alan14 - I would like to harness a little of nature's 'free-gifts' and see them in operation on my verandah, which is ideally placed...weather-wise, for solar and wind power, on a very small, and manageable scale.
It's worth bearing in mind the fact that there's a lot of misleading information out there on the subject of solar panels.
They can certainly provide you with a free source of energy, but of course the energy is far from free, once you've factored in the cost of the panels. Over a 25 year period you'll get an annual rate of return of around 3.7% with solar panels, compared to 3.3% from a cash ISA over the same period.
Solar panels are not cheap to buy and install, and if you borrow the money to pay for them you'll find that the interest payments on the loan will probably exceed any money you make from the panels via the Feed In Tariff (FIT) for the DC power you feed back to the National Grid. A good solution is to reinvest the FIT money into a cash ISA.
Another thing to bear in mind is that solar panels lose efficiency over time, and the inverter will probably need changing during the life of the panels.
As with all major purchases it's a good idea to do your research first, so you make an informed decision, rather than relying on the sales material produced by solar panel companies.
FE - your advice on solar panels is very good. The 60w solar panel kit outlined by alan14 looks like something I might buy (£200)...as a hobbyist. Our 'great' British weather does not favour solar panels.And as Donovan sang in his song...'I might as well Try And Catch the Wind.'
We have a South-West facing non-covered roof. We have been told that to get solar panels fitted will cost in the region of £12 - £15,000 and the pay-back period should be 15 - 17 years, with the balance being 'free'. As my wife and I are pensioners and as neither of us will live that long we have declined to have the panels fitted. I know it sounds like I am being a defeatist but I think we all have more than enough calls on our money without having to take such a chance.
With regard to the FE's comment about getting only 3.3% from an ISA I would say he is being - bearing in mind the period of 25 years - unduly pessimistic. Maybe someone has different ideas, I would be interested to hear them.