The final few months of the solar feed-in tariff – which pays you for generating solar electricity – are upon us. If you’re planning to buy solar PV panels soon so you qualify for payments, beware of the poor practices experienced by hundreds of solar panel owners.
Nearly a quarter (24%) of the thousands of solar panel owners in our survey* said that they were given a quote for their system by a salesperson, rather than a surveyor with in-depth technical knowledge.
Others felt that they hadn’t been given all the information they needed about maintenance and repair costs, or were led to expect greater financial benefit than the reality.
Several years ago we went undercover to check out solar panel sales tactics and found poor practice. Unfortunately this is still rife, as our latest research reveals.
Plus earlier this month, six people were found guilty of £17m solar PV sales fraud. This affected 1,500 customers, including many elderly and retired people.
Read on to find out what to consider with solar panels, or head straight to the best solar panel brands, as voted by owners.
Buying solar panels: what to look out for
Make sure you get a quote for the cost of your solar PV system from a qualified surveyor, rather than a salesperson (like 24% of owners). Get quotes from several companies and compare them.
Factor in the cost of ongoing maintenance and repairs. For example, you should expect to replace the inverter during the life of your solar PV system. This costs about £1,000. This is especially important, considering 15% of those we surveyed felt that they hadn’t been given enough information about how much the system would cost to maintain and repair.
More than one in ten owners said they were quoted a higher figure for energy bill savings or electricity generation than turned out to be the reality.
A small proportion also said they’d been offered a one-time discount to encourage them to buy – this is specifically banned in the consumer code many solar panel companies are signed up to.
Read our buying advice for solar panels – we’ve created a solar PV installation checklist to help guide you through the process.
Is solar panel selling getting worse?
To try and find out whether solar panel companies are leaving consumers more dissatisfied now than in the past, we asked respondents when they had their solar PV system installed.
The number of people given a quote by a salesperson, felt that they weren’t provided with sufficient information about ongoing costs, or offered a one-off discount, was consistent. This was whether they had their solar panels installed in the past three years, or longer ago.
But a slightly higher proportion of people who bought solar panels in the past three years felt that they were quoted higher savings or electricity figures, compared with those who bought longer ago.
Some 16% of those who had solar panels installed in the past three years believe they were quoted higher figures for both than the reality, compared with 11% and 12% (for electricity and savings respectively) of those who bought longer ago.
Don’t let this put you off, though. Overall, 53% said they were very satisfied with their solar PV system. Just 4% told us they were dissatisfied.
Find a reputable solar PV installed on Which? Trusted Traders – check also that they’re MCS certified. If not, your installation won’t be valid for feed-in tariff payments.
Can I save money with solar panels?
Solar panels aren’t cheap. An average PV system of 4kWp typically costs around £5,000 – £8,000 to install. Costs depend on the size and type of the system, the structure of the building the panels will be fitted on, and other variables.
Costs have come down, however. Which? members paid £9,671 on average for their 3.6-4kWp system before 2015, and £6,672 since then, according to our research. To find out more, see solar panels and prices.
Once your panels are installed, you’ll save money on your electricity bill by using the renewable electricity, rather than buying electricity from the grid. It will take a long time to recoup the costs of your solar panels entirely through fuel-bill savings.
So since 2011, the government has given households with solar panels cash payments for renewable electricity produced via the feed-in tariff scheme. This cut the number of years it would take to pay back your investment.
However, the FIT is set to close in April 2019 to new solar panel systems. If you want to get the payments, you’ll need to register your system before then.
Solar panel experts and owners reveal their top tips for making the most of your solar panels.
*(Our results are based on an online survey of 2,163 Which? members with solar panels in May 2018.)