Solar panels: Are the benefits too good to be true?

If you were promised reduced energy bills, extra income and a lower carbon footprint all without you having to do anything, most of us would jump at the chance.

Suppliers and manufacturers of solar panels have made such promises and people have invested in their solar panels with the expectation of free electricity and big financial returns.

The financial and environmental benefits are compelling, but is it all too good to be true?

I have to say that in some cases it is and to help property owners.

Here are 5 essential considerations to take in to account before installing solar panels.

1. A heavy burden weighing on your home.

Solar panels increase the weight of a lightweight roof significantly over a panel lease period of 25 years. Over time, serious and costly structural issues can occur.

If the panels increase the roof’s weight by more than a third, Buildings Regulations approval are required and you should seek expert advice from a structural surveyor before going ahead with installation.

2. Collateral damage

Slates and tiles are broken easily and the supporting structure will be exposed during installation, all of which should be repaired by your installer.

If you sell your home at a later date, a good Conveyancer would recommend that a survey be carried out to assess whether the roof is structurally sound following the installation work. The cost and outcome of this survey could jeopardise your sale.

3. Beauty spots or blots on the landscape

The appearance of solar panels are not to everyone’s taste and there is a risk that solar panel installation could affect the saleability.

As well as potentially de-valuing your own property, consider that you may also affect the sale of surrounding properties, which may lead to conflict and legal issues with your neighbours.

4. Lease lease me

Solar panels can be bought outright for maximum returns, but the expense of doing so means they are often leased by homeowners, usually for 25 years.

Panel suppliers keep ownership of solar panels and the airspace above them. The supplier will also keep all profits from electricity sold back to the electricity suppliers, but the homeowner will still receive the free electricity generated.

Leased solar panels require a legal commitment in the same way leasing part of your land would and you must check what your obligations are under the terms of the lease. For example, maintenance obligations for your roof. The cost of re-covering a roof on an old or large property could outweigh the savings you have made over the years on your electricity.

You should also find out what happens when you sell your property; can the lease be transferred or terminated? And are there any financial penalties for early termination?

5. FIT, and other TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms)

The process of selling electricity generated by solar panels back to energy suppliers under what are referred to as Feed In Tariffs (FITs) first commenced on 1 April 2010, attracting homeowners to the idea of solar panel installation. However, the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) and Building Societies Agency (BSA) did not agree guidance for mortgage lenders until October 2011.

This guidance set out the points which need to be addressed at during installation of solar panels and the various requirements and responsibilities.

While solar panel installation contracts entered in to after October 2011 should cover everything set out by the CML and BSA’s guidance, any contracts from before this date may contain terms unacceptable to mortgage lenders, which means they would not be prepared to issue a mortgage on the property. This inevitably could lead to serious problems for anyone purchasing or selling a property with solar panels installed before the guidance issue date.

For some, installing solar panels will be a good long term investment, saving and may even generate an income. It could also help the UK take a step towards greener electricity production, but this it not suitable for everyone.

If this is something you have been considering, you must carefully consider your circumstances, your property and its location and of course seek appropriate professional advice to ensure that you are not exposing yourself to hidden financial risk in the future.