Solar Panels – Costs, Benefits & Savings

roof full of solar panels

Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels are the most popular type of renewable technology and a cost-effective solution for households who want cheaper energy bills. Factor in too the financial incentives of the Feed-in Tariff, which pays you money for generating solar electricity, and there’s never been a better reason to turn your back on fossil fuels.

How do solar panels work?

Solar panels collect solar radiation from the sun and convert that energy into electricity.

Solar panels are usually fitted onto your roof where they will be exposed to as much sunlight as possible*. The panels include a grid-like pattern of photovoltaic cells which are like semiconductors, absorbing and converting the sunlight into usable energy for your home. Any surplus energy that you don’t use can either be stored in a solar battery for use later or sent to the National Grid. For every unit of energy you generate or send back to the National Grid you could receive a FiT (Feed-in Tariff) payment from the government.

A common misconception is that solar panels need lots of direct sunlight in order to work. In reality, while solar panels are obviously more effective on sunny days, they will also produce energy on cloudy days and during winter.

*It is also possible to install ground based solar panels in your garden as an alternative to roof based solar. For example, Heliomotion solar panels are mounted on a column; the system uses GPS to track and turn with the sun as it moves during the day, maximising energy generation.

Types of solar panels

Solar PV

Solar panels are large frames which are typically installed on your roof; they produce electricity for your home using energy from the sun. The most common types of solar panel are monocrystalline or polycrystalline, but you can also find thin film solar panels.

  • Monocrystalline are made from single silicon crystals. They are usually black in colour and tend to be the most energy efficient type of solar PV panel.
  • Polycrystalline panels use a combination of different silicon crystals melted together and have a blue appearance.
  • Thin film solar panels are relatively new to the market and include a very thin layer of amorphous silicon which makes the panels thinner, more flexible and more effective in low light. They are usually cheaper than crystalline panels but not as efficient or widely tested.
  • Solar PV Tiles As an alternative to fitting solar panels on top of your existing roof, it’s now possible to install solar PV tiles. They use the same technology as traditional solar panels, but are designed to blend in with your home’s architecture as part of the roof.

Choosing the right type of solar PV panels for your home is not something you should tackle without professional advice. We recommend that you compare the advice and quotes from 3 different MCS approved installers in order to find the best solution at the right price.


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Solar Thermal

Solar thermal panels are similar to solar PV panels, but rather than producing electricity for your home they use the sun’s energy to heat your water.

Benefits of solar panels

roof full of solar panels

Save money on energy bills

By generating your own free energy you will need to buy less from your energy supplier and save money. The more of your own energy you can produce the less you will have to worry about rising energy prices. Many homes manage to reduce their electricity spend by as much as 40-50%.

Earn Money Through the Feed-in Tariff (FiT)

Provided your solar installation meets the criteria and has been installed by an MCS accredited installer, you will be entitled to receive payments from the government for every kWh of energy you generate and send back to the National Grid. You’ll receive payments on a quarterly basis but the length of time you’ll receive them for depends on the technology in your system. The tariff is recalculated annually in line with the RPI (Retail Price Index).

Save Even More with a Solar Battery

Solar batteries enable you to store the free energy you’ve generated, rather than sending it back to the National Grid. This means you can use the energy even when the sun isn’t shining and buy even less from your supplier.

Lower Carbon Emissions

Using energy from the sun doesn’t produce carbon emissions so causes no harm to the environment. And, as well as being free, solar energy is renewable i.e. it won’t run out.

Cheaper than Ever to Install

Advancements in solar technology, increased demand and a more crowded marketplace mean that the price of solar panel installation has fallen considerably; it’s almost 50% cheaper to install a solar system today than it was 8 years ago.

Increased Property Value

There is an argument that solar panels are an attractive feature to potential home buyers as they offer reduced energy bills.

Energy All Year Round

Solar panels will still produce energy even during the winter and on cloudy days, although they are obviously most effective during the summer.

Low Maintenance

Aside from ensuring your solar panels are clean and unobstructed by trees or debris, you don’t need to carry out any other maintenance.

Considerations for solar panels

Significant Investment

While the price of solar installation has fallen, the cost of buying and installing a system isn’t cheap. However, it’s important to remember that you may be able to recoup at least some of your initial costs over time through energy bill savings and money earned through FiT payments.

Unpredictable Energy Supply

The varied nature of British weather means it’s difficult to predict how much sunlight we will have and therefore how much energy the panels will generate.

Solar Panel Placement

Solar panels don’t necessarily need direct sunlight in order to work, but they do need to be installed professionally, in the optimum location and at the correct angle to the sun. If your roof is overshadowed by trees or other buildings this will reduce the effectiveness of the panels. In some cases solar panels can be installed on the ground.

How much do solar panels cost?

How much does solar panels cost

Solar panel systems can be installed for as little as £2,000 with the largest systems costing up to £9,000. However, the price will be impacted by several factors including the size and type of panels used and the complexity of the installation.

The average home with 3 or more people needs a 3kWh system which is approximately 12 panels. At a typical cost of £400 – £500 per panel, this totals £5,000 – £6,000. Most homes will have 12 or 16 panels in their system to meet their energy needs.

The cost of installing a solar PV system has dropped considerably in recent years and there are more manufacturers than ever offering competitive prices. When you consider that your system should last for as long as 25 years, it’s a great long term investment.

Here are some of the leading manufacturers of solar PV panels:

Tesla Solar Find out more
Solarcentury Find out more
Sanyo Find out more
Sharp Find out more
Hanwha Find out more
JinkoSolar Find out more
Ikea Solar Find out more
Yingli Find out more
Trina Solar Find out more
Canadian Solar Find out more
Heliomotion (Ground based GPS tracking solar) Find out more

Ongoing Costs to Consider

Generally there are no running costs with solar panels, but you will need to have them cleaned once or twice a year.

Your solar PV system will include an inverter which is the technology that converts the solar energy, a direct current (DC), into an alternating current (AC) which can be used in your home. The inverter is usually covered by a warranty of 5-10 years so you will probably have to replace this at some point during the life of your system. You may also want to check with your home insurance provider as installing solar panels could increase your premiums.

Can I make savings with solar panels?

charging electric car

Installing solar panels is a great way to both make savings and earn money.

Electricity savings

Energy prices rise every year; by generating your own free energy you will need to buy less from your supplier and could save significantly on your bills.

Feed-in Tariff

Solar installations which are eligible for the government’s Feed-in Tariff will receive payments for every kWh of energy they generate and send to the National Grid. Payments for energy generated are known as the Generation Tariff while the energy for the Grid is called the Export Tariff. The payments are made to you on a quarterly basis.

Pairing with a solar battery

When your system generates more energy than you’re using it will send it back to the Grid. However, if you include a solar battery in your system, you can store this energy instead. This means you have access to free energy even when the sun isn’t shining so you can spend even less on energy bills.

Charging an electric car

You could use your free solar energy to power an electric car. Using free energy rather than petrol or diesel is not only far cheaper but also produces zero emissions. Your solar system will need to produce enough kWh to power both your home and car; we recommend that you contact a professional installer to find the right solution.


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How efficient are solar panels?

Most solar panels (in domestic installations) reach efficiency levels of 10-20%. The efficiency of solar panels will be affected if they are shaded or located / angled incorrectly. For maximum efficiency panels should be installed on a south facing roof at an angle of around 30-45 degrees. Solar panels also need cleaning once or twice a year to ensure the cells are not obstructed by dirt or debris.

What happens during solar installation?

roof full of solar panels

  1. Scaffolding may need to be set up so the installers can easily and safely access your roof.
  2. Hooks and frames will be fitted onto the roof timbers which will hold a frame in place.
  3. The solar panels will then be placed onto this frame with strong clips before electronically wiring the panels to the inverter.
  4. The inverter converts the DC input from the panels into AC output for use in your home. The output is connected to both your electrical supplier and the National Grid.
  5. Once they have completed all the relevant safety and quality checks your installer will provide you with all the documentation. Your installer should then register your system with the MicrogenerationCertification Scheme (MCS) so you can apply for the Feed-in tariff.

Finding solar panel installers in the UK

We recommend comparing quotes from at least 3 different installers to get the best price for your system. An installer should come to your home and inspect the project site in order to give you an accurate estimate of what a new solar installation is likely to cost. Once you’ve chosen an installer, they will create a plan for the installation before they begin the work.

Solar Guide can put you in touch with up to 3 MCS registered installers in your area. Complete our simple enquiry form and we’ll be in touch to provide your free, no obligation quotes.


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