The solar panels market is starting to shine again following last year’s dramatic changes over feed-in tariffs, says Stourbridge energy expert Colin Priest.

A total of 1,528 installations were completed for the week ending January 20, official figures from the Department of Energy and Climate Change show. This is up slightly on the previous week’s week tally of 1,507.

“It is very encouraging to see figures going up in January which is considered to be a tough month for all businesses,” said Colin, who lives in Quarry Bank and works for Noreus Ltd on Stafford’s Technology Park. “Generally, we have a surge of inquiries in the spring so to have an increase early in the year is good, particularly as 96 per cent were smaller installations on ordinary homes.”

Since Christmas 2011 the Coalition has slashed the Feed-in Tariff or FiT payment, which is the money the Government pays people for generating electricity every year, by nearly two thirds from 43p per kilowatt hour which is index linked for 25 years to only 15.44p per kilowatt hour over 20 years for the average home. This is topped up with the Export Tariff, which adds an extra 4.5p per KWh for electricity exported to the Grid.

However, the not-for-profit energy group Ebico reckons it is still a good deal. It calculates that the annual income generated by the investment is up to seven per cent, the solar panels will pay for themselves within 14 years and the householders would receive an extra £3,000 every year for the remaining six years.

The Energy Saving Trust, a non-profit organisation jointly funded by the Government and the private sector to promote the use of green energy, points out that those residents would also save on average £237 a year in energy bills.

Colin said more good news for residents was that the cost of solar panels had fallen by half in the last two years from around £14,000 to £7,000 today for a 2.5 kilowatt system with 12 panels on an average semi-detached house.

He said although his company Noreus had survived by diversifying, the drop in the FiT tariff had led to many firms closing with thousands of redundancies nationally.

Meanwhile, a total of 17 solar companies are seeking around £140 million in damages from the Department of Energy and Climate Change in what they claimed were “unlawful and unfair” cuts to the feed-in tariff scheme last year.

The industry has not been helped by a new survey by the consumer watchdog, Which?, which showed that more than a third of solar panel owners experiencing problems and some are having to wait up to three months to get their feed-in tariff payments from the Big Six energy companies of Eon, SSE, EDF Energy, British Gas, Npower and Scottish Power.

“Hopefully,” concluded Colin, “these problems are being overcome and after a good start to 2013 it can develop into being a reasonable year for the solar industry.”

For more details about solar panels and energy-saving call Colin on 0845 474 6641.