I’ve had seven solar panels on my terraced home in Inchicore (Dublin 8) for two years today. I am incredibly positive about it. The house has generated more electricity than its used over the past two years.
I get a lot of questions about it, so wanted to go through some of the basic info that might be helpful to people considering it, or just interested in knowing more.
There are seven panels in total on the house: three on the south-facing front roof, and four on the flat roof of the extension (facing east-west). It has a capacity of 2.24kWp.
We don’t have a battery or a diverter to make hot water: it’s just pure electricity, with any excess going to the national grid. There is some equipment in the attic and a new small fusebox by the old one. The inverter connects to WiFi, so you can get live and historical data of how much you’re generating.
I have an old electricity meter, which actually spins backwards when it generates. This gives you a very good deal temporarily, but it will eventually be replaced by the ESB with a smart meter, which will pay you for all electricity you generate and don’t use. Most people who don’t have a smart meter would likely not get any benefit from excess electricity until they get a smart meter.
The house went from the equivalent of a D1 BER to a C2.
What it’s generated
In the past two years, the house has used 3,400kWh of electricity. This is well below the national average household consumption, but this time was in part me living by myself, so that’s what you’d expect.
In those same two years, the panels generated 3,452kWh of electricity: slightly more than I used.
The front three south-facing panels made 1,505kWh, while the back four, east-west facing panels made 1,947kWh. You’d normally expect the south-facing ones to perform much better, but the back ones are set up with a different kind of inverter, which is apparently more efficient.
In practice, you generate a lot in summer and very little in winter. Here’s a breakdown of monthly generation of the front panels in 2021:
The costs and savings
The system was installed at the end of June 2021 for €8,113. Grants from the SEAI took €1,800 off that, and the company included a BER assessment, meaning a total cost to me of €6,313.
The exact savings are hard to quantify. Electricity prices are still high at the moment, so multiplying them by the amount generated by my current unit price (3,452 x €0.41), I’ve generated €1,415 of electricity in the first two years.
But this isn’t really how it works for most people. Prices have changes a lot in those two years. To get an accurate figure, instead you’d have to work out how much electricity you’d use (worth 41c per unit) and how much excess you’d generate (worth 21c per unit). It varies so much by household, but it’s estimated that a solar PV system will pay for itself in 5-15 years: faster when electricity prices are high, slower if they’re low.
You’re still liable for the electricity supplier’s standing charges, but there’s pretty much no maintenance/upkeep costs involved in the panels. The panels are rated to keep producing electricity with high efficiency for 25-30 years, after which they’ll still work, but at ever-lower efficiencies.
I had a recommendation for a company called Caldor. I can 100% recommend them. I called them up, an engineer came out to inspect and make a proposal. Once I accepted, it took a few weeks, but a team of guys came out, put up scaffolding, and did all the works over two days (about half a day each).
Installing the panels themselves was fairly quick: the bulk of the time was wiring and setting up the inverter in the attic.
Caldor took the grant directly, which means I didn’t have to pay the full amount upfront and then claim the grant back, as some companies do. I’m told good things about other companies, but Caldor is the one I know and can personally recommend. I’ve also heard good things about SolarSpace, a new company in Dublin 8, but haven’t had direct experience.
I was lucky in that I had the funds to do this, and had my own home. The obvious difficulty is expense, and it’s hard to see how grants could go much further than covering the costs they already do. Panel quality is improving rapidly and costs are falling, but in domestic solar, it’s clear that the main costs are labour – particularly in getting scaffolding up and doing the wiring. That’s unlikely to fall in the near future.
In policy terms, I think the grants will likely stay roughly as they are, but financing will be key. If you can get solar with no or limited upfront cost, with a surcharge on your electricity bills (perhaps set at a level so that the bills are similar to what you’d pay without the solar), I think that could work really well for many.
Worth noting, if you get any of the below social welfare payments, the state will cover 100% of the cost of a full home energy upgrade (which would likely include solar and insulation:
- Fuel Allowance
- Job Seekers Allowance for over six months with a child under seven
- Working Family Payment
- One-Parent Family Payment
- Domiciliary Care Allowance
- Carers Allowance
- Disability Allowance for over six months with a child under seven
Up until last year, most people who made excess solar didn’t get paid for it. Thankfully a scheme to resolve that is up and running now, and with the rollout of smart meters, the many teething issues should be resolved soon.
The other policy difficulty is in the private rental sector (there’s a lot of funding and work being done on social housing energy upgrades at the moment). Ireland is fairly unique in making these installation grants available to landlords, not just owner-occupiers. But in practice landlords don’t pay electricity bills, so don’t have incentives to install solar. It’s a difficult nut to crack, as you don’t want to do anything to drive up already unacceptable rents, or reduce the supply of rental homes.
I suspect we’ll end up with a more gradual policy (akin to what the UK are doing), gradually increasing the BER requirements for old rental properties, hopefully doing so at such a pace that it doesn’t have a major/rapid impact on rents. This is genuinely very tricky to do well, however, especially in the midst of a housing crisis. I don’t know of any country that’s got it quite right yet, but would welcome examples of where it has.
Would I recommend it?
Absolutely yes. You probably get a quicker return for insulation in terms of the work paying for itself, but I found this fairly easy to get done and it’s working well.
Aside from the financial side of things, I just really like generating renewable electricity. It’s a good thing to do and it’s an extra boost on a nice, sunny day. Many newbuilds are coming with solar as standard: I think as panel costs fall further and better financing is unlocked, we’re going to see a lot more domestic solar in Ireland.