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Solar point of view: Why settle for less? The use case for higher efficiency PV modules in the UK

By Sven Armbrecht, UK Manager, LG Solar

“With more then five million households in the UK having already installed solar panels, and that number still set to grow, I think it’s time to debunk some of the perception myths on higher efficiency modules,” says Sven Armbrecht, UK Manager, LG Solar.

In this Solar point of view, he advocates the use of higher efficiency PV modules in the UK.


Multiple options available to end users

The majority of UK installers still recommend the implementation of 250-watt modules, and are hesitant to suggest new customers try using higher efficiency modules. This is despite the fact that product development within the market has reached a point where there are multiple options available to end users. The key reasons why installers still focus on 250-watt modules in the UK are threefold.

Firstly, in the UK, the solar incentive scheme supports smaller systems. Solar systems with up to 4kWp get the highest feed in tariffs in the UK. The UK does not benefit from having very much roof space, due to the high levels of urbanisation, and trend towards people moving into high-rise blocks of flats. Therefore, it makes more sense for UK citizens considering implementing a solar system to go for higher efficiency panels like 285 kWp, especially if they don’t benefit from large roofs.

High efficiency modules for smaller roofs

The reason for this is that 285 Wp panels are the next performance level, which enables installers to very nearly achieve the optimum installation of 4kWp, for example: 14 x 285Wp = 3.9 kWp. This means, compared to 250 Wp modules, two fewer modules are needed to achieve the maximum output – a considerable advantage for those with less roof space. The higher efficiency panels allow home or business owners to get the most energy out of their panels, and be eligible for the highest feed-in tariffs.


Solar electricity is cheaper than energy from utilities

Secondly, despite its impressive growth in recent years, the solar market is still very young in the UK. Those looking to buy a solar system stick with what they know, or what installers suggest, and those are systems built on 250W modules. A recent survey by Ikea found that half of British households are unaware that solar generated electricity is cheaper than receiving energy through utilities companies. On top of this, the survey found that one of the main barriers of entry to solar adoption is that people think it is too complex. With this in mind, its unlikely that British solar adopters are aware of the benefits of a 285-watt system could bring.

Slightly more expensive panels pay off with a higher energy yield

Finally, price. Those modules that have a higher wattage from the outset are slightly more expensive. However, that initial investment does pay off with a higher energy yield. Aside from return on investment, longevity is usually the most important factor for prospective solar buyers when considering implementing a solar system. Solar modules are a long term investment and customers therefore need to be educated in the best availability quality and output. It is the responsibility of the installer to evaluate a prospective customer’s available roof space and suggest the best solution to achieve optimal efficiency and power generation within the available roof space.

However, it’s not just about the end user. Those installers that take the time to educate buyers and highlight the difference in yield between the most common 250-watt model, and those with higher wattages will reap the benefits in the long term. By recommending panels that are the most suitable for customers, installers can gain a reputation as solar experts, and differentiate themselves from competitors.


No ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach

Investing in a solar system is no small decision – it is likely to be a once in a lifetime investment on your property, which is why you should do research and discuss your findings with an installer. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. The make, model and wattage will all be decided dependent on your budget and roof space. However, if the circumstances are right, and you have the ability to invest in a higher efficiency system, then your return on investment will be higher due to increased energy generation levels.