The Dutch firm, Maas Capital, is investing £160m in the project.
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The first people to benefit from the scheme include residents of a sheltered retirement home in Ealing, west London.
Speaking at the site, International Trade minister Greg Hands said: “This initial £160m capital expenditure programme will deliver massive benefits to some of the UK’s poorest households.
“As well as creating 1,000 jobs and delivering cheaper energy bills for up to 800,000 homes, it shows yet another vote of confidence in the UK as a place to invest and do business.”
The firm providing the panels, Solarplicity, will work with more than 40 social landlords, including local authorities across England and Wales.
It will profit from the payments received under the feed-in tariff scheme and payments for energy from social housing customers.
The feed-in tariff scheme offers guaranteed cash payments to households that produce their own electricity using renewable technologies.
It changed in February, adopting different rules and lower tariff rates.
Mr Hands also told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Solarplicity will target military veterans when it recruits staff to install the panels.
“Armed forces veterans are very good at doing this, actually,” he said. “They understand how to put the panels on efficiently and well.”
Tenants in the North West will be the biggest beneficiaries, with more than 290,000 homes receiving solar panels in towns and cities such as Oldham and Bradford.
The North East and Midlands will also see a significant number of homes benefit.
Tenants will not pay anything towards the installation of the panels and their energy bills will be reduced by an average of £240 per year, according to the Department for International Trade.
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