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28 Feb 2019

One month to go until the solar panel feed-in tariff closes

Solar panel payments scheme still has space for new applications

If you have solar panels or a wind turbine and don't receive payments towards the renewable electricity you generate, you have just one month left to sign up to the feed-in tariff scheme.

Set up in 2010, the feed-in tariff pays for both the electricity you generate and some of the excess electricity you export to the grid. But on 1 April the scheme will close to new applicants.

The quota for small-scale solar panels, wind turbines and micro combined heat and power (micro-CHP) - the size you're likely to have at home- still has space for new applications, energy regulator Ofgem's latest data reveals.*

Read on to find out how to apply for the feed-in tariff, plus what the new solar payments scheme might look like. Or see the best solar panel brands.

Am I eligible for the feed-in tariff?

You'll need to have solar panels, a small wind turbine or micro-CHP boiler installed.

These must have a valid certificate from the microgeneration certification scheme (MCS). To get one, the technology must be approved by MCS and installed by an MCS-accredited installer.

Your chosen FIT licensee must have received your application for the feed-in tariff accreditation by 31 March. Often your FIT licensee is your energy supplier, but it doesn't have to be. All energy firms with more than 250,000 customers must be FIT licensees; some smaller firms do so voluntarily.

Find out which energy companies will pay your feed-in tariff.

If you already receive the feed-in tariffs, your payments won't change. Find out why the feed-in tariff scheme is closing.

How many solar panels receive the feed-in tariff?

More than 900,000 solar panel installations received the feed-in tariff by the end of September 2018. That equates to 5,159MW generated. The government expects that the number of solar panel installations reached 951,100 by the end of December 2018.

Solar PV accounts for 99% of the total number of installations supported by the feed-in tariff. But solar is responsible for just 80% of the total power that could be generated by renewable systems receiving the feed-in tariff.The remaining 20% is mainly wind power (11%), plus hydroelectricity, anaerobic digestion and micro-CHP.

The numbers of solar panels installed and receiving the feed-in tariff has grown rapidly. Installations slowed down after a big cut to feed-in tariff payments in 2016.

Find out more about feed-in tariff savings and earnings.

Should I install solar panels without government payments?

After the feed-in tariff scheme closes, homes that install solar panels won't be paid for any electricity that they export to the grid until they are registered with the replacement scheme (keep reading for the latest on this). Previously, these payments have been worth more than £200 per year for a home with a 4kWp system.

Buying a solar panel system can cost between £5,000 and £8,000, according to our survey in May 2018 of 2,163 Which? members who own solar panels. The price will depend on the size and type of the system, and the building they are installed on.

The amount saved on your annual electricity bill would determine how long it would take for your solar panels to pay for themselves without feed-in tariff payments. If you're at home all day, you could save more than £200 per year (according to the Energy Saving Trust).

Based on this alone, it would take 25 years for your solar panels to pay for themselves.

However, besides financial savings, solar panels will reduce your carbon footprint by around 34 tonnes.

Plus there are ways to maximise the amount of free electricity you use and reduce the payback time for your system.

How to make the most of your solar panels

The more electricity generated by your panels that you can use, the less you'll need to buy from the grid and the lower your electricity bills will be.

Solar panel owners have shared these tips on making the most of your solar panels:

  • Set your appliances to run when the sun is shining
  • Take care that the electricity use of appliances running at the same time doesn't exceed the electricity being produced by your solar panels
  • Install a solar PV immersion heater controller to divert excess electricity to heat your water
  • Keep an eye on how much electricity your panels generate, so you spot anything unusual which might indicate a problem with your system
  • If you can't use all of the electricity your system generates, or are out or at work when the sun is shining, consider a solar battery

Solar panels and energy storage

Solar batteries allow you to store electricity produced by solar panels (or other renewable technology) so you can use it at a time that suits you.

As a relatively new technology, they're expensive: typically they cost upwards of £2,000. But they mean that you can maximise the amount of renewable electricity you can use. They're likely to be best for those who struggle to use the daytime electricity produced by their solar panels.

Ikea, Nissan, Samsung and Tesla are among the brands selling home energy storage.

Find out more about solar panels and energy storage, including what to consider and whether you could save money with a solar battery.

New solar panel payments scheme: Smart Energy Guarantee

Plans for a new renewable electricity payments scheme are being considered by the government at the moment.

Called the Smart Energy Guarantee (SEG), it would pay households for the electricity that they export to the grid, but not for the total electricity they generate (as with the current feed-in tariff scheme).

Payments would also be based on measured exports, rather than estimates. Plus suppliers would set the prices they pay for buying electricity from households.

Find out more about the proposed Smart Energy Guarantee.

The government expects there to be a gap between the end of the feed-in tariff and start of the SEG. If you install renewable technology after the feed-in tariff has closed, you'll be able to apply for the SEG once it exists. However, you won't be able to claim for electricity exported to the grid before you are registered with the SEG scheme.

*Solar panel feed-in tariff research

Ofgem's latest data (published 22 February 2019) revealed that the deployment caps for solar PV (<10kW), wind (<10kW) and micro-CHP (0-2kW) have not been reached in the period to 31 March 2019.