The ultimate guide to solar panels

What are solar panels? 

Solar panels can be an excellent addition to your home, cutting your bills and providing you with extra income for producing electricity. However, the cost of installation can be off-putting for many households. So, are solar panels worth it? Find out everything you need to know about installing solar panels in the UK with our comprehensive guide.  

Solar panels, also known as PV panels, are systems that convert the energy from the sun into electricity. By harvesting this free energy, you can save money on your energy bills. They are made from a thin layer of semi-conducting material which is placed between sheets of polymer resin and glass. Then, after exposure to sunlight, the semi-conducting material will become energised, producing electricity. 

What are the different types of solar panels? 

There are four main types of solar panels in the UK, all of which differ in terms of price and efficiency:

  • Monocrystalline – Monocrystalline solar panels use very pure silicon, which makes them one of the most efficient types of panel. 

  • Polycrystalline – Featuring a distinctive blue look, polycrystalline solar panels are cheaper and less efficient than monocrystalline panels. 

  • Hybrid – Combining crystalline cells with thin film cells, hybrid solar panels are very efficient, but slightly more expensive. 

  • Thin film – This is the cheapest type of solar panel. It’s the least efficient, and while flexible, it’s rarely used in residential housing. 

How do solar panels work? 

Solar energy is energy that is sourced from the sun. Solar panels have numerous elements, including the panel of solar cells, a generation meter, and an inverter. The solar cells have two layers. The top layer has been treated so that it has too many atoms, while the bottom layer has too few. This is crucial to the process of generating electricity. 

When light hits the top layer of the panel, the electrons will begin moving to the bottom layer. As they move together in the same direction, electricity is generated. Because the electricity generated by solar panels is direct current (DC), while the electricity used in buildings is alternating current (AC), solar energy must be run through an inverter before it can be used to power buildings. 

What are the advantages of solar panels?

There are several advantages associated with solar panels, including: 

  • Cutting your carbon footprint – Because solar electricity doesn’t release CO2, solar panels are a great way of reducing your carbon footprint. 

  • Off-grid availability – If you’re living in a remote area, solar panels can generate energy purely through access to sunlight, making them a flexible, accessible way to generate energy. 

  • Energy that pays for itself – Once you’ve paid to have the panels put up, you don’t need to pay anything for your solar energy. 

  • Access to renewable energy – You’re not going to run out of solar energy, so after installation, you’ve got access to a great source of sustainable, renewable energy. 

  • Minimal maintenance – While you may need to clean your solar panels a few times a year and occasionally replace parts, solar panels do not require very much maintenance and tend to be very durable, lasting 25-30 years. 

What are the drawbacks of solar panels? 

However, there are also a couple of disadvantages associated with solar panels, including: 

  • Cost of installation – The cost of having solar panels installed in the first place can be off-putting. It’s usually thousands of pounds, so if you can’t afford to pay, you may not be able to access solar energy. 

  • Suitability of your property – You will need a roof that’s large enough to accommodate the panels you need to produce enough power. In addition, your home should ideally be south-facing. 

  • Relying on the weather – While solar panels will still generate energy on cloudy days, the weather can influence their efficiency. If you sign up to a standard energy plan, your energy will be the same regardless of whether it’s rainy or sunny outside. 

How can I get UK solar panels fitted? 

If you want to have solar panels installed, there are several different steps you will need to take: 

  1. Consider whether your home is a good fit for solar panels – Unless you have enough room on your roof to generate enough energy to power your home, it is unlikely that solar panels will be the best choice. You can still install them to generate a smaller amount of energy, but this won’t be enough to cover all your energy costs. You should also factor into your decision that a south-facing roof is best for generating solar energy. 

  2. Check to see if planning permission is required – Next, you’ll need to contact your local council to see whether planning permission is necessary for installing solar panels. If your solar panels are below a certain size, you live in a listed building, or you live in a conservation area or World Heritage site, it’s unlikely that you’ll need to get planning permission. 

  3. Find a solar panel installation company – Once you’ve got everything set up and you’re sure that your home is a good fit for solar panels, it’s time to find someone who can handle the installation process. After finding a company in your local area, request a site visit along with a technical survey. You can also ask them for the addresses of other installations in your local area so that you can see examples of previous work. Ideally, you should opt for an installer who is Microgeneration Certification Scheme-certified (check this out on the MCS website).

Of course, if you’re installing DIY solar panels in the UK, then you’ll need to do the installation yourself. DIY solar panel kits should contain the information you need to carry out the installation, while there are also plenty of guides on the internet that you can follow. 

What is the Feed-in Tariff? 

The Feed-in Tariffs (FIT) scheme is a programme designed to promote renewable and low-carbon energy generation. Essentially, it’s a payment you will receive from the government for generating your own electricity. However, it’s important to note that the scheme has not accepted new applicants since 31 March 2019, so if you’re not already on a Feed-in tariff, then you won’t be able to take advantage. 

How much do solar panels cost? 

So, how much do solar panels cost? Well, that depends upon the size and type of solar panel that you have installed. A 4kWp solar panel system will cost around £5,000-£8,000 to install. However, there are also DIY solar panels in the UK that can lower your installation costs. These DIY kits can cost between £600 and £4,500, giving you everything you need to complete the installation on your own. 

So, do solar panels save money? A standard 4kWp solar panel system can generate around 3,800 kWh of electricity per year. This will save you hundreds of pounds per year, and within a decade, you can expect to have offset the initial installation cost. From then on, your solar panels will start making you a profit. 

It’s also worth remembering that solar panels in the UK can add value to your home by making it more appealing to prospective buyers. Plus, solar panels may raise your home’s energy efficiency rating, which is often a significant advantage for people who are looking to sell their home. 

Are solar panels worth it? 

Ultimately, solar panels can be an excellent investment if you’re able to pay the hefty up-front costs of installation. After a few years, the initial investment will be paid off and you can make a profit from your solar panels. Plus, by adding value to your home, you can see additional returns from your solar panels in other areas. But it’s not all about cost. Solar panels are an excellent source of renewable energy that will help you cut your carbon footprint quickly and effectively. 

Bjorn GriffithDec 9th 2019