Solar Panel cost in the UK: Are they worth it?
Solar panels can help you to cut your energy bills but are they worth the cost? The government offers financial incentives, you can reduce electricity bills and you’ll be helping the environment. Our guide covers everything from solar panel prices to how solar panels work.
What are solar panels?
Solar panels convert sunlight into electricity which is then used for power. The sun is a free and renewable energy resource which means you’ll reduce your carbon footprint if you use solar to power your home.
Solar panels can be installed on the roofs of houses, in solar farms or even as portable batteries.
You can install solar panels on the roof of your home and use the electricity generated as power. This, as a result, will cut your energy bills whilst helping the environment.
Different types of solar panels
There are two different types of solar panels:
- Photovoltaic panels that produce electricity
- Solar thermal panels that are used for heating
In this guide, we are focusing on photovoltaic panels (solar PV) as these are the panels that you can generate power from. The alternative, solar thermal panels, use sunlight to heat water.
Most people interested in solar power install solar PV panels and use the electricity for their home. This is also the only type of solar panel that allows you to earn money through government schemes (keep reading to learn more).
How do solar panels work?
Solar PV cells are made from semiconductors, usually silicon. These semiconductors absorb the sunlight and convert it into electricity.
These silicon layers energise and create a current when in contact with sunlight. They don’t need direct sunlight to produce electricity so will still work on cloudy days. The more direct the sunlight, the more electricity will be generated.
The solar cells are all connected and packed together in a frame which makes up the solar panel. Multiple connected solar panels form a solar array.
Solar panels generate direct current electricity (DC) but household appliances require alternating current (AC). An inverter is therefore installed along with your solar panels to convert DC to AC electricity.
The AC electricity generated by your solar panels can then be used in your home or stored in a battery for later use. Excess electricity you don’t use is then sent back to the National Grid. This is where you can earn money which we will explain later in the guide.
How efficient are solar panels?
As technology improves, solar panels are becoming more efficient. The efficiency of solar panels is always higher on sunny days but they don’t require direct sunlight to work. This means that even on the many dark cloudy days in the UK, your solar panels will still produce electricity.
Surprisingly, solar panels are better suited to cooler temperatures. In hot countries, they can be prone to overheat which reduces their efficiency. This means that UK weather allows solar panels to work optimally with the chance of overheating being very slim.
A typical commercial solar panel has an efficiency rating of 15-20%. Four key things affect solar panel efficiency:
- Location - your solar panel will need to be positioned in a location, angle and direction where it can capture the most sunlight. You’ll need to assess your roof angle and direction, solar panels should be south-facing to get the most sunlight.
- Roof suitability - you’ll need to make sure that your roof is strong enough to support the weight of solar panels. Your roof will also need to be large enough so enough solar panels can fit to be efficient.
- Solar panel size - the bigger the solar panel, the more electricity is generated. You can calculate how much electricity you use to pick the most efficient size for your needs.
- Maintenance - good maintenance maximises the lifespan of your solar panels. You can get them regularly checked and any debris removed.
How much do solar panels cost in the UK?
The cost of solar panels is, on average, £6,000 to purchase and install. However, it depends on how many solar panels you require. This is dictated by the size of your home and your energy usage. Solar panels get cheaper every year and are up to 70% cheaper than they were just three years ago. More expensive solar panels are usually more efficient and generate more electricity which results in greater savings on your energy bill.
Whilst the initial investment is high, the savings you can make on your energy bills and government schemes can make the initial purchase worth it.
Smart Export Guarantee & Feed-In Tariff: Government solar panel schemes
The UK government has made it possible for you to earn money by having solar panels. Two schemes have been set up to encourage renewable energy production.
- Smart Export Guarantee
Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) allows homeowners with solar panels to export surplus energy back into the National Grid.
The Smart Export Guarantee launched on 1st January 2020 and requires energy suppliers with 150,000 customers or more to pay their customers for the solar energy they are sending to the National Grid. Smart Export Guarantee only allows customers to be paid for the surplus energy they export, not for all of the energy they produce, which makes it different from the legacy Feed-in Tariff scheme below.
Smart Export Guarantee tariffs can pay around 4-6 pence per kilowatt-hour (kWh) exported to the grid (for how much money you can make - see below). However, unlike the Feed-in Tariff scheme, you need to shop around with different suppliers to find the best deal, it isn’t a set payment rate.
- Feed-in Tariff
The Feed-in Tariff (FIT) scheme was launched in April 2010 and ended on the 31st March 2019. The Feed-in Tariff scheme encouraged the use of renewable energy by rewarding those with solar panels.
Homeowners with solar panels would receive payments for the renewable energy they generated. Under the Feed-in Tariff scheme, you were compensated for all of the energy you produced, whether you used it or sent it to the National Grid. Energy regulator Ofgem paid you and so it was a set rate everyone received the same. The Feed-in Tariff rates changed each year but most recently the payment is 5.24p per kWh.
Whilst this scheme is now closed, if you had solar panels installed before 31st March 2019, you are still eligible to continue receiving payments.
How much money can I make from solar panels?
There are two ways of making and saving money using solar panels. The first being through the government Smart Export Guarantee scheme. You can sign-up as soon as you have solar panels installed and your energy supplier (if they have at least 150,000 customers) will pay you for any energy you export to the grid.
On average, households can earn around £70 a year via the Smart Export Guarantee scheme.
Energy companies pay between 1p - 6p per kWh of electricity you send to the National Grid.
kWh stands for kilowatts per hour. This is a unit of electricity. There are 1,000 watts in a kilowatt. If you have a lightbulb that is 100 watts, that means it uses 100 watts of electricity per hour. It would take 10 hours (10 x 100) to use 1,000 watts, which is 1 kilowatt (kWh).
How much energy (kWh) do solar panels produce?
Residential solar panels produce between 250 - 400 watts per hour of full sunlight.
Therefore, it takes between 4 - 2.5 hours of full sunlight to produce 1kWh, per solar panel.
How much money does a solar panel make?
You won’t earn enough money from the Smart Export Guarantee scheme to pay off the cost of your solar panels. This depends on your solar panel set up and how much electricity you export and don’t use.
Whilst you aren’t going to break the bank with the Smart Export Guarantee scheme, you can make significant savings to your electricity bill thanks to solar panels.
According to the Energy Saving Trust, an average household with solar panels in London could make savings of £6,000 over 25 years. As you can see, you aren’t likely to pay off the investment of solar panels quickly. However, you will be helping the environment and reducing your carbon footprint.
Solar panels can also increase the value of your home. Therefore, they may be a worthy investment for many.
How do I measure my solar panel’s energy output?
This handy calculator from the Centre for Alternative Technology helps you work out how much electricity your solar panels can generate and how much money you can save.
Here’s how you can work out how much electricity you can expect from your solar panels each day:
- Size of one solar panel (in square metres) x 1,000
- That figure x efficiency of one solar panel (percentage as a decimal)
- That figure x number of sun hours in your area each day
- Divide by 1,000
Can I get free solar panels in the UK?
Unfortunately, free solar panels are no longer available in the UK. The government used to offer grants for solar panels as part of the Green Deal but this ended in 2015.
Another scheme also used to be available that corresponded with the Feed-in Tariff scheme. Companies would agree to install solar panels for free in return for your Feed-in Tariff payments. So, the company would receive all of the money you made off the energy your solar panels generated.
However, the scheme also ended as soon as the Feed-in Tariff scheme ended.
So, you can’t get solar panels for free anymore, it has to be an investment that you can afford.
6 Solar panel need-to-knows
Before deciding to invest in solar panels, there are some important things to know to help with your decision and make the most out of them:
1. The new solar panel scheme doesn’t pay as much
The feed-in-tariff scheme, which ended in March 2019, paid people for all of the energy their solar panels produced. It didn’t matter whether they used it to power their home or sent it to the grid.
The new Smart Export Guarantee only pays homeowners for the energy that they send to the grid from their solar panels. So, if you use all of the energy your solar panels generate for your home, you won’t earn any money.
You also need to sign up for a supplier that offers a Smart Export Guarantee and some suppliers pay more than others.
As a result, you won’t earn as much money as you would from the Feed-in Tariff scheme if you had solar panels installed before 31st March 2019.
2. A south-facing roof works best with solar panels
If you want to maximise the energy your solar panels make, you need a south-facing roof. If your roof is unshaded between 10am and 4pm, then you’ll reap the most benefits from your solar panels and generate maximum electricity.
3. You CAN switch energy supplier if you have solar panels
Solar panels don’t lock you to one energy supplier, you can still shop around and look for cheaper energy bills.
Switching energy suppliers when you have solar panels is almost the same process as those without solar panels. Make sure you shop around for energy suppliers that offer the best Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) rate. Energy suppliers with over 150,000 customers must pay you for the excess energy your solar panels send to the National Grid.
You can shop around for the best offer, 5p per kWh of energy you generate is a good rate.
4. The further South you live, the more money you can save
You don’t need to live in a sunny paradise to make the most of your solar panels. However, the further South you live, the more you’ll benefit from having solar panels installed.
Daylight is an important factor that solar panels require to generate electricity. Northern UK gets less daylight than southern areas.
The Energy Saving Trust estimates that people with solar panels installed in Manchester save between £95 and £230 each year on your electricity bills. However, those with solar power in London could save around £100-£240 each year.
5. Solar panels affect your house’s value
Some people don’t like the look of solar panels and this could push a house’s value down. On the other hand, an environmentally friendly home that can generate its own electricity might be attractive to other buyers.
You can always get in touch with your local estate agent for some expert advice on how solar panels affect house prices in your area.
As solar panels are quite a large investment, we wouldn’t recommend getting them if you aren’t planning to live in your house for the long-term.
6. Use your solar panels wisely
Maximise the savings to your electricity bill by using your solar panels at the right time.
For example, in the winter, there’s a lot less sunlight which means you’ll generate less power. This means you’ll pay more for electricity as you’ll be using more from the grid. Make sure you use most of your appliances whilst it’s still light outside so you can make the most of the energy your solar panels are generating.
Is my home right for solar panels?
Before you get your solar panels installed, you can do a personal check to make sure that your home is suitable for solar:
- Where do you live? Southern areas of the UK get more daylight hours and benefit more from solar panels as they’ll generate more electricity.
- How strong is your roof? Whilst solar panels themselves aren’t very heavy, the entire installation can weigh as much as 275kg. Most homes will be able to support this but make sure your installer conducts a survey beforehand to test this.
- Which way does your home face? A south-facing roof is the best location for solar panels as they’ll be exposed to the most sunlight throughout the day.
- How much external space do you have? You’ll need at least ten square metres of roof space to fit a decent solar array. Make sure you haven’t got any vents or skylights that might obstruct this.
- How much internal space do you have? You’ll need to have an inverter installed within your property so you can use the electricity the solar panels generate. This requires around a metre squared of space and it usually goes in the loft.
- Do you live in the woods? If any of your solar panels are constantly shaded, the efficiency will be drastically reduced. If you live in a wooded area, you might not benefit from solar power.
If, after asking yourself these questions, you believe that solar panels are still suitable for your property, you can book an appointment with an installer to talk you through the process.
How to install solar panels in the UK
Have you decided that solar panels are right for you? Here are some tips to help you with the installation...
Do I need planning permission for solar panels?
You don’t need planning permission for installing solar PV systems on your roof. However, it’s better to be safe than sorry and consult your local authority before having solar panels installed.
In some cases such as living in a listed building or conservation area, you will require planning permission.
How to find a solar panel installer
Calling local solar panel installers in the best way to get a good price. You should compare at least three solar panel installer’s quotes before picking the best one. Make sure the installer’s panels meet the standards of the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS).
You can find out which solar panel firms won the British Renewable Energy Awards on. This way, you can find out trustworthy installers.
Two to four weeks after your installer is booked, you should have solar panels installed. The installation process itself takes around two days.
How many solar panels do I need?
The number of solar panels you need depends on your energy consumption, hours of sunlight and the size of your roof.
The average UK home consumes between 3kWh and 6kWh of energy daily. If you were to install a 3kWh solar system, you would require around 12 250W solar panels.
Every home has different energy needs. Discuss your usage with your solar panel installer and they will work out the optimum number of solar panels for your needs.
Pay by credit card
Pay for your solar panels with a credit card and you’ll be protected by Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. If you pay for anything over £100 with a credit card, your card provider is jointly responsible with the retailer to refund you if something goes wrong with your purchase.
This means that if your solar panels are faulty, you are much more likely to get a refund. It offers extra protection for a large purchase.
Just remember to pay back what you spend on your card right away to avoid credit card debt.
Solar panel maintenance
Solar panels don’t require much maintenance at all. However, you should consider getting them professionally cleaned as dirt and debris can reduce the efficiency of your panels.
The main thing you’ll need to replace is the inverter which costs around £800. After 25 years the inverter can decrease in efficiency so make sure you get it replaced.
Are solar panels worth it?
The best way to find out whether solar panels are worth it for you is to weigh up the pros and cons.
Advantages of solar panels
- Reduce your electricity bill - depending on your electricity usage and solar panel set-up, you might be able to generate enough electricity to power your entire home. The energy you produce using solar panels is free, meaning you can cut down your electricity bills.
- Earn money - you can use the Smart Export Guarantee scheme and sell your unused electricity back to the grid. Your energy supplier will pay you per kWh you export. This is a great way to earn some money on the side.
- Reduce your carbon footprint - solar energy is green and renewable, meaning that you won’t be burning as many fossil fuels to power your home. Solar panels help you do your bit for the Earth. Just one installation can save around a tonne of CO2 a year. This means that during the solar panel’s lifespan, you’ll be offsetting 25 tonnes of CO2!
- Efficient all year - solar panels work efficiently all year-round but are optimal during the summer months. You still will have electricity from your solar panels during the winter.
- Low maintenance - solar panels can last up to 30 years and require little maintenance to do so. The only thing you’ll need to replace is the inverter. You should also get them checked and cleaned a few times a year just to ensure maximum efficiency. An annual solar panel service can cost around £100 a year.
- Independence from the National Grid - solar panels are an affordable and efficient solution to those that are living in remote areas. The cost of extending power lines to remote areas is extortionate. Solar panels are a great solution for remote areas that aren’t connected to the Grid.
Disadvantages of solar panels
- Expensive investment - the initial cost of solar panels is expensive. The upfront cost can range from £5,000 to £10,000. Whilst the savings to your bills and Smart Export Guarantee scheme can make up for this, you will need to put a lot of money down first.
- Requires daylight - solar panels do rely on sunlight, they don’t need direct sun but it does need to be daytime for them to work. Solar panels do decrease in efficiency when it's cloudy and don’t produce electricity at all at night time.
- Specific placement requirements - solar panels shouldn’t be blocked by trees or buildings. They work best at a specific angle and when facing south. These requirements can be hard for some people to meet.
As solar technology becomes more accessible, the cost of solar panels continues to fall. They are more affordable than ever and will only continue to drop..
The greatest benefit of solar panels is that you are helping the environment by reducing your carbon footprint. You are creating a brighter future for future generations by looking after the Earth today.
If you are planning to live in the same home long-term then solar panels may eventually pay for themselves. It will take some time to earn your investment back but once you do, you can enjoy free energy and make a profit!
You shouldn’t rush in and buy solar panels, especially if it’ll put you into debt. You need to decide if they are a luxury you can afford and whether your property is suitable.