The Shirley household had solar panels fitted recently. I’ve wanted them for years, it must be the ecologist in me (I studied ecology as part of my bachelors degree in biology) but they weren’t affordable when we first moved in and we didn’t meet the criteria for a grant, so nothing happened. I have long been concerned about the rising cost of energy prices, anecdotally at least, there is much discussion about how much they will rise over the next 20 years or so. I, for one, have no desire to spend my month’s salary on my heating bills.


Time passed and then in May, out of the blue (before I got my call blocker handsets) I received a call from a company that fits solar panels. It was one of those serendipitous occasions because, even before the call blocking handsets, I didn’t often answer the landline if I didn’t recognise the number. Not many people have the landline number; I have toyed with getting rid of it a number of times over the years, but have never quite made the move. Back to the solar panels.

The salesman came to the house, and a very nice chap he was, but, on the original quote, it didn’t work out to be cost effective to have the panels fitted. To say I was upset was an understatement, but the plan is to move from here in a few years and it just wasn’t affordable for solar panels to be fitted for someone else to get all the benefit. That was that, I thought. Of course, the benefit was that I now had a greater insight into them and how they worked.


Naturally, there is an environmental cost to actually producing solar panels, and it’s another thing that I am concerned about. (Is it really “green” to recycle glass? It certainly wasn’t something like 40 years ago, because of the energy costs involved.) However, solar energy doesn’t produce any green house gases, so I think, in the long run, they are more environmentally friendly. Take a look at the Montalto di Castro Solar Park in Italy… It prevents 20,000 tonnes of carbon emissions per year. Of course, it’s much bigger than my little roof effort, and they can change the orientation of their panels for maximum advantage. We can’t do that yet with roof panels, but who knows what the future will bring?

And then there are the ongoing costs. The panels are guaranteed for, I think, 20 years. (I didn’t go for cheap ones, of course, but then I never do cheap.) If you buy decent ones, the ongoing maintenance should be minimal.

Although the technology has moved on leaps and bounds, in the UK, a south facing roof is always going to be best for sunlight capture. And my roof just happens to be south facing. One degree off of due south, to be precise. I suppose I could have gone for broke and had them fitted on the north side too, but I’m not sure that the extra cost would have been worth it.

I knew, after the salesman had been round, that I would start producing my own energy during the daylight hours, and that on a sunny day, it would produce most energy. I also knew that I would link into what is called a “feed in tariff,” but it was all a bit theoretical until fitting. To be honest, with cost of the loan, I am not expecting to actually make money for a couple of years, longer if I take into account the cost of the loan and don’t pay it off early.


What I hadn’t realised, until the day of fitting, that the old analogue meter would run backwards whilst my panels were producing energy! I can’t tell you how exciting this was for me (yes, yes, I know, I’m an anorak). The only times before I’ve known about electricity meters running backwards is when someone is doing something hooky. I believe the technical term is abstraction of electricity, and it comes under the Theft Act, so seeing it going backward legally was, well, quite frankly, mesmerising. Yes, I did stand and watch it go round, and watch the red light flash on the solar unit.


It’s too soon for me to say how much money will be saved on electricity bills, nor on the gas bills during the winter – that depends on being able to buy an energy saving electric heater. As the sparks told me, if I use too much when it’s producing energy, it will stop all the benefits and electricity is more expensive than gas. Still, to be producing energy when I have the ‘fridge, ‘fridge freezer, a few things on charge, and the washing machine going, that’s ok with me. Watch this space for further updates.

If you are interested in finding out more about solar energy, take a look here:


(I am quite shameless in telling you that if I recommend you, I get a payment, so please come to me first.)

© Susan Shirley 2015


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