The Joy of Solar 1: Installation

Step 2: Scaffolding (Image: T. Larkum)
Step 2: Scaffolding (Image: T. Larkum)

Whether or not you are considering buying an electric car, if you have the opportunity I would unequivocally recommend having solar panels installed. We had solar fitted in 2010, even before it had dawned on me how bad the situation had got with global warming. I did it then for the money, and for a measure of energy independence. However, it is a decision I have never regretted; in fact it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.

The Roof Before Cleaning and Installation (Image: T. Larkum)
The Roof Before Cleaning and Installation (Image: T. Larkum)

The timing was lucky – the UK government was in the process of introducing a Feed-In-Tariff (FIT) for solar and other ‘microgeneration’ technologies. Some solar suppliers were undertaking advertising and marketing campaigns, and I began to get interested when I saw a display outside our local DIY warehouse. I contacted this company and after various dealings with them (including a fairly ‘hard sell’ home visit) I decided to have nothing further to do with them. However, my interest in solar had begun and I began to research it, and applied for quotes from various companies, followed by home visits from a short list of suppliers. From those I chose one, and when the installation went ahead they did a very good job.

Step 1 is a site survey. This looks at the roof type, condition, location and direction. It includes measuring its length, width, the height of the ridge, and the height of the gutter edge, so as to determine it solar capacity – i.e. how much area it covers and at what angle to the sun.

Step 2 is the scaffolding. This is arranged by the solar supplier but put up some days in advance by a dedicated scaffolding company. Step 2a is optional – once the scaffolding was in place I used it to check over and then clean the roof. I did the cleaning with a garden hose on a high pressure spray, taking care not to get the water under the tiles and into the loft. I was able fairly quickly to remove 20+ years of accumulated moss and dirt – and, of course, with the panels in place, I may never need to repeat the process.

Step 3: Installation (Image: T. Larkum)
Step 3: Installation (Image: T. Larkum)

Step 3 is the ‘big day’ when the supplier turns up with the panels and installs them. They go onto a metal frame. Tiles are lifted at intervals so that metal brackets can be fitted to the roof trestles. These brackets are then joined together to support the panels. The only glitch for us was that there was an open soil stack protruding through the roof that would get in the way of the panels being arranged perfectly. This was replaced by a valved one inside the loft space at no extra charge.

The Finished System (Image: T. Larkum)
The Finished System (Image: T. Larkum)

Step 4 is the wiring up of the system. The inverter was not available as soon as it was needed so this step ran into a second day for us.

Once the system is up and running, and checked over, that’s it. To get the government Feed-In-Tariff you read the generation meter every quarter and notify your electricity supplier of the reading. Shortly afterwards you get the money into your bank account. Meanwhile you are enjoying free energy, and are helping to save the planet – can’t be bad!

Next see The Joy of Solar 2: Internals