Are solar panels worth it?

Take in that vitamin D. We all need a little sunlight in our life, but did you know that it can also be converted into electricity? So, if you are thinking about generating your own solar energy, you might be asking yourself how long it takes until your solar panels start to pay for themselves. Well, in this article we will answer that for you. We will cover all questions related to solar energy so that , eventually, you can generate your own energy at home.
Last updated: May 2021

We all want to lead a life that’s as eco-friendly and carbon neutral as possible. A big part of this is choosing the right energy supplier. One who has a range of energy tariffs with 100% renewable electricity from solar, wind, biomass or hydroelectricity. There are even a growing number of energy tariffs that use renewable natural gas from food and farm waste. Not only can these tariffs help the environment, they can also save you money. Nonetheless, there are many who want to be able to generate their own clean energy that’s 100% off-grid. And for these people, residential solar power in order to generate electricity is understandably appealing.

Although it requires some sizeable upfront investment, residential solar power generation is a fantastic way to power your home more sustainably without the need to rely on energy from the National Grid. In fact, if your solar panels generate more energy than your household needs, the excess can be pumped back into the national grid and paid for by your energy supplier. Feed in Tariffs and their replacements Smart Export Guarantees are the mechanisms by which your suppliers pay you for this energy.

Are solar panels worth it in the UK in 2021?

Solar panels have grown much more affordable in recent years, with costs dropping by around 70% since 2010. Nonetheless, they still represent an investment that’s not to be taken lightly. What’s more, the UK doesn’t exactly have a reputation for its long, sunny days all year-round. As such, many may wonder whether solar panels are worth the effort and expense to fit in 2021. Especially since the government no longer subsidises the cost of PV solar panel installation.
Residential Solar Power Generation

What’s more, although solar panels don’t necessarily need direct sunlight to generate energy, they are unable to generate power overnight. They’ll also generate less energy on grey and overcast days than on bright and sunny days.

While solar batteries are available to help you store the solar energy you use, they are very expensive, and not terribly efficient. As such, you may have to remain partly dependent on grid energy.

Nonetheless, while they are certainly not without their caveats, they can bring enormous benefits to your home. Residential solar panels can:

  • Allow your household to significantly reduce its carbon footprint.
  • Provide decades of cheaper energy and / or heating bills.
  • Offset the cost of the grid-energy you use via Feed in Tariffs and Smart Export Guarantees.

How do solar panels work?

Put simply:

  1. Solar panels are made up of a number of cells that absorb sunlight. There’s no point getting into the nitty-gritties of solar panel materials and cells, but it’s important to know the basics.
  2. When the sunlight hits these cells, electrons gain energy and convert the sunlight into DC (direct current) electricity.
  3. Your solar inverter will then convert DC electricity into AC electricity, which is compatible with most household appliances and devices.
  4. AC electricity will flow through your household.
  5. Any excess can then be stored or sold back to the grid through a Feed-In-Tariff.

How much electricity can I generate with solar panels?

Most residential solar panel systems on the market today have a peak capacity of between 1 kW and 4 kW. This is the maximum amount of energy that it can generate on a perfectly clear and cloudless sunny day.

However, the amount of energy that you can generate depends on the solar panel itself, its positioning, and the ambient weather conditions. The majority residential solar panels on market today rated to produce between 250 and 400 watts each per hour.

What can a 300 watt solar panel run?

To put the amount of power generated into perspective, let’s say we have a single 300 watt solar panel. What could this run? The simple answer is… most things in your home.

If a single 300 watt panel receives 8 hours of sunlight every day will produce almost 2.5 kWh every day. That’s roughly 900 kWh per year.

That’s enough to power things like:

  • Your TV
  • LED lights
  • Stereos
  • Laptops

However, when it comes to running some of the home’s more energy-hungry appliances such as washing machines, tumble dryers, stoves, hot water heaters and refrigerators, a 500 watt solar panel may be a better fit.

Different ways of generating solar energy

When we talk about solar panels, there are a wide range of different types of panel that we can install on our rooftops. Here we’ll list the different types of solar panels, their associated costs, and how long it will take for them to start generating a profit.

PV solar panels

The most common type of solar panels, Photovoltaic or PV solar panels come in a variety of wattages. In most cases, households will use several PV solar panels all joined together. This is called a solar array.

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Because there are lots of different types and models on the market, installation costs can vary greatly. Households can expect to pay anywhere between £3,000-£9,000 to install an array, depending on the size of the property, the number of panels needed, their brand and energy capacity.

You can use The Energy Saving Trust’s calculator to see how much you could save. However, savings could fall between £85 to over £200 per year for a full array. The national average for solar panels to become profitable is 8 to 9.5 years, depending on where you live.

DIY solar panels

If you’re a confident handyperson, you may be able to make substantial savings by installing your own solar panels. DIY kits are available for as little as £600, meaning that your array could start to generate a profit in less than 5 years.

Solar roof tiles

If you want to preserve the aesthetic of your exterior, solar roof tiles could be an alternative to a traditional solar array. They may also be a useful way to get around building regulations that prohibit conventional PV solar panels.

However, these are more expensive and less effective. A 3kw solar tile system costs £10,000-£12,000 to install. It can generate an estimated £7250 in savings over 25 years, meaning that it may take over 30 years for them to become profitable. However, they can add as much as 10% to the resale value of your home.

Solar water heaters

Some solar panels are designed with a specific purpose— to heat water. These solar water heaters or thermal panels are often much more cost-effective than PV panels, although they also take a little longer to become profitable as they only have one function. And they’re not terribly hard-working during cold, dark UK winters.

Solar water heaters cost £4,000-£5,000 to install and could save anywhere from £50-£120 per year, depending on how you previously heated your home.

Solar and wind hybrid systems

While the UK may not get a plethora of sunshine, it has the dubious honour of being among the windiest countries in Europe. As such, a solar and wind hybrid system combines the power generation of solar panels and wind turbines. Unlike solar panels, these can generate energy 24 hours a day with a capacity of 600 watts per hour.

Most of these systems are DIY kits that cost as little as £400-£500.

What should I know before going solar?

As we can see, solar energy can result in years of long-term savings. But residential solar power generation is not without its caveats. It is a serious investment that could take years of even decades to pay for itself. It’s important to keep your expectations realistic and do as much research as possible to ensure that you’re making the right decision.

Common considerations include…

Can I install my own solar panels?

DIY solar panel kits are affordable and readily available. However, it’s important to be honest with yourself in terms of your abilities, limits and head for heights. If something goes wrong (or Heaven forbid, you drop your panels) it could prove a very expensive mistake.

Do solar panels damage your roof?

With careful installation by a trained professional, the impact on your roof from installing solar panels should be fairly minimal. However, there’s always the possibility that damage could be done to your roof during or after installation.

It’s a good idea to get an inspection of your roof prior to fitting to make sure that your roofing materials will permit solar panels and that the structure can support the weight of the panels comfortably. When solar panels are installed, holes may need to be drilled into the roofing, creating the possibility of water ingress and heat loss. However, depending on your roof setup, your contractor may be able to install your solar panels without drilling.

Can I take my solar panels with me if I move?

Nobody’s going to stop you. However, reinstalling them on your new rooftop after you move will be very difficult. What’s more, you will not be able to take your Feed in Tariff or Smart Export Guarantee with you to your new home. This is why you should consider getting solar panels if you regard your current home as your “forever home”, or if you want to make money from the added resale value that they will generate for your property.

What is the average lifespan of a solar panel?

Solar panels are built to last, with a useful life of 25-30 years. This means that they will be profitable for most of their lifespan. What’s more, even when they have reached the end of their life cycle they are made from recyclable materials.

Are solar panels worth it?

How many solar panels are needed for a 2,000 square foot house?

Those with larger homes may wonder how large of a solar array they will need to meet all of their energy needs with solar panels. While it’s always best to consult a solar installation expert before you commit, we can roughly calculate how many solar panels would be needed to support a property of this size.

We can estimate that a 2,000 square foot house would use around 967 kWh of electricity per month. Depending on how much sunlight that property gets and whether or not it has a south-facing roof, 16 and 25 400 watt solar panels would be needed.

Powering your appliances with solar panels

You may wonder how many solar panels would be necessary to power the appliances that your household relies on every day. Below, we’ll try to estimate how many solar panels would be needed to keep your favourite appliances running.

How many solar panels for a refrigerator?

Not all fridges are created equal, and some are more energy-efficient than others. However, an average fridge freezer will typically guzzle 115 kWh in the space of a month. You can expect a solar panel to generate an average of 30 kWh in the same space of time. As such, it would take between 3 and 4 solar panels for a refrigerator, depending on the positioning and type of panel.

How many for a washer dryer?

A washer drier will typically spin its way through 63 kWh of electricity in a month. As such, 3 panels should be sufficient to power it.

How many for a TV?

Hmmm, depends on the size and components of your TV. Most TVs sold today use LEDs as opposed to LCD or plasma, making them far more energy efficient. Even a lounge-dominating 60-inch LED TV will only burn through 29 kWh, while ancillary gadgets like media players and games consoles might bump that up to around 52 kWh. 2 solar panels will usually be more than enough to cover this.

Solar panels pros and cons

Solar panels advantages

Solar energy certainly has its advantages and disadvantages. It’s been criticised for its price and inefficiency, however recently people have started to reap the benefits of solar energy. It has environmental effects, as well financial. This is because solar technology and nanotechnology has improved vastly in recent years that increases the efficiency of solar panels in creating energy.

Environmental Impact

There are so many solar energy advantages. The main benefits of solar energy are environmental. Light and heat from the sun are inexhaustible, meaning they will never run out, like coal for example. This means that solar energy is renewable and can be harnessed anywhere in the world. Of course, in areas of the world with little sun exposure, the ability to harness solar energy is more limited. However, solar panels can still convert energy when it’s cloudy. In fact, solar panels can overheat in overly warm temperatures, so the UK is the perfect climate to generate electricity through solar.

By choosing to switch to solar energy, we can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels that, when burnt, emit dangerous gasses into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change and global warming. If you want to go green, solar energy is a step in the right direction.

Economic savings

If your house is being fuelled by solar energy, this means that you are not consuming energy directly from the national grid, which can save you a lot of money. In fact, you can even be rewarded with money back if you export the energy you save back into the grid through FITs or incentives like Smart Export Guarantee. The larger your solar system, the more you can save on your bill. Pretty simple!

With solar panels, you can also rely on very low maintenance costs. Generally, solar panels do not require much upkeep beyond occasional cleaning over their 25 – 30 year lifespan. The higher quality panels you buy, the less likely you will have to pay for regular maintenance, so it’s worth finding the best option. Therefore, after the initial upfront cost of installation, solar panels are relatively cheap to maintain and very economical to run. In fact, E.ON Energy predicts that you can save up to £400 a year by powering your home with solar energy, as well as benefiting from the greater independence from the Grid, allowing you to be more efficient and aware of your energy consumption.

Disadvantages of solar energy

Despite recent technological advances in solar energy, there are still a number of drawbacks. These include the cost, the efficiency of panels, and the space needed for panels.

Cost

Purchasing solar panels is pretty expensive, as well as their maintenance. You need to buy a lot of materials aside from the panels, such as batteries and the cost of installation. However, it’s likely that as solar energy becomes more and more popular, the prices should go down. Although we can’t be certain!

Efficiency

As we’ve said, solar energy is most efficient on cloudy days, so as to avoid overheating. However, it certainly doesn’t generate the same amount of electricity. Rainy days, especially, will affect the efficiency of your solar panels. Also at night, solar energy of course cannot be generated. This means that solar energy is only efficient at very specific times, making it a less efficient energy source than other renewables.

Space

The bigger the roof you have, the more solar energy can be generated. This is an incentive to install more solar panels, however if you live in a small property, it also means that solar energy might not be very cost effective for you. You can of course install panels in your garden, on the turf, however if you also only have a small back garden, or if it is shielded from the sun, this isn’t a viable alternative. One panel is better than none, but you have to think about what is feasible for your living quarters.

How do I sell back solar energy?

A Feed-In-Tariff (FIT) is a plan introduced by the UK government in 2010, aimed at paying people back for the energy they produce but don’t use. This way, homeowners are incentivised to opt for renewable energy sources, which is both better for the environment and for their wallet.

Participating licensed energy suppliers partake in the scheme in order to encourage solar energy amongst their customers. How does it work? FIT payments are made through smart meters. FIT payments are made quarterly based on the meter readings you provide to your energy supplier.

This system was replaced by Smart Export Guarantees in 2019.

Which suppliers have the best Feed in Tariffs and Smart Export Guarantees?

Residential solar power generation requires you to not only choose the right solar panels, but the right energy supplier, too!

At the time of writing, all of the following suppliers offer at least one Smart Export Guarantee tariff:

With more to come as Feed in Tariffs are slowly phased out.

Do energy suppliers also offer solar panels?

Not all energy suppliers offer solar panel installation, however lots of providers have tariffs that allow you to make the most of the energy you save by paying you back for what you don’t use. Below are some of the solar offers on the market:

E.ON Solar Panels

  • E.ON offers three different solar packages for their customers.
  • They also offer their solar customers an exclusive SEG tariff, allowing them to sell the energy they don’t use back to the grid.
  • You have the option of adding a battery system which would allow you to store excess energy.

Octopus Solar Panels

  • Octopus’ tariff ‘Outgoing Octopus’ offers you money back for every kW of energy you export into the grid.
  • You can sell your saved electricity to your neighbour, or back to the grid.

nPower Solar Panels

  • nPower’s Solar PV will install solar panels on your home to help you opt for more renewable energy.

Trawling the market to get the best Feed in Tariffs or Smart Export Guarantees can be a time-consuming and confusing affair. Fortunately, we can scour the market on your behalf finding the perfect supplier for your changing needs. We’ll even manage your switch from end-to-end to give you better rates, hassle-free.

Get in touch with us today on 0330 054 0017 to find out more. We’re available from 8.30 am to 5.30 pm.

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FAQ

Who are the main solar panel manufacturers in the UK?

There are many solar panel manufacturers in the UK, meaning that consumers have a plethora of choice. However, the most prominent include:

  • UKSOL
  • SunPower
  • LG
  • Panasonic
  • SunTech
  • Sharp

How many solar panels are needed to run a house?

It really depends on the size of the house and the capacity of the solar panels. For 250 W solar panels will generate 1,000 kWh of energy per year. Your best bet is to estimate your annual electricity usage and plan accordingly.

How often should solar panels be washed?

Solar panels are designed to be low-maintenance. As such, they only need to be washed once or twice a year to ensure that no dust or detritus has settled on the surface that could impede energy generation.

How do I choose a solar panel for my battery?

The real trick isn’t in choosing the right solar panel but the right controller.

If you’re charging batteries using solar panels, it’s important to choose the right controller to balance your solar array and your battery bank. An array of 4 250w panels will produce 1 kW. If you’re trying to charge a bank of 24v batteries you need to divide the number of watts by the number of volts (i.e. 1,000 / 24). That means you need a controller with an amperage of at least 41.67 amps. It’s also a good idea to build in a safety contingency of 1.25 amps, so you’ll need a 5.2 amp controller at the very least.

Updated on 23 Jul, 2021

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