Image of house with solar panels with icons depicting the system superimposed

One year ago in June 2021, our family bought PV solar panels that generate electricity to power the house, including heating hot water via our immersion. I am sharing this post with anyone who is interested in our experience to date. I will include some numbers which might be of interest to anyone thinking about buying PV solar panels.

Ten Solar Panels on the roof – placed to avoid any shade from the roof

What are PV Solar panels?

Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels convert sunlight into electrical energy. So when the sun shines the PV system generates electricity for the house. This reduces demand on The Grid.

Our supplier advised us to get 10 solar panels. They looked at our historic electricity bills to figure out how big a system was needed. I would not have known at the time but I do know now that on average our family (2 adults + 2 primary school children) uses on average 15KW of electricity per day. The supplier, as part of the sales process, sent us a report with some charts showing how much sunlight our specific location gets each year and what the likely output was going to be. To be honest the report looked good but I didn’t really understand the charts.

The sales lady was very good. I found it interesting that when the sales call was being set up that the company advised us that the sales person would not meet me on my own – both decision-makers in the house had to be present. I thought that this was very clever!

Anyways, she told us that the system would save between 80-90% of electricity from say April to September when there are a lot of daylight hours in Ireland. For the other months, the system would save maybe 20-30%. I think that this has proven accurate enough.

Specification of our PV System

We agreed to buy:

  • Full installation of 3.75 kWp roof-mounted PV system and battery storage
  • Inverter
  • Fireman switch
  • Post works BER as per SEAI grant application
  • AC and DC cabling and isolators
  • 20-year warranty

We also purchased a 5KW Huawei battery which is integrated with the system – all installed neatly in the attic as per the gallery below.

Price of our PV System

The total cost was €14,000. The grant was €2,940 – we had confirmed that we were eligible for the SEAI grant by filling in a form on the SEAI website.

VAT was included at 13.5% being €1,665. As a sole trader who is VAT registered, I could claim the VAT back after the system was installed. I found a number of online articles from PV installers in Ireland confirming that this was allowed by Revenue. I also submitted a query within ROS (Revenue Online).

Later, I found an article that stated that Accelerated Capital Allowances could be claimed in your Income Tax return (Form 11). So I contacted SEAI and they sent me a Revenue Guide on the topic confirming that sole traders working from home can indeed claim accelerated capital allowances – Form 11 includes a separate line for claims made under section 285A – for me I included €9,395 being the total less VAT less SEAI grant.

A deposit of 25% being €3,500 was paid in March. The timeline for this project is a little hazy but within a week or two, the PV supplier sent an Engineer to do a full site survey. The order was then placed. We had expected to get the system within 4 to 6 weeks so, with Covid, it was mid-June before the PV system was installed.

The PV system connects the units in the attic to the Immersion (see gallery above) and also to the main fuse box (gallery below) and the outside meter.

We had a teething issue with the hot water initially. The system connected to the immersion has a BOOST function (see middle image above) that we had to set to ensure that there was sufficient hot water during the day. We still are not sure if it is better to use the oil boiler or the immersion to heat the water during the winter – previously we always used the oil boiler (the next investment will be to change the oil burner for an Air to Heat system).

The system can be extended by adding a charging unit for electric vehicles.

Solar PV – FAQ

Q-How long did the actual installation take?

A- Only a day. Our supplier was extremely efficient and tidy. A small team arrived early in the morning. They installed the panels on the roof, the cabling into the attic, and the inverter and connected a unit to the Immersion. There were some issues with installing the battery so they had to come back another day.

Q.2 – Is there a maintenance cost?

A. There are no maintenance or service costs. Apparently, you don’t have to clean the panels as the rain does that as long as the birds in the area behave.

Q.3 – Is this off Grid? What happens in event of a Power Cut?

No, it is not off Grid. You are connected to the grid to ensure continuity of supply. In the event of a power cut, your electricity is also turned off – we were told that this was for safety reasons to prevent fire.

Our Electricity Usage – Smart App for Monitoring

The PV system comes with a smart App that shows how much your system is generating every day, how much is consumed from the grid, and how much is charged and discharged from the battery.

As the solar is generated, the system feeds the house, the battery, and then the immersion for the hot water, and only if there is a surplus after that does it export to the Grid – see short video (GIF) below which shows that system will pull from the Grid when needed to meet the load drawn by the house.

PV Animated Gif output from App

The app is excellent. I would say that I look at it at least once and often several times a day. This is the overview screen for the 11th of June at 5 pm – the weather was overcast with outbreaks of rain and sun in equal measure. Under the 2nd tab, Statistics, it displays PV power output and consumption over the entire day (month and year).

In the image above I have only activated 3 of the data series but I can also see the battery charge and discharge if I wish to. The green lines show the PV power output – 4KW is generally as high as it goes in Galway. The red line is consumption – that total will inevitably reach 15KW by the end of the day.

There is also a desktop app but I rarely use it.

The desktop version of the App
Energy Management view on Desktop

In the image above I have activated all 5 data series for one day – it is very busy. I can also isolate the battery charge and discharge data series.

So far today, 11th June up to 5.00 PM, the battery has charged 6.18 KW and discharged 4.34 KW. The battery helps to regulate demand such that the house imported 2.47 KW which is approximately 50c cost today from the Grid – without the solar power, it would be €3.

The monthly and annual views are perhaps more useful and easier to digest. Here is the snapshot from May 2022. It shows that the yield was 485KW of which self-consumption was 331.69KW with a further 43.01 KW imported from the grid.

You can also see that 145 KW was exported. We don’t really know where this goes but we definitely don’t get any money for it. That facility to sell back to the Grid has not been set up yet in Ireland and my understanding is that it won’t happen for a number of years.

Over May 2022, the battery charged and discharged to a total of 166 KW. So if we didn’t have a battery this also would have been exported and not used by the house over the month. As 20 cent per KW this equated to €33 in that month.

Our Electricity Bills – are there Savings?

The good news is that there are savings but yes you still have an electricity bill – we pay every two months.

Price Increases

Because our system includes a 5KW battery we were advised to move to a Day & Night rate. We did this as we were moving to a new provider to get a lower rate. The ESB installed a new meter for us (not the new Smart meter that everyone is talking about but a Day & Night meter). A few months after we moved supplier the price of electricity increased due to global economic events. We are on a 12-month contract at a discounted rate so our electricity went up too. We now pay ex VAT 23.54 cents on the day rate and 12.79 cents on the nighttime rate (during summer that is 12 midnight to 8 am).

In March 2021, the standard rate was 17.53 cents and the standing charge was 55.17 cents per day. So the discounted rate for day and night was saving us money but the per day rate had jumped dramatically.

I also have an electricity bill on file from Jan/Feb 2018. The average usage then was 14KW per day. The unit price then was 15.74 cents. The combined standing charge and PSO levy were €45 excluding VAT.

The standing charge plus a PSO levy is now €60 excluding VAT, with our new supplier, in each billing period so that is €410 you have to pay whether you have solar panels or not. That has increased 25% since the 2018 bill albeit with a different supplier.

Our electricity usage as a family is on average 15KW per day. It stays the same during the week and weekends. We both work from home. Over the winter months it probably goes to 18-20 KW per day and during the summer months reduces to 12-15 KW.

The idea in winter is that the battery charges at night at a lower rate and discharges during the day. We had an issue with the battery settings and a cable when it was installed so it wasn’t working properly for the first few months. It will be next winter before we have any savings from that setup. BTW, to continue to avail of a discounted rate we will be moving suppliers again in October as the lower rates are only for new customers (no matter what the ads might say).

The PV system will generate an average of 18-20KW per day during the summer. It reached 25.46 KW on the 4th of June 2022 so that must have been a long sunny day. BTW, consumption hit 42KW on Sunday 5th when we had a massive b0uncey castle for the bank holiday. We imported 29KW of electricity that day.

The general advice is that the more smartly you use your system the more your PV system will save. Every house has a number of high electricity items including your dishwasher, washing machine, dryer and the big one is the kettle and also the toaster and oven. We try to use these one at a time and use them during the day when the solar panels are producing the most electricity. It is an issue of timing which does require some behaviour changes.

The bill – historic payments

We are saving on the cost of electricity as the system is generating solar power every day. I have done some calculations to work out if we are saving sufficient money to pay for the solar panels (to justify the investment along with the environmental benefits). It is somewhat complicated as the unit price of electricity has gone up.

Table with electricity bills from 2018 to 2022
4.5 Years of Electricity Payments

The first two bills of 2021 had increased 83% on the first two bills of 2020 – doubt if we had used a lot more units in the 2nd year,

The solar panels were installed in mid June 2021. The move to another provider took some time – not easy to get a response but that is another story – and we moved provider on 11th October 2021.

The first price increase happened around the 1st of December 2021. We were on the discounted rate at that stage so our bill for 2021 was lower than 2020 due to the lower cost for the second half of the year after the solar was installed.

Please note the the €200 electricity credit was applied in bill 2 and 3 in 2022 – the original cost is presented in the table.

The second price increase took place on the 1st of May 2022. Again we were insulated from its impact as the PV solar generation reduced our pull from the grid. For the purposes of this blog, I calculated the likely saving in the first 5 weeks after the 2nd price increase – the graphic below shows how it is estimated to be €115.

Electricity cost May 2022

For the full period of the bill (07/04/2022 to 07/06/2022), the saving would have been €195 as the bill would have reached €311 including VAT calculated as 868 units at 24.38 cents per unit compared to the current bill of €105.18.

I have taken this data and projected what we would have paid in total in 2021 if we didn’t switch to solar – see the red dotted line in the graphic below. Please note that this is just a graphical representation added using PowerPoint based on calculations done in Excel. I have also estimated how much we might pay for electricity by the end of the year – see the yellow dotted line.

Electricity Projections to end 2022
Historic electricity bills with projection to end 2022 – switched to solar in June 2021

My conclusions are as follows:

  • The estimated cost for 2022 with a PV system will be €900. It is currently €460 including VAT for the first 6 months.
  • The estimated cost for a year without a PV generation system would be €2,000 to €2,100 including VAT. This is based on using approximately 6,000 units in a year. This is a significant increase from 2020 when we paid €1,173 but the unit price and standing charges have increased significantly in the intervening period.

SEAI Grant

In February 2022, we received final communication by email that we had received a grant of €2,340.00 towards the installation of solar PV and €600.00 towards the installation of the battery system. The payment was received in March 2022 – a year after we placed our deposit.

After the system was installed, our provider arranged a BER assessment. This was included in the price we paid. This revealed a satisfactory B rating.

The final step after the installation was that the SEAI conducted an audit of the work in October (delayed by a few weeks as Covid found our house). The SEAI audit found a few minor works which needed to be remedied by our provider. This was done very quickly and the final paperwork was submitted to SEAI in late December 2021.

Final Thoughts

You may notice that I have not mentioned the name of the provider of the Solar Panels. This is simply because I don’t want anyone to think it is an advertisement for them. Rather I hope this is agnostic serving as an article on our experience with solar panels.

In saying that I would highly recommend my installer. They did a great job from start to finish even with a few issues along the way but everything was sorted in the end. If you contact me directly I will share their name with anyone who is interested. My provider has a referral scheme so I am happy to get involved with that if you are interested.

I am delighted that we have solar panels. The environmental impact is a primary concern and the financial reward is not insubstantial. Someone in the industry told me that only 1 in 40 houses or 2.5% of domestic dwellings have solar panels. So we are early adopters. I think that Ireland as a country can do better on this measure – it is a sound investment for individual families and for the environment.

I appreciate that the capital cost is very high but the cost of energy is only going one way at the moment. We were lucky that we had the money as we saved a lot of expenses during Covid. I hear also that there is a backlog for solar panels. So join the queue; start saving for the capital cost and check out Green loans from your banking provider – I hope that the information in this article helps you to make up your mind.

And if you do nothing else after reading this article, please find out who your current electricity supplier is, what they are charging, and SWITCH to another provider when your contract is up – instantly saving 30% on the unit rate.

As always comments and social shares are welcome.

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