Solar panels for UK homes: a beginner’s guide
With climate change continuing to affect people all around the world, governments, businesses and individuals are looking for ways they can help in the fight to protect our planet. Today, renewable energy is seen as one of the most important areas of development, as we look to phase out harmful fossil fuels.
There are opportunities within any residential property to lean on these renewable sources, and ultimately improve energy efficiency. And fortunately, in today’s eco-driven society, cleaner sources of energy are becoming more readily available. There are many different options that can be used in our homes, but solar power is currently leading the way in the UK.
Reviewing where we get our energy from is one of the most effective ways to reduce emissions. Homes are responsible for emitting a large share of the greenhouse gases that enter the atmosphere, since this is where we spend most of our lives. According to a recent government report, households account for 26% of the country’s total emissions, which suggests there is clear room for improvement.
If you’re wondering what you can do to improve your household’s energy efficiency and reduce its carbon footprint, solar panels could provide the answer. In this guide, we’ll take a comprehensive look at how solar panels work, and the pros and cons to using them in your home. This will allow you to make a more informed decision on whether this technology is right for you.
What is solar power?
Solar power is a renewable method of generating electricity, since it harnesses energy from the sun. This means that as long as the sun still shines, solar power can be used as part of the global energy mix.
The panels themselves are made up of lots of photovoltaic cells which are assembled together into modules. These cells are typically made from silicon, due primarily to its energy efficiency and semiconducting properties. Inside the panels, electricity is essentially generated due to the movement of electrons, which creates a current and sends electricity into the circuit connected to your home.
Due to the nature of the technology, certain conditions found in different parts of the country will naturally be better suited to generating solar power. Below is a graph showing the monthly energy output from a PV system installed in Kent – one of the prime locations for solar generation.
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Why is it important?
As the world demands cleaner energy sources, solar power stands as one of the most viable alternatives to fossil fuels, and it’s likely to play an increasingly important role in the energy mix going forward. Since the process of generating electricity through solar panels doesn’t emit any greenhouse gases, it’s a greener way of powering our homes, whilst reducing our reliance on depleting sources of energy.
Different types of solar panels
Whilst there are many variations, the two main types of solar panels for homes in the UK are polycrystalline and monocrystalline panels. The two key points of difference between the two types are their cost and their efficiency. Monocrystalline panels are seen as the best in class when it comes to efficiency. As such, it stands to reason that they’re the more expensive option of the two, and this higher price tag will be a major determining factor for many buyers wondering which type is right for them.
Polycrystalline panels tend to be easier to produce, which ultimately makes them cheaper for the consumer. However, with a slightly lower efficiency than monocrystalline alternatives, buyers often need to invest in more panels to generate the power they require. If space is at a premium, or you’re concerned about how they’d look aesthetically, this could be an issue when looking to invest in polycrystalline panels.
Deciding which type to go for will depend on a number of factors, including your budget, and your typical household energy consumption. Below is a table of comparison highlighting the key differences between the two types.
|Cost (per watt)||£1-£1.50||£0.90-£1|
|Appearance||Black finish, more sleek design, fewer required for equivalent output||Blue hue, more panels required for equivalent output|
|Lifespan (est.)||30 years+||20 years|
Key benefits of solar panels
You may be wondering how all this can be beneficial to you and your living situation. Well, there are several core benefits to using solar panels on homes.
Solar is a renewable energy source
As the world continues to rapidly deplete its fossil fuel reserves, renewable energy sources such as solar have never been more valuable. Solar panels give owners the opportunity to generate clean electricity, which is one of the key reasons why more people than ever are choosing to invest in the technology.
It’s important to note that the manufacturing process will have various impacts on the environment, from producing emissions to using natural resources. But once they’re installed and in operation, you can be reassured that they are generating energy without affecting the environment.
Very little maintenance or knowledge is required
The vast majority of the hard work to ensure your solar panels work as efficiently as possible is done during the installation process, and they will require very little maintenance across their lifespan. You also don’t need to be an expert to benefit from solar panels day to day – the systems are designed to be user friendly, making them generally more accessible.
As much as your solar panels will benefit from clear, sunny days, a bit of rain and wind will actually help to keep them cool and clean, improving the efficiency of your system.
Save on your utility bills
In recent times, we’ve seen energy costs rise to unprecedented levels, which has contributed to the cost of living crisis that’s being felt across the country. Whilst you do need to consider the upfront costs associated with the technology, solar panels will start saving you money on monthly bills as soon as they’re installed, and you will break even on your investment in a matter of years.
According to our data, there are vast savings to be had from installing a solar panel system, but the total amount varies depending on location. On average, you can expect to save just over £1,000 per year on electricity costs by installing a PV system with a 5 kWh battery.
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They could even make you money
Using the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG), people who generate their own renewable energy are able to sell any excess electricity back to the grid. Under the SEG scheme, you will be paid for every unit of electricity that you feed back, helping to accelerate the return on your investment.
Our data shows that battery-supported solar systems in Kent could earn owners just over £324 after ten years of ownership, with an average annual earning of £32.40 from selling power back to the grid. This figure increases dramatically to an average annual payment of just over £81 for a system without a battery, but this means you will be spending more on electricity in the first place.
Additionally, solar panels have the potential to increase the value of your property, should you ever look to sell it. More modern buyers are entering the market with a growing eco-conscience, and as such they’ll want a property that reflects this. In fact, according to research by the Home Builders Federation, “being eco-friendly” is the second-most desirable feature buyers want from a new home. What’s more, one in four said energy efficiency will be ‘crucial’ in their next property search.
Things to consider before investing
Though there are lots of benefits of solar panels, they won’t be right for everyone, and there are a few key things to consider before making any purchases.
Solar panels can be expensive
Although the cost of solar panels has fallen drastically in recent years, investing in a system still doesn’t come cheap. Costs will vary depending primarily on the size and location of your property, and your energy consumption, but our figures estimate that an average domestic solar PV system without a battery will cost somewhere between £4,475 and £5,200 to install.
If you use solar panels over a prolonged period of time, you will invariably see a positive return on your investment, but whether you can justify this initial outlay is certainly something to consider. You can expect to see a positive return on your investment around seven or eight years after your system is installed.
Efficiency is dependent on conditions and location
Not every household will receive an equal amount of energy from having the same solar system installed. Though it is somewhat of a myth that the UK’s conditions aren’t suitable for solar power generation, certain parts of the country will naturally receive more sunlight hours than others, meaning more energy can be harnessed. In the UK, the southeast and southwest is where you’ll typically find the most intense solar radiation.
You can see how much energy a solar panel system can produce in your area by using our tool below. Enter your postcode to find out more.
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ROI depends on your living situation
If you know you’re planning on moving home in the near future, investing in solar energy may not be the smartest option. Though you will start saving money as soon as they’re installed, it can take several years until you break even on the initial cost. Before jumping into any purchases, take the time to consider whether your living situation is likely to change any time soon.
Make sure your roof is ready
Different roofs will naturally be more receptive to the installation of solar panels. Firstly, you will need to be reassured that your roof can withstand the added weight of a solar panel system. That’s why it’s so important to have a professional survey carried out on your property if you are considering generating your own solar energy. Not only will this ensure you can get the most from the panels, but it will also give you peace of mind that there aren’t any safety concerns. If there is any damage to the roof, it should be repaired before installing solar panels.
If for whatever reason your roof still isn’t suitable, you can look to have a ground-mounted system installed in your garden. Of course, this will take up more space, but it does give you more flexibility, plus they’re easier to install and maintain. It’s worth exploring all your options before deciding on a system that’s right for your household.
They work best alongside a storage system
While the sun is shining, your solar panels will be working hard to generate electricity for your home. But at nighttime, or on particularly overcast days, they won’t be able to produce as much energy. This is why it’s worth considering buying a solar storage system to work in conjunction with your panels, and provide you with energy at darker times.
Ultimately, having battery storage will help you to gain more energy independence, meaning you’re less reliant on the grid, which will ultimately help to save money. However, as you might have guessed, these batteries typically come at an additional cost, so you will once again need to weigh up whether the initial investment is worth the long-term savings. If you’re not willing to pay the added cost for a battery, you won’t feel the benefits of your overall investment as much.
There are clear cost and savings differences between a system with a battery and one without, wherever you are in the country. Using Essex as an example, a battery-assisted system will cost around £3,500 more upfront. However, you can expect to save around £320 more on electricity every year when using a battery alongside your system, so it’s worth considering all the costs involved before making a decision.
How to get the most out of your solar panels
If you do decide to invest in solar energy, there are certain things you can do to enhance your system’s efficiency and get the most out of your panels.
- Eliminate shading wherever possible. Be wary of any shading that could cover your solar panels. This will be apparent before you’ve started the installation process, so you can make any adjustments right away. Any branches or other removable obstructions above your roof should be cleared, to maximise the amount of light that’s reaching the panels.
- Focus energy consumption during peak generation hours. This may not be feasible for every household, but where possible, you should look to use energy-intensive appliances during the day, when your solar panel system is generating more energy. High-consumption appliances include things like your washing machine and dishwasher. The peak time for solar energy generation is typically in the early afternoon, at which time the sun will be at its most powerful.
- Invest in battery storage. If fewer people are home during the day, and you typically use more energy in the evening time, it’s advisable to invest in battery storage. This is a way of storing energy that’s generated by your panels during daylight hours that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to use. But if you do use the majority of your electricity consumption during the day, and require less in the evenings, battery storage may not be the most economical option. They can be expensive, and you won’t be able to use them to their full potential if you use more energy while the sun is out.
- Reduce energy consumption. Supplementing your solar panel system with a reduced level of consumption within your household will mean your panels can provide a greater proportion of your home’s electricity. This ultimately allows you to become more energy independent, reducing your reliance on the National Grid to top up your supply.
There are lots of simple things you can do to cut your energy consumption without needing to make any major lifestyle changes. Ensuring you switch your household appliances and lights off whenever they’re not in use is a great place to start.
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We hope this beginner’s guide to solar panels has given you a better understanding of how they work, and what benefits you can expect from installing a solar panel system of your own. If you’re looking for more information or have any questions, check out our FAQ section below.
Solar panels in UK regions
We have compiled detailed information on solar panels, such as the average costs and savings, for different regions of the UK:
- Brighton & Hove
- West Sussex
Do I need solar panel battery storage?
There are a number of factors to consider that’ll help you determine whether or not a solar panel battery storage system is right for you. Primarily, you will need to weigh up the costs involved, and the time of day when you use most energy, since this will largely dictate how useful a storage system would be. For more information, check out our guide here – A guide to solar panel batteries.
How much do solar panels cost?
Understanding the costs involved with installing a domestic solar panel system will help you decide whether it’s a feasible option for you. In the UK, the cost of purchasing and installing a PV solar panel system will be between £4,475 and £5,200. You can find out more about the cost of solar panels here – How much do solar panels cost?
Do solar panels work on cloudy days?
As a buyer in the UK, you may have reservations about how effective solar panels will be considering the temperate and overcast conditions typically seen across the country. But it may be reassuring to know that solar panels can still generate electricity on overcast days, with the technology relying on light more than direct heat from the sun. Check out our guide for more information – Do solar panels work on cloudy days?