‘I had installed solar panels on my home for free - and spent just £4.04 on electricity in August’

With fears over the rise in energy costs growing across the country, we chat to one Bristol resident who is encouraging others to look at the benefits of solar panels

Rising energy costs across the country are on the forefront of many people’s thoughts at the moment, and looking at solutions to save money is something many people are turning to.

Peter Hughes, who lives in Knowle, has found that getting solar panels has transformed his relationship with energy and his bills, and he credits them as a great way to understand how you can and can’t save money in the long run.

Mr Hughes tweeted earlier this summer that he “found [his] solar panels (through a Bristol City Council grant) combined with @OctopusEnergy‘s consumption/output data has had a sizeable impact on [his] energy relationship.”

Mr Hughes, who works in running environmental and social justice campaigns and has an invested interest in community energy and sustainability, applied for the solar panels through a government grant.

Mr Hughes tweeted about the benefits of his solar panels earlier this summer

“We were selected and told we qualified for a number of home improvements including solar panels and insulation,” he says. “Over a period of a couple of months in December last year, we had those installed free of charge and they made a huge difference.”

Mr Hughes said that by going through the grant system, it was a fairly simple process. And it takes a few months to get your feed-in tariff connected, a payment you can get if you generate your own electricity.

“The installation was quick and simple,” he says. “It takes around one to two days and the biggest effort is getting the scaffolding in place. It’s not very disruptive at all and most roofs can easily take the weight because the panels aren’t particularly chunky.”

But the biggest benefit and change that Mr Hughes has noticed since having solar panels is to how they use their energy.

“I think the government haven’t really connected with this yet. It’s all about encouraging people not just to turn on their TVs, their dryers, their cookers and kettles at 6 pm in the evening when they get home from work.

“What we really need is for people to use less electricity in these peak times when you wake up or in the evening. We need to encourage people to put things on timers and get things going in the middle of the afternoon or morning.

“So, what the solar panels have made us do is to check the weather forecast for doing our batch cooking or for doing our laundry. We know that 1 pm on a sunny day if we want to set our washing machine going, we’ll essentially be doing it for free.

In time, it will make it more of a sense to buy a battery and store that so that we can use that electricity in the evenings.”

Pete (pictured with his family) has saved hundreds of pounds after installing solar panels

For Mr Hughes, then, the biggest benefit has been about learning how and when to use electricity when it’s cheap and to have direct control of saving money. It helps you use electricity when the sun is shining.

The result is that his monthly costs for electricity have fallen significantly. In a month up to mid-August this year, he spent £4.04 - that compared to £33.86 the year before.

“I think you become a lot more connected to your bills. People get them at the end of the month and there’s not much they can do about it but this really gets you connecting with how much you pay per KW/hour. It can help you see what you can do to reduce that,” says Mr Hughes.

“It gets you thinking about taking shorter showers, batch cooking or buying a slow cooker. You feel a lot more in control and empowered.”

Would Mr Hughes encourage others to explore getting solar panels? “Absolutely,” he says.

“I think anyone who is currently on a variable tariff or has signed up to a fixed term since the Ukraine invasion, it’s certainly worth looking at. Most the energy pundits have found you will get your money back from as soon as four years, which is an incredible investment.”

The other benefit is that solar panels are keeping their efficiency for many years, and go well beyond the stated lifeline of 20 years. “They also increase the value of your home, so they are a sensible long-term investment,” continues Mr Hughes.

“I’m happy we went ahead with the decision. They have no impact on your roof and it’s easy to calculate how soon you can make your money back.”

Mr Hughes also thinks it could be good to get ahead of the curve. “I think we might start seeing the tariff on electricity changing as the government try to bring prices down and make people use electricity instead of gas,” he says.