar panel offers are all the rage at the moment, with several companies, including British Gas, offering consumers the opportunity to ‘rent out’ their roofs in exchange for free electricity.

What they’re not so upfront about is that the companies stand to benefit far more from the arrangement than householders.

Big savings

New research by Which? has found consumers could save as much as £10,500 over the next 25 years by buying their own solar photovoltaic (PV) system instead of signing up to a scheme offering ‘free’ solar panels.

The consumer champion found that even in the sunniest far South West of the country, ‘rent-a-roofers’ would only save a maximum of £412 a year off their electricity bill. The company supplying the solar panels, on the other hand, would get £1,313 from the government’s feed-in-tariff (FIT), an incentive scheme that gives money for renewable energy.

Consider a loan

Which? experts calculated that even if consumers took out a Which? Best Rate loan to cover the £19,000 that a solar panel system would cost, they would still be thousands of pounds better off in the long run as they would receive the lucrative FIT income for themselves. If you’re considering a personal loan, make sure you consult our reviews of personal loans – we’ve searched the whole personal loans market to find the cheapest loans deal for you.

Anyone thinking about getting solar PV should make sure you choose an installer certified by the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) to qualify for FIT payments. Our recommendations site, Which? Local, has reviews of solar panel installers by Which? members. We’ve also got a guide to installing solar panels.

Before investing in any kind of renewable energy, you should also make sure your home is as energy efficient as it can be. Which? has free independent advice on installing loft insulation and wall insulation. Also see our reviews of the best – and worst – energy-saving light bulbs. 

Solar water heating

Free solar panel offers are for solar PV panels, which generate electricity. In May 2010, Which? investigated the sale of solar hot water systems and found evidence of exaggerated claims and dodgy sales practices. Check out our video of one salesperson in action.

Lower your gas and electricity bills

You can compare energy prices and switch to a new gas and electricity supplier on Which? Switch. People who switched with us between 1 October and 31 December 2013 are predicted to save an average of £234 a year on their bills.

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