Inverness firm Cairngorm Windows have made a major investment in the North's first photovoltaic solar panels -- whose surplus energy can earn householders a cheque of over £1000 per year.

These panels will enable users to take advantage of the 2009 EU Renewable Energy Directive's target for the UK to achieve 15 per cent of its energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020.

Cairngorm has invested "a significant six-figure sum" in acquiring panels under an exclusive deal with German ceramic hob manufacturers Schott and in training personnel on installing and maintaining them.

David Dowling, managing director of Cairngorm Windows, which employs 65 people at its Inverness facility, said:"We're excited about the potential of a significant diversification in our activities.

"Ordinary solar panels need heat -- but photo-voltaic panels turn daylight into electricity. One UK Government 'carrot' is that VAT on these panels is only 5 per cent, not 20 per cent -- but their bigger incentive is that electricity companies are now required by law to buy back surplus electricity generated via photo voltaic.

"They have to pay you back 41.3 pence for every kilowatt you generate, whether or not you use it -- plus another 3 pence for what you do not use. Realistic estimates put the income repaid at between £800 and £1200 annually and it is tax-free.

Mr Dowling added:" We've gained approval from the Renewable Energy Assurance Limited (REAL) so as to be able to exclusively install these Schott panels north of Dundee , and they do not allow extravagant claims or hard sells. REAL also holds courses through which our technicians must be qualified before being able to work on these panels."

Inverness electrical contractor Scott Adameic will attended such a course next week to become the first installer of the new Cairngorm photovoltaic product. He will be responsible for ensuring that customers are connected to the feed-in tariff system. Cairngorm roofers and sales people have also gained qualification.

Mr Adameic says:"REAL sets such rigorous standards for photovoltaic installation that you need to be a 17th edition electrician before you can even go on a course. The Government rules make these panels a real winner -- instead of paying for electricity, they give you tax-free money linked annually to the Retail Price Index.

"What a difference that can make to a home, school, hospital or office building."

Cairngorm were approved by REAL and the Microregeneration Certification Scheme.

Panels, which have a 25 year life expectancy, cost around £1200 each and Cairngorm will be targeting housing associations, councils and developers in addition to individual householders in their marketing. The average installations are likely to cost from £12,000 to £18,000.

Mr Dowling concluded:"To be the only firm in the North installing these is exciting, which is why we have made such an investment in a challenging economic climate. Hopefully, it will be financially rewarding as well as doing something for the planet."

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