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Installing solar PV panels on housing

Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems are a low-maintenance technology. But as Mark Gordon explains, users should select an experienced, compliant supplier


10 November
2011
   
Solar PV systems offer a source of renewable energy for organisations keen to reduce the carbon footprint of their housing stock. Despite the relative simplicity of these systems in use, several issues can arise. These can compromise the efficiency of your panels, cutting the energy they generate:


1⁄  Choose the right installer

Ensure that you use the correct company to install a solar PV system. The company has to be accredited by the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) to receive any Feed-in Tariff (FiT) payments.

The purpose of the MCS accreditation is to protect the consumer by ensuring the products and the installer meet the approved standards. Any company undertaking installation of any form of renewable energy source that is intended to feed back
into the national grid will need to be certified. This includes
large companies and single installers alike. The company should visit the property to provide you with a quotation. The organisation should be able to provide references from previous customers as well as proof of accreditations.

2⁄ The survey
Prior to quotation, a company should visit your properties to check the orientation and size of the roof, the condition of the structure (determined by an inspection of the loft) and to ensure that there are no significant shading issues that can reduce the amount of electricity the panels produce. Ensure that this survey is carried out by an experienced surveyor, not a salesperson.

3⁄ Quotation
Get quotations from several companies to ensure you are receiving the best price and the correct amount of panels for the property. Some companies will provide a quotation without measuring the roof properly and overestimate the amount of panels that your roof can safely hold. This will make the system unsafe on your roof, or it may mean that on installation day you receive a smaller kWp system than you were originally quoted for. This means the return from the FiT will be lower than anticipated.

4⁄ Check your roof
Your roof structure needs to be strong enough to support solar panels and be free from any tiling problems. Most PV installers should be able to provide you with a price for a roofer to correct any issues before installation.

5⁄ The panels
Ensure that the panels you are being offered and the installation company are both MCS-accredited. Your installation company should provide you with a choice of panels, advising of the different outputs they give.

6⁄ Warranty
Warranty information should be provided in your quotation and in your hand-over documents when installation is complete. Ensure the company that manufactures your panels has a long-standing reputation. The warranty will no longer be valid if the organisation goes bust. You could be stuck with a solar panel system that will cost you a lot to repair if something goes wrong.

7⁄ Equipment
Health and safety regulations insist that installers use scaffolding and safety equipment to protect themselves and the property. The inverter is one of the main parts of your installation. An inverter comes with a standard five-year warranty and you will have the option of taking out a 10-year warranty. The equipment used in the installation should be installed by a qualified electrician. A solar PV system is a live system and the risk of electrocution is high if not installed correctly.

8⁄ Electricity

Your installer should discuss how you use electricity. Solar panels use power as it is generated and only generate electricity during daylight hours. Therefore, you may need to change your energy-use habits to receive the most out of your system. For example, programming appliances to run only during the day will ensure they use electricity as it is generated.
In this way, you will be eligible for higher FiT payments for electricity used rather than
the lower payment for electricity generated, but returned to the national grid.

9⁄ Maintenance

Some consideration has to be given to the long-term maintenance and cleaning of the PV panels as a build up of dirt can reduce the energy output of the system. The rainfall we receive in the UK is enough to regularly clean the panels, although occasionally, a build-up of dirt and debris causes a problem. This can be removed by washing with a hose pipe or a soft sponge and water.

10⁄ On-site roofer

A roofer should be on site during the installation to make sure none of the roof coverings are unnecessarily disturbed and any disturbance that has to occur is made good before the installers leave the property.

Mark Gordon is the surveying manager and lead consultant at Pennington Choices, a housing consultancy and PV solar panel installer