Climate scientists at University College Cork have concluded that a quarter of all the electricity needed by Irish households could be produced by putting solar panels on domestic rooftops.

The study examined every rooftop in Ireland using satellite imagery and weather data for the first time.

The findings come on the same day that the new scheme entitling homeowners to be paid or credited for any surplus solar energy they produce commences.

The study's co-author, Paul Deane, said although Ireland would not normally be considered a very sunny location, what has been found is that there are strong economic and environmental arguments to generate electricity from sunlight here.

Mr Deane told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that about 24,000 homes are already generating electricity from solar PV panels.

This UCC study, commissioned by the Irish Solar Energy Association, found that one million homes in Ireland have the roof space and orientation suitable for the installation of ten solar panels.

Overall, that is enough to power one in four of all Irish homes, achieve 8% of Ireland's renewable energy target, save 135,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, and save each household at least €450 in electricity costs per year.

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After the system has paid for itself, between seven and 10 years, Mr Deane said that "you're then producing relatively free and low-cost electricity for the next the next 20 years or so".

The findings come as a new era in rooftop solar generation takes off.

From today, electricity suppliers finally have access to the key data from ESB networks showing the amount of surplus, or unused, electricity generated by rooftop solar panels that is fed back into the electricity grid.

This now enables the electricity companies to calculate how much of a payment or credit is due to individual households for surplus electricity generated by their solar panels.

So far, two electricity companies, Pinergy and SSE Airtricity, have announced they will pay homeowners 13.5 and 14 cents respectively, per kilowatt hour of surplus electricity flowing back into the grid.

Any payments or credits due will also be backdated to 19 February - the day the legislation requiring such payments was enacted.

It is estimated that upwards of 20,000 private houses currently have solar panels installed.

The government wants 250,000 new rooftop solar systems to be installed by 2030.

This new payment incentive, combined with existing SEAI grants of up to €2,400 for solar panels, alongside soaring energy prices will encourage more homeowners to make the necessary investment.