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Solar panels in Northern Ireland: A guide to costs and grants

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Discover the benefits of solar panels in Northern Ireland (NI), explore available grants, and learn about important considerations when installing solar panels in the region

Solar panels, often called photovoltaic (PV) panels, are devices that capture sunlight and convert it into electricity. They have seen a significant increase in adoption in Northern Ireland (NI) in recent years. With a commitment to renewable energy and sustainable living, the NI community has recognised the abundant potential of harnessing the sun’s power for electricity generation.

Despite the initial investment required for installation, solar panels for homes can significantly reduce, if not eliminate, electricity bills. Any surplus energy produced can often be sold back to the grid, creating an additional income stream. In some cases, government solar panel grants and incentives are also available for those who qualify.

Although Northern Ireland may not enjoy the sunniest climate, modern solar panels can still effectively generate power on cloudy days, making them a viable option. Solar panels have an increasingly important role as the country continues its trajectory towards a greener, more sustainable future.

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The benefits of solar panels in Northern Ireland

From an environmental perspective, the shift to solar power markedly reduces carbon emissions. Unlike traditional fossil fuels, which release harmful greenhouse gases when burnt, solar energy is a clean, renewable source that doesn’t contribute to air pollution or climate change. By harnessing the sun’s power, homes in Northern Ireland are reducing their carbon footprint, thereby positively contributing to global efforts against climate change. 

While the upfront cost of solar panels seems substantial, the long-term savings are significant. Solar PV panels allow homeowners to generate electricity, reducing or eliminating dependence on the grid and offering stability in the face of fluctuating energy prices. Additional income can be earned by selling surplus electricity to energy suppliers, increasing savings.

Eligibility and availability for solar panel grants in Northern Ireland

While Northern Ireland doesn’t offer large-scale solar panel grants, there are ways to lessen the costs and increase your chances of getting cheap solar panels.

Contact NI Energy Advice or Northern Ireland Community Energy (NICE) for information on any funding or community schemes available in your local area.

Solar panel grant or incentive Eligibility Potential savings
Northern Ireland Renewables Obligation Small-scale electricity generators with Ofgem accreditation The savings vary, but examples include: 17.66p per kWh from Power NI 18p per kWh from Action Renewables
0 per cent VAT All NI domestic solar panel installations The potential savings are dependent on the cost of the installation
Barclays Greener Home Reward Barclays residential mortgage holders who pay by direct debit. The work must be carried out by a TrustMark-registered business or tradesperson and the project must be completed by 31 July 2024 £1,000 cashback

Northern Ireland Renewables Obligation (NIRO)

If you generate electricity from solar panels, the NIRO allows you to claim Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROCs) for every megawatt hour of electricity you generate. You must apply for accreditation from Ofgem, and then the ROCs can be sold to electricity providers. You can also enter into a separate agreement with an electricity supplier to sell them any surplus electricity. 

0 per cent VAT

Northern Ireland’s initiative to promote energy-efficient systems includes VAT reductions on solar panel installations. As of 1 May 2023, NI solar panels enjoy 0 per cent VAT. 

Barclays Greener Home Reward

If you have a mortgage with Barclays, you may be eligible to join its Greener Home Reward scheme. If you have installed and fully paid for a solar panel system, you could receive £1,000 cashback.

NI solar panels installation process and considerations

Solar panels Northern Ireland installation
It’s important to research reputable installers in your area when considering solar panels in Northern Ireland (Adobe)

The key to a successful solar installation is employing reliable and experienced tradespeople, and there are several factors to consider before making your choice. 

  • Experience and expertise: Look for an installer with a track record of successful solar panel installations. This should ensure a quality installation and help you avoid potential pitfalls during the process
  • MCS certification: Ensure the installer is certified by the Microgeneration Certification Scheme. The MCS guarantees the installer meets industry standards
  • References and reviews: Ask for references from previous customers and check online reviews to understand the installer’s reputation
  • Warranty: Make sure the installer offers a robust warranty on their work, ensuring your protection if something goes wrong after the installation
  • Detailed quote: Get a detailed quote that includes all costs, from the solar panels and inverter to installation and maintenance
  • Customer service: Look for an installer that offers excellent customer service, from the initial consultation to after-sales support

Considerations specific to Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, planning permissions for solar panels are generally straightforward. Solar panels are permitted for domestic properties and do not require planning permission. However, you may need to apply for permission if you live in a listed building or conservation area. Check with your local council.

Every solar panel installation in Northern Ireland must conform to the Engineering Recommendation EREC G98/NI standard. Post-installation and commissioning, your installer will register your energy generator with NI Energy Networks, verifying that your solar panels are grid-connected. Following this, you can register for exporting the electricity generated.

Step-by-step solar panel installation process

Most solar installations in Northern Ireland follow the same process and, depending on the installation size, should be completed on time, with as little disruption as possible. Your chosen installer will help you pick out the best solar panels to meet your energy requirements. 

  • Site evaluation and energy audit

The first step is to evaluate the installation site for suitability, which involves assessing your home or building for structural integrity and proper sun exposure. An energy audit is also conducted to gauge your energy consumption and determine the appropriate size for the solar panel system.

  • System design

A solar system design will be drafted based on the site evaluation and energy audit. The plan should outline the size of the system, the number and type of panels, the positioning of those panels, the inverter model to be used, and, if needed, the type and size of the battery storage system.

  • Installation

This is the physical installation phase, which includes several steps:

    • Mounting of solar panels: The panels are usually installed on the roof, but they can also be ground-mounted, depending on your property. The panels need to be securely attached and optimally angled to catch sunlight
    • Inverter installation: The inverter, which converts the direct current (DC) power generated by the panels into usable alternating current (AC) power, is installed, usually near the main panel
    • Battery installation: If you’ve chosen to include a battery storage system, this is also installed during this step
    • System wiring: All the components are wired together to form a complete system. This step requires professional knowledge of electrical systems
  • Inspection

After the installation, the system will be subject to a general building inspection and an electrical inspection to ensure it meets the relevant standards. 

  • Connection to the grid

Once the system passes inspection, it is connected to the local power grid. This involves coordinating with the local utility company, which may also require its own assessment.

  • Commissioning and testing

After the system is connected to the grid, it is turned on, commissioned, and tested again to ensure it’s operating correctly.

  • Monitoring and maintenance

Once the system is running, it will need to be monitored to ensure it is performing as expected, and regular maintenance may be needed to keep the system in good working condition.

Costs and financial savings for solar panels in Northern Ireland

The initial cost of solar panel installation can vary greatly depending on the size of the system, your location within Northern Ireland, and the complexity of the installation, but it typically ranges from £3,500 to £6,000. The financial savings, however, can be substantial. 

You’ll significantly reduce your utility bills by generating your own electricity and lessening your reliance on supplied energy. Any excess power produced can often be sold back to energy suppliers, providing an additional source of income. Solar panels often have warranties guaranteeing consistent energy generation for a given period – typically 25 years – ensuring long-term savings. 

These factors combined can lead to a payback period of approximately six or seven years, after which you’ll be generating free electricity for the remaining lifespan of the system.

The table below provides an approximate guide to the costs, savings and estimated time to break even with a solar panel system. We used a Belfast postcode in our solar calculator to arrive at these figures. The average three-bedroom property requires a 4kW system, typically comprising 10 panels, each costing between £100 and £500.

Property size System size Number of panels Installation cost Potential annual savings Estimated payback period
One to two bedrooms 2kW 6 £3,300 £515.43 6 years
Three bedrooms 4kW 10 £5,500 £859.05 6 years
Four plus bedrooms 6kW 14 £7,700 £1,202.67 6 years

Maintenance and performance monitoring for solar panels in NI

Solar panels Northern Ireland cleaning
If you can’t safely clean your solar panels from the ground, you should hire a professional (Adobe)

Ensuring your solar panels’ optimal operation and longevity involves regular maintenance tasks and performance monitoring. While solar panels are renowned for their low maintenance needs, a few simple steps can help safeguard their efficiency.

Regularly cleaning your solar panels and removing accumulated dust, dirt, bird droppings and other debris is a primary maintenance task. While rainfall naturally cleans the panels, during drier periods, you may need to use a hose and a soft brush or consider employing a professional cleaning service if the panels are too high or difficult to reach safely.

Inspecting your panels for any physical damage is also essential. This includes cracks, discolouration, or any signs of wear and tear affecting their performance. If you notice any damage, it’s best to contact a professional for assessment and repair.

Solar panels, especially those in Northern Ireland, should also be checked for shading issues. Buildings, trees, or new structures can sometimes create shadows that weren’t there when the panels were installed, reducing their output.

Monitoring your solar system’s performance helps to identify any significant changes in energy production, which might indicate a problem. For example, a sudden drop in energy output could mean a malfunctioning inverter or a damaged panel.

Most modern solar systems have online monitoring systems that let you track their performance in real time. However, if the system’s performance consistently falls below the projected output, you should contact your installer or maintenance provider to investigate.

Summary

Homeowners in Northern Ireland are increasingly embracing solar energy, despite the country’s varied weather conditions. They recognise that, although there is an initial outlay, the energy bill savings, income gained from selling the excess energy, and possible government grants and incentives make the investment worthwhile.

Frequently asked questions about solar panels in Northern Ireland

Installing solar panels in Northern Ireland comes with several notable benefits. There’s the significant advantage of lowering energy bills. By generating your own power, you can reduce your dependence on the grid and expensive supplied electricity, which leads to substantial savings. Being energy independent, you’re unaffected by price fluctuations, and in the event of power cuts or issues with the energy grid, a solar system with battery storage can provide a home with continuous electricity.

There are also financial incentives tied to the Northern Ireland Renewable Obligation Certificates (NIROCs) scheme. If you generate excess electricity through your solar PV system, you earn ROCs, which bring significant financial benefits when sold to energy suppliers.

Solar panels contribute to environmental sustainability, being a clean, renewable source of energy that helps reduce your carbon footprint. By choosing solar, you’re playing a part in combating climate change and promoting sustainable energy use. This, plus the potential financial savings, means homes with solar panel systems can command a premium in the housing market.

Cooperatives, such as the Northern Ireland Community Energy (NICE) and Drumlin Wind Energy, have led the way in community-owned renewable energy projects. 

Established in 2012, NICE has installed solar panels on buildings, including schools, churches and community hubs across Belfast and beyond. It provides these organisations with renewable energy and helps to educate the community about the benefits of green energy. The profits generated from the projects are invested back into the community. 

These initiatives provide a great opportunity for communities to come together and collectively invest in and benefit from renewable energy. 

Solar panels can be fitted on a wide range of buildings, including residential, commercial, and industrial structures. However, their installation on historic or listed properties in Northern Ireland, as with any other location, requires special consideration due to these buildings’ aesthetic and architectural significance.

Generally, the goal is to preserve the historic character of the building, and this must be balanced with the desire to improve energy efficiency and sustainability. Because solar panels can significantly alter the appearance of a building, careful planning and potentially specific permissions are often required.

For a listed building, consent must be obtained for any works that alter its character. This includes the installation of solar panels, especially if they are to be placed on a roof that is visible from the ground. In some cases, installing solar panels on a less visible roof slope, a nearby outbuilding, or a ground mount might be more acceptable. 

When installing solar panels on older buildings, it’s essential to assess the roof’s structural integrity to ensure it can handle the additional weight.

Planning permissions will likely be needed if the property is in a conservation area or an area of outstanding natural beauty. Contacting the local planning authority to discuss plans and ensure that any necessary permissions are sought is always recommended.

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The data used to power this calculator is sourced from various solar companies and industry bodies, including the UK government, the Energy Saving Trust and Ofgem. Please note that costs are estimated and based on a UK average, and should not be taken as the exact price you would pay. If you’d like to get an accurate quote for solar panels, then you can use this form to get an estimate from one of our trusted partners.

Katharine Allison

Energy Saving Writer

As Independent Advisor’s energy saving expert, Katharine, a keen advocate for sustainability, is an authority on solar panels, double glazing, and cutting-edge renewable energy technologies. Her dedication merges with a commitment to enlighten and steer readers toward embracing eco-friendly solutions and the latest trends in sustainability.

With over 10 years of experience, she has worked with some of the UK’s leading companies and publications, including the Federation of Master Builders, Architectural Digest, and Denon Construction. 

Katharine is particularly passionate about consumer causes and animal welfare and has art, philosophy, and psychology degrees. She lives with her sled dogs in East Sussex.

Molly Dyson

Editor

After growing up with a passion for writing, Molly studied journalism and creative writing at university in her home country of the United States.

She has written for a variety of print and online publications, from small town newspapers to international magazines. Most of her 10-year career since relocating to the UK has been spent in business journalism, writing and editing for admin professionals at PA Life magazine and business travel managers at Business Travel News Europe and representing those titles at conferences around the world.

Now an Editor at the Independent Advisor, Molly is an expert in a broad range of consumer topics, that include solar panels and renewables, home improvements and home insurance, and consumer technology such as home security and VPNs.

In her free time, Molly can usually be found exploring the outdoors with her husband and their young son or gardening.