I would like to share my views on the benefits of installing solar photovoltaics panels (solar PV) on your roof to reduce your electricity bills and at the same time contribute to the UK’s target to reduce our greenhouse gases by at least 34% by 2020 and 80% by 2050 . The likelihood of another harsh winter, of escalating fuel and other household prices makes this an urgent issue for me.

As a scientist and resident of Dulwich of 15 years, I am constantly seeking ways to reduce my energy consumption. I have installed double glazing and insulated my loft and cavity walls. I now want to make solar PV my next long term investment and have applied for a licence from The Dulwich Estate for permission to install them. Solar PV does not depend on bright sunshine and should not be confused with solar thermal panels that heat hot water.

The Government’s Feed-in Tariff (FIT) scheme provides a guaranteed financial incentive to homeowners, schools, churches and businesses to install low carbon electricity generation up to a capacity of 5 megawatts. It has been so popular that the current tariff will soon be reduced but it may be expanded to attract community projects, which may open up new opportunities in Dulwich. It is also important that any installation does not materially compromise our amenity values. I think that solar panels on my 1950s semi-detached house would fit with the local architecture. For example, solar PV on a Georgian roof would have a very different appearance from that of the roof of a post-war modern home. The Dulwich Estate has issued policy guidelines on solar panels but I believe that these could benefit from being updated from the current 2006 version. Homeowners also need to comply with Southwark Council’s planning requirements.

A contractor estimated that I would need a 2.5kWpeak system costing approximately £10,500. It will provide me with an annual financial benefit of £1,083 that is equivalent to an annual rate of return of 10.4% but the reduced tariff may mean a rate of return closer to 5% .

There are pros and cons of any type of renewable energy. For solar PV, the pros are:

  • Reduces your electricity bills and carbon footprint
  • Pays for all the electricity you generate even if you don’t use it as you can sell it back to the grid
  • Increases the value of your home
  • Panels are low maintenance and have a life expectancy of about 25 years
  • Protection by the internationally recognised quality assurance scheme, the Microgeneration Certification Scheme . Your solar PV system and installer must be accredited to the MCS for you to be eligible for the FIT.

The cons are:

  • High initial investment of £8,000 - £14,000
  • South-facing unshaded roof with a pitch angle of about 30 degrees
  • Efficiency depends on the number of light hours and climate
  • The inverter is likely to need replacing after 8-10 year; current cost is £1,000
  • Roof must be strong enough to take the weight of the solar panels

If you are thinking of working on or replacing your roof, then think of solar roof tiles, which generate electricity like solar panels. Otherwise panels attached onto the roof are the preferred and most cost effective option.

I have received some excellent advice from three Dulwich residents who have successfully installed solar PV. No doubt there are many more skilled and talented residents who have installed solar PV and other renewable technologies. I am interested to learn more but keeping up to date with the fast pace of change is a challenge. The Internet and social media are great ways to share this knowledge and act on it. For example, the Mulbery School for Girls in north London is among the finalists of the 2010-11 Rolls-Royce Science Prize in the 11-16 year old category . They have refurbished two south facing glass houses to grow plants and are planning to install a solar PV system to meet their electricity needs. The project aims to make a visible link between energy generation and consumption, raise awareness of these technologies and energy use.

I congratulate local groups such as The Dulwich Society for all its work that helps to shape the future development of Dulwich and Dulwich Going Greener for actively raising awareness of climate change and identifying opportunities for positive action.

Installing solar PV will reduce my electricity bills. I believe that we have a responsibility to act now and I don’t think that we can bury our heads in the sand and leave it to the next generation. With growing unemployment, solar PV also offers opportunities for our young people to use and extend their skills to gain employment. Should we take advantage of Government support to growth in the low carbon sectors such as 1,000 new apprenticeships through the Green Deal , support for community projects and other incentives to support small businesses? Can Dulwich become a ‘beacon of excellence’ for integrating renewable energy into its homes and buildings? I believe that we can benefit from using solar energy so that we pay less for our electricity and are confident that we are contributing to our 2020 and 2050 greenhouse gas targets.