Why Are Solar Panels in the UK a Great Option
Solar panels in the UK take advantage of one of nature's most powerful yet free resources: the energy produced by the sun. Solar panels, also called photovoltaics or solar PV, is a type of solar cell system that uses semiconductor technology to convert energy from sunlight into electricity. To help guide you while switching to renewable energy, this page highlights all of the most practical information about the installation cost, the incentives, the features, and the prices of solar panels in the UK.
Solar panels prices have steadily decreased over the last couple of years. Average domestic solar panels cost around £6,000. Solar arrays in this price range can provide you with a system output of 4 kWh, producing around 3,400 kWh per year, provided the solar panels have an inclination of 30-50 degrees.
As new technologies are being developed, experts discover new ways of making solar energy components. Thus, in the not so distant future, the likelihood of solar cell prices going down is significant.
If you're interested in solar panels for your home, and you would like to know more about your renewable energy options, GreenMatch is here for you. Our service is simple and obligation free. Just fill in the non-binding form at the top and we will get back to you shortly.
If you wish to know more about solar power before asking for quotes, just keep on reading! Below you will find information not only about solar panel cost, but also about:
- Its benefits,
- How the technology works,
- And what you need to know before installing a solar system.
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How Do Solar Panels Work?
As shown in the picture below, a solar panel (or module) is a group of cells connected electronically and grouped into a frame. Many modules are put together to form a solar array and many arrays connected together form a solar system. You can find basic information about solar panels in the Ultimate Guide to Solar Panels.
Solar cells, or photovoltaic (PV) cells, convert sunlight directly into electricity. Solar cells are connected electronically and packed together in a frame, commonly known as a solar panel. Solar cells are made of semiconductors such as silicon, which absorb the sunlight and convert it into electricity.
The electrical conductors are attached to positive and negative terminals, thus forming an electrical circuit. From there the electrons can be captured in the form of an electric current (electricity). This current, together with the cell's voltage (which is a result of its built-in electric field or fields), defines the power (or wattage) that the solar cell can produce.
There are stand-alone PV systems and grid-connected PV systems. What makes them different is that in the first case solar energy is stored for personal use, whilst in a grid-connected solar system you can sell your surplus of electricity back to the grid.
What might be surprising is that solar panels do not need direct sunlight to work. Although efficiency is boosted on sunny days, solar panels also produce a considerable amount of electricity on cloudy days and during the winter season. The chart below shows how much energy is gathered by solar panels throughout the year (with solar panels facing south and a 3kWp system). The power of PV solar panels is measured in kilowatts peak (kWp).
A typical commercial solar module has an efficiency of 16.5%, meaning that over one-sixth of the sunlight hitting the module is converted into electricity. One important challenge of the PV industry is to improve solar module efficiency, and at the same time, keep down the cost per cell.
What Are the Benefits of Solar Panels in the UK?
Solar panels in the UK are an increasingly popular renewable energy technology. Based on national statistics by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, in 2016 the UK generated 3.07% of its total electricity using solar power (you can find this figure by comparing the solar figure (in table 6.1) with the overall generation figure (5.1).
Besides being environmentally friendly, solar cells provide significant savings on your electricity bill. And whilst there are a few disadvantages, the long-term benefits of investing in solar panels far outweigh the cons.
If you are looking for a solar energy solution for heating, solar thermal is an affordable solution. Another option is installing thermodynamic panels which are more expensive but can supply 90% or more of the domestic hot water needs.
Below is a list of the main advantages and disadvantages of this renewable source of energy:
Cuts Electricity Bills
Energy bills have in the past years increased by at least 7% per annum. You can protect yourself from the rising utility bills by incorporating solar panels into your energy mix. This will reduce your electricity bills significantly. So whilst utility costs continue to peak each year, having solar panels can help to reduce the impact. Also, keep in mind that the electricity generated from the solar panels is free.
Earn Money Back
With the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG), you can make money by selling surplus energy back to the grid. The SEG requires that all suppliers with over 150,000 customers must offer an export tariff for electricity sold back to the grid. To date, the way the tariff is set up is up to the individual suppliers. This means that small-scale solar PV generators will be able to earn money back from their investment.
Thus, apart from cutting down utility bills, your investment in solar panels gives you a warranty for a state-backed income for the next 20 years.
However, only new installations can fall under the SEG, while those already registered under the now closed Feed-in Tariff will remain under those conditions.
Cuts your Carbon Footprint
Switching to solar energy cuts your carbon footprint, as it is a green, renewable source of energy. Unlike traditional electricity generators, solar power does not release any harmful carbon dioxide (CO2) or other pollutants. Estimates also show that solar panels for homes could save around one tonne of CO2 per year, which comes to approximately 25 tonnes over its lifetime.
All-Year Round Efficiency
Solar panels work all year round. Their full potential is released during the sunny months, but they also produce a considerable amount of electricity during the winter, as well as on cloudy days.
No Maintenance Required
Do solar panels need servicing? Not really, PV systems almost no maintenance; the inverter might need to be changed every 10-15 years, but apart from that, you can enjoy the solar benefits under normal conditions. You may even ask: how long do solar panels last? And you would receive the surprising answer that many panels actually get 20 years of warranty and some are even expected work for up to 40 years.
Do solar panels need cleaning? Yes, once the panels are installed, you need to keep them clean and check whether any trees begin to overshadow the solar PV array. Keeping the installation clean can be even easier when solar panels are installed on the roof are tilted, since rainfall can help clean dust off of the system.
With ground solar panels, maintenance may be more problematic, as the installation can accumulate dust, debris, snow, or bird droppings. Any dirt can be removed from the solar panels with the use of hot water, a brush, and possibly some washing-up liquid.
Independent of Grid
Solar panels are ideal in remote areas where extending power lines to connect with electrical power grid would be too expensive. They are an affordable and effective solution for isolated homes in the rural areas of the country.
Do you really save money with solar panels? As you can become completely grid independent, you would basically eliminate your electricity bill altogether, a £600 saving per year or more.
There is also the possibility of integrating batteries in solar cell systems, and this can be used as an energy storage. Batteries store energy gathered by solar cells, saving it for rainy days or for use throughout the night. Solar battery storage system costs are not low, ranging typically between £1,200 and £6,000 depending on the size and capacity. However, technological developments are leading to new solutions and will eventually come up with a great solution for solar energy at night.
High Initial Cost
It comes as no surprise that solar panel costs are initially high. Although, a number of subsidy programs, as well as government rebates, help to counterbalance the expense. As new technologies in the solar panel field emerge, prices for solar panels are expected to continue to decrease making the investment more affordable.
Dependence on Sunlight
Solar panels are dependent on sunlight, and while this does not necessarily mean direct sunlight, they are most efficient in locations with bright and direct the sunlight. Thus, they cannot produce energy during the night and are less effective during dark winters. The effective solution for this is, therefore, to switch to the main power grid at night. Alternatively, homes with a standalone system can store energy in batteries during the day to be used at night.
Solar Panel Placement
An inaccurate placement of solar panels can be a major hindrance on the effectiveness of electricity generation. The ones who are most affected by this are homes that are covered by trees and landscapes. In the same way, if you live in an area surrounded by large buildings, the effectiveness of the solar panels will be limited. However, the effectiveness can be increased by adding more panels to your rooftop to generate a sufficient supply of electricity.
How Much Do Solar Panels Cost?
It is difficult to calculate the exact cost of solar panels due to the many factors that can affect the price of solar panels. The average domestic solar array for electricity may cost between £6,000 to £9,000.
Generally, the more expensive the system, the more electricity it generates and therefore the more savings it can bring. In contrast, installing a typical solar heating system is much cheaper. Prices can vary from £3,000 to £5,000 depending on the size of the installation and its features.
It is important to note that despite solar panel costs being known to be expensive, in recent years the prices for solar panels have dropped considerably, and improvements in technology have led to more efficient systems, making the advantages even more tempting.
Below, is an approximation of how much you can expect to spend on solar panels for home use.
|Roof Space m2||System Power Peak||Estimated Cost (£)|
|+/- 8||1 kWp||from £2,500|
|+/- 14||2 kWp||from £3,000|
|+/- 21||3 kWp||from £5,000|
|+/- 28||4 kWp||from £6,000|
How to Buy Cheap Solar Cells
A lot of people are eager to find cheap solar panels. However, one should not just think of the solar panel prices alone, but most importantly about everything it takes to install the solar panel system. Besides the initial investment, you should consider how well insulated your home is so that you will require less from the system. This will save you a lot of money over time!
Can I Get Solar Panels for Free?
As the British government has ended grants supporting solar panel installations, it is no longer profitable for businesses to offer free solar panels. When incentives like the Feed-in Tariff were in place, it was possible to get solar panels for free if the grants would be transferred to the solar panel providing company, basically you ending up renting out your roof space. Under the current conditions, however, only the solar buyback scheme is available where companies pay for previously purchased solar panels and collect the remaining FIT payments.
Are There Grants For Solar Panels in the UK?
You should also check government grants for solar panels and that applies to your case, as this will help you absorb some of the initial investment costs.
In the section that follows, we present some smart tips to keep in mind when you want to buy solar panels. As you will see, there are different factors to pay attention to, but nothing to stress about!
Before Investing in Solar Panels
Before investing in solar power, it is wise to get informed about planning permissions, insurance and some tips to make the most out of your investment. If you want to maximise the benefits of investing in solar panels and you want to cut your expenditure on utility bills, then you should be sure that your property is as energy efficient as it can be. Some key factors to consider are:
Is the system located so that solar cells can capture sunlight, at least from 9 am to 3 pm? Systems like solar cells fitted on the roof are heavily dependent on a good location. Other systems that track the sun throughout the day may be more efficient even if there is no direct sunlight on the roof during peak hours.
- Roof suitability
When installing the solar cell system on older buildings, it is important to take into consideration whether the roof will be able to support the weight of the solar system.
- Size of solar panels
Solar cells come in all kinds of different shapes and sizes. Calculating electricity needs will provide a broader overview of the size of panel needed.
What Types of Solar Cells Are There?
Monocrystalline Solar Cells
Monocrystalline solar cells are made out of single-crystalline silicon and are quite distinctive in looks as they typically have an even black colouring.
- Monocrystalline solar cells have the highest rates of efficiency (15-20%)
- They require less space. Since they are the most efficient ones, they require less space compared to the other types of solar cells
- Monocrystalline cells reportedly perform better in low levels of sunlight.
- They are the most expensive solar cells on the market.The level of performance suffers as temperature goes up, however, the loss is still smaller compared to other types of solar cells.
- As each of the four sides of the cells is cut out, the initial silicon that was used ends up in waste.
Polycrystalline Solar Cells
Unlike monocrystalline cells, the polycrystalline ones do not require that their 4 sides are cut out. Instead, the silicon is melted and poured into square moulds, thus forming perfect square cells.
- The manufacturing process is easier and cheaper compared to monocrystalline. It also avoids silicon waste.
- High temperatures have less negative effects on the efficiency, thus making polycrystalline solar cells more attractive due to their lower price for people living in warmer areas.
- Due to lower levels of silicon purity, efficiency is calculated to be around 13-16%.
- Their lower output rates also make them less space-efficient. This means that you will need much more free space for the installation.
When installing solar panels, we have to take into consideration some basic factors, like the inclination of the roof (orientation and tilt), site location, a shape of the roof and shading. The best configuration to install solar panels is to have a roof facing south at an angle of about 30 degrees. This way, solar panels can produce the best annual performance.
However, solar panels will work efficiently in other settings as well. The solar panel array tolerates some shading early in the morning and late in the evening, but it is important to keep the installation away from any shadows between 10 am and 4 pm.
The Solar panel system size and efficiency are in direct correlation with their power output. The bigger the solar panel system, the more power it will be able to produce, thus increasing its efficiency coefficient as well. A 1kW panel system will produce between 750 - 850 kWh per year while a bigger 5kW system will be able to produce 4500kWh per year.
How Many Solar Panels Are Needed to Power a House?
An average UK home consumes around 3,100 kWh energy a year, which could be reached by a 3kW or 4kW solar panel, equalling to 12-16 individual PV modules. Depending on your consumption and number of people living in your household, you may need less or more panels to cover your needs at any point in time.
Concerning further reading, do not miss our extensive analysis concerning the installation cost of solar panels.
The Installation Process in 7 Steps
1st Step: Erecting the scaffolding
The first step in the process is to erect the scaffolding. This will ensure safety for the installation team when they are on the roof
2nd Step: Attaching Roof Anchors
After the scaffolding is set, the installation team arrives. The team starts out by attaching the roof anchors, which will hold the base for the solar panels. The types of anchors used depends on the type of roof tile fitted on the roof.
3rd Step: Attaching the Frame
The next step is to attach the frame, which is made up of aluminium bars. The bars must be fitted in a straight direction and parallel to one another.
4th Step: Installing the Panels
Once the frame has been attached, the installation of the solar panels themselves can begin. The panels are clamped to the aluminium frame, but initially not too tight so as to permit adjusting on the frame. Once they are set up at the desired position, these will be firmly anchored.
5th Step: Wiring the Solar Panels
Now that the panels are fastened securely on the frame, the next step is to wire them. In most of the cases the panels come wired from the manufacturer, however, these need to be connected to the inverter, which would typically be in the attic of the household. The inverter is a component of the panel system which converts absorbed energy from the panels into AC electricity, which can be used by the household appliances. Be prepared to replace your solar PV inverter every 5-10 years, as these machines tend to have shorter lifespans than solar panels.
6th Step: Final Connections to the Consumer Unit
After the panels are wired to the inverter, the final connections to the consumer unit will be made. A generation meter will also be connected, whose purpose is to monitor how much electricity the solar panels actually produce. During the time of the wiring installation, the electricity supply to the household will need to be shut off.
7th Step: Testing the Solar panels
After the wiring is set up to the inverter, together with the generation meter, the installation is nearly finished. Now the only thing left is to switch the power on and test the system. Once this is complete, the installation is officially over and the system can start working.
Planning Permission for Solar Panels
In England, Scotland and Wales you are not required to apply for planning permission for most of the domestic solar panel installations (both heating and electricity). It is important to note, however, that the installation must be below a certain size. If your solar panels protrude more than 200mm, you will need to apply for permission first. There are also other local restrictions that might affect whether you need permission or not; especially in Scotland. For example, when the building is within a conservation area of World Heritage Site. Therefore, it is advised to ask your solar panel installer to check, whether your installation meets all the requirements.
Solar Panels and Insurance
In most cases, when you install solar panels on your roof, your insurance should cover you under the current terms. However, since the solar panel installation means a change to the home structure, it is advised to always contact your current insurance provider before taking on the installation.
It is important to note that your home insurance may not include a cover for damage or theft to your solar panels. Therefore, to avoid any uncertainties, its is advisable that you consult your insurance policy to confirm that your panels are covered.
Installing solar panels are a worthwhile investment for both homes and companies. They ensure greater sustainability, reduce utility bills and in the long run help you to put money back into your pocket.
How Can I Find the Right Solar Supplier in the UK?
Finding the right solar supplier is not as easy as it may seem. Undoubtedly, since the required investment is quite significant, you will want to make a sound purchase which you will be pleased with throughout the entire lifespan of the solar system. Therefore, you should compare solar panels suppliers and their respective options, and make sure that you pick a reliable and certified supplier.
We know that finding the right solar panels suppliers might mean investing some time doing research. We want to make this process simpler by providing you free, non-binding quotes from different suppliers. How? Simply fill in the contact form at the top of the page, stating your needs and preferences. We will get back to you as soon as possible to ask you some further questions and connect you with the most suitable suppliers so that you get the best quotes on the product of your choice!