Frequently Asked Questions

Why should I install solar panels?

When a business invests in a solar installation they get to use the power it generates for free, for the lifetime of the system (usually 25 years). Any electricity they don’t use is exported to the grid. The initial capital cost is offset within a few years by the savings from self-generation.

In addition, the more renewable energy companies can generate for themselves, the less energy the UK has to produce or purchase from carbon-heavy fossil fuel power stations. The less we need imported oil, coal and gas, the less reliant we are on the world market, and the fewer new power stations we need to build.

With the supply chain coming under increasing scrutiny, businesses that are able to show their environmental commitments will also be able to add value to their brand.

An amendment to The Energy Act 2011 means that from 1 April 2018 it is unlawful for landlords to let commercial premises that fail to meet minimum energy efficiency standards (an EPC rating of E). The government estimates that 18% of buildings may fail to meet this standard, so commercial landlords are advised to explore the possibility of solar PV generation to ensure their buildings meet the new regulations.

What return on investment should I expect if I invest in solar PV?

The ROI for a solar installation is dependent on factors such as geographical location, roof orientation and electricity usage. But typically we would expect a payback period on a solar PV system of five to eight years.

We calculate your ROI forecast based on three key metrics:

  • The Feed in Tariff (FIT) – the 20-year subsidy you receive from Ofgem for every kWh you generate.
  • The export tariff – which you get paid for every kWh you do not use and that gets exported to the grid.
  • Your energy saving – the savings you make by using free solar energy generated by your PV system instead of importing electricity from the grid.

Are there still subsidies or grants available for solar generation?

Yes. You can still receive the feed-in tariff (FIT) when you install solar PV. This is a 20-year subsidy paid to you by Ofgem for every kWh produced from your PV system.

However, the scheme is due to close to new applicants in April 2019, so we are now in a crucial period for evaluating an investment in solar energy.

Depending on your business profile, you may also be eligible for a grant of up to £5,000 from the Carbon Trust. For details on the current FIT rates and any available grants, please contact a member of our team.

What is the right size solar PV system for my business?

CleanEarth will conduct a detailed analysis of your electricity consumption and will match the system size as closely as possible to your usage profile, to ensure you get the maximum benefit.

The higher the percentage of solar generation that you consume directly, the better return you will see on your investment. And by using solar electricity for your business, you can fix the price of a large part of your energy usage for 25 years, providing price security and increasing competitiveness.

How much energy will my solar array generate?

Geographical location and the pitch and orientation of your building will dictate how much power the solar panels will produce. We use standardised Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) data to produce a 25-year forecast, taking into consideration panel degradation over the lifespan.

Is my building suitable for a solar PV system?

The key factors in a building’s suitability are the roof’s fabric, structure, pitch and orientation. These each have an impact on the installation cost as well as the efficiency of the array.

We initially undertake a simple desktop evaluation to analyse suitability. This is followed by a thorough, on-site feasibility and structural survey by one of our engineers. We will also contact the local grid operator (DNO) on your behalf to ensure that any energy you don’t use can be exported to the grid.

How much do solar PV panels weigh? Can my roof take it?

Solar panels weigh around 18 to 20 kg each. Combined with the mounting system, the loading on the roof is typically around 13 to 14 kg per square metre. Most modern buildings are suitable for solar PV, but we carry out a full structural assessment to ensure the roof can take the additional load.

Do I need planning permission for a solar PV system?

You can install most commercial solar PV systems of 1 MWp or below under permitted development rights – without having to make a planning application. CleanEarth will design your system to ensure it meets the criteria laid out under the Town and Country Planning regulations.

If you are looking for a ground-mounted solar PV system, or your premises are in a National Park or Area of Outsanding Natural Beauty (AONB), then planning may be required. We have an in-house planning team to address any site-specific planning issues.

My buildings are listed – can I install solar panels?

Yes. Although listed building consent will need to be obtained, and listed status makes a difference: Grade I is more difficult to obtain than Grade II and Grade II more difficult than Grade III.

The location of the solar array is also a factor. If the array is on the front roof aspect of a Grade I listed property it is unlikely to be granted consent. But if it’s on an out-building, remote from the property but feeding into the electricity supply, then consent is much more likely. This is also true for ground-mounted arrays away from buildings.

We have installed two PV systems for listed buildings. One is a ground mount for a Grade II listed building (the array was installed in a secluded paddock) and the other on an agricultural building for the Grade I listed Trewithen House.

Who will install my solar PV system?

CleanEarth will manage every step of the process from initial enquiry through to completed and commissioned solar PV system. Our skilled and experienced in-house team are focused on delivering every project within agreed timeframes and with minimum disruption to your day-to-day operations.

Who is responsible for health and safety during the installation?

CleanEarth will appoint a dedicated project manager who will be your single point of contact throughout the project. They will also be responsible for a full risk assessment and method statement prior to any work commencing on-site.

CleanEarth’s Operations Director and Senior Project Manager are qualified to NEBOSH standard and we are ISO 18001 Health and Safety accredited.

What happens after the solar PV system is installed?

Our dedicated project manager will complete a full system handover and set you up on the inverter monitoring portal. As part of our comprehensive service we coordinate your feed-in tariff (FIT) application, to ensure you receive accreditation and payment for your system’s generation at the earliest opportunity.

Following installation we will also monitor your system through our comprehensive Operations and Maintenance (O&M) programme.

How long will my solar PV array last?

Modern solar PV systems are extremely robust. CleanEarth will only specify ‘Tier 1’ solar modules with industry leading 10-year product and 25-year performance warranties. Our inverters have a standard 5-year warranty that can be extended to 20 years. All our work comes with a 5-year workmanship guarantee.

What maintenance is involved for a solar array?

Once installed, solar PV systems are relatively low maintenance. We offer an Operations and Maintenance (O&M) contract which enables us to remotely monitor your array at all times, allowing our technicians to adjust parameters for maximum performance. If any component is underperforming we can take action swiftly, eliminating the risk of lengthy downtime.

The British weather means we rarely find regular cleaning to be necessary.

Is there an increased fire risk from installing solar PV on our building?

According to the BRE National Solar Centre there are now over 50,000 commercial solar PV systems across the UK, equating to over 1.2 GW of capacity. As a result, the safety and quality standards have been continuously updated to ensure that today’s systems are as safe and as reliable as possible.

There is no evidence that the fire risks associated with solar energy are any greater than those for any other electrical equipment. However it is very important to insure that PV systems are correctly designed, competently installed and regularly maintained by companies certified by the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS).

CleanEarth install every system according to the Institution of Engineering and Technology’s code of practice for the installation of grid connected solar PV systems (IET solar PV CoP).

As the presence of a PV system on a roof is not always obvious, a sign should be sited next to the inverters, and emergency and safe isolation procedures should also be displayed. In the event of a fire, access to site-specific schematics will enable technicians and firefighters to quickly identify key elements of the system.

How does a solar panel turn sunshine into electricity?

Solar panels are made up of solar cells – like the ones you see on a calculator – called photovoltaic (PV) cells.

When sunlight strikes the cell, a certain portion of it is absorbed within the semiconductor material. The energy of the absorbed light is transferred to the semiconductor and knocks electrons loose, allowing them to flow freely.

PV cells also have one or more electric fields which force these freed electrons to flow in a certain direction. This forms a current, and by placing metal contacts on the top and bottom of the PV cell, this current can be drawn off for external use.

The current, together with the cell’s voltage (which is a result of its built-in electric field/s), defines the power (or wattage) that the solar cell can produce.

Groups of cells are connected electrically and packaged into a frame known as a solar panel, and these panels are then grouped into larger solar arrays.