Trying to decide if solar is worth it for you can be a little confusing, and there’s quite a bit of misinformation out there. We’ve spent hundreds of hours researching the topic, including speaking to more than 40 UK homeowners who’ve already decided to invest in solar panels, and asking them if they feel it was the right decision.
In this guide I’ve focused on the financial aspect of buying solar panels. But the benefits go beyond this, by cutting your carbon footprint, and increasing your independence from the energy industry. Different people place different value on those aspects, so it’s of course up to you to decide how much they should influence your choice of whether to invest.
Read on to help decide: are solar panels worth it for you?
In This Article:
- Make the most of your solar panel investment
- How much can you save with solar panels?
- Do solar panels increase the value of a house?
- “I know people with solar panels who say it’s a great investment…”
- Is there any grant available for solar panels?
- The Smart Export Guarantee
- How many solar panels do I need to power my house?
- How much do solar panels cost?
- How long does it take for solar panels to be paid back?
- Can I buy and install solar panels myself?
- Can solar panels eliminate electric bill?
- How do solar panels work?
- Tell me the main type of solar panel system?
- How many solar panels are needed to run a house?
- Do solar panels need planning permission?
- How green are solar panels really?
- What should I know before going solar?
Make the most of your solar panel investment
Solar panels can be a great investment, but only if you make the most of them. And to do that, the main thing is to use as much of the electricity they produce yourself.
This is because there’s two main ways to get a return on your investment in solar panels:
- Not paying for electricity from the grid: Buying from the grid is expensive and goes up frequently.
- Getting paid to send unused electricity to the grid: You get paid, but less than what you pay to the grid (currently around 5.5p / kWh).
So the more electricity you use yourself instead of buying from the grid, the higher your savings.
What You Can do to Use More of the Electricity Your Solar Panels Produce
A big factor here is the time of day that you use most of your electricity. If you work from home for example, or run air conditioning, you will already be using more electircty during daylight hours.
It’s probably a bit much to expect you to shift your life around, just to make solar panels a better investment. However there are a number of other things you can do when getting solar which help to optimise your electricity useage patterns.
Solar plus domestic battery storage
To state the obvious, the sun doesn’t shine at night. Everyone uses some electricity after sunset, but the percentage varies a lot.
If you use more energy after sunset, for example if you use an electric cooker to cook dinner, but are out most of the daytime, then it likely makes sense to invest in battery storage.
Battery storage tech has improved a lot in the last few years, and long gone are the large banks of “car battery” style lead-acid batteries. The battery technology of today is based on lithium-ion, lithium polymer, and others. These are the same kind of batteries you have in your phone, laptop, or electric car.
Adding on battery storage increases the upfront cost of your solar system, however it does mean that you’ll be “self-consuming” more power – meaning that you’ll be saving more money than if you were selling extra electricity back to the grid.
Essentially, if you use more power in the evening, it’s probably worth adding at least a small battery storage system.
Pros and Cons of Solar Panels for Your Home
The pros of solar panels:
- Reduce your carbon footprint, ensuring a better life for your grandchildren
- You’ll be more self-reliant, with the option to be totally off-grid if you want (or at least have a backup in case of power cuts)
- Your energy costs will be fixed, reducing the uncertainty of your living expenses rising faster than inflation
- Saving a significant amount of money over the lifetime of the panels
- Solar panels can work out as a better investment compared to other low-risk investments such as savings accounts or bonds
- They can increase the value of your home
The cons of solar panels:
- Significant upfront cost (although you may be able to access cheap financing)
- If you’re planning on moving soon, you may or may not see an increase in the sale price, and moving them to a new house will be expensive
- They aren’t practical if you rent your homeSome people feel they are unattractive
- They require occasional cleaning
- The cost is still falling, so if you buy now they may be cheaper in a few years (but you will have missed out on years of savings)
- Some people become obsessed with checking how much power they’re producing daily, and figuring out how to optimise their power usage – so it could end up distracting from other things.
How much can you save with solar panels?
The amount you can save with solar panels highly depends on your current energy usage. If you’re living in a tent in the garden and you just keep a small fridge running, then you’re unlikely to make big savings.
A typical UK family with a medium sized home can save between £100-£240, according to The Energy Savings Trust (a government funded non-profit dedicated to helping homeowners go green). There are other factors which can mean that you’ll save much more than that however, for example if you have an electric car.
To check how much you’re likely to save with solar, use our free solar panel cost calculator.
Do solar panels increase the value of a house?
In the USA, homes with solar panels installed sell for 4.1% more than homes without. In the UK, it’s a little less clear because there hasn’t been any comprehensive research.
Solar panels can increase your homes Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating, and MoneySupermarket have been able to show that properties with an “A” rating sell for as much as 14% more.
Of course some people find solar panels to be ugly, but modern panels look as sharp as ever (especially roof integrated panels).
However, younger buyers are more likely to value sustainability and to find solar panels attractive to look at. Ultimately it depends on the buyer.
As climate change continues to become more prominent in our culture, it’s highly likely that homes that have solar panels and are more energy efficient will rise in value further.
“I know people with solar panels who say it’s a great investment…”
The simplest way to look at the return on investment is: You’ve paid your electricity bills for the past ten years, but you don’t own anything, except for the right to continue paying more electric bills. If you had bought solar panels ten years ago, you would by now have paid for them with the electricity bill savings.
You would own them outright, and you’d ‘earn’ roughly £10,000 over the next 10-15 years of the panels. If you sell your house before then, government studies show that energy savings measures including solar frequently boost house prices by 14% in many cases.
More conservatively speaking, you should get the cost of the panels back if you move house. If you were in the market for a new home, and two similar options were available – one with it’s own built in free power plant, and one without, which would you pick?
Equivilent internal rate of return (IRR)
6-12%, including panel degradation, insurance, cleaning, maintenance, performance reduction over time.
8-12 years, quicker if you have an electric car, time of use pricing, air conditioning, work from home, or use a lot of electricity.
earnings after payback
In the region of £10,000 in savings and Smart Export Guarantee payments.Remember that all these numbers depend on your setup.
Is there any grant available for solar panels?
The Feed in Tariff is now closed to new applicants, but the good news is that because pv systems have come down a lot in cost per kWh of electricity produced, solar is actually more cost effective than it was at the begining of the Feed in Tariff scheme.
If you had installed solar panels under the Feed in Tariff by March 31 2019, you’ll still recieve tariff payments.
Renewable Heat Incentive panels currently benefit from incentives through payments. We’re unsure what this scheme will replace. Get back rebate of energy supply rates whereby they compensate you for excess generation. This payment isn’t fixed or ordered so you can shop around for best deals. The idea is to introduce a one-off payment programme as part of the Clean Heat Grant; however this is currently considered for consultations. This will be installed until March also 2022. This proposal is currently in the British Green Homes grant review but has been excluded.
The Smart Export Guarantee
Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) was introduced Jan. 1 2020. The scheme requires major energy providers to pay homes for the renewable electricity they provide to the National Grid.
Small energy suppliers such as Octopus are also joining this, allowing for a lot of healthy competition.
The way it works is that when you generate electricity, any excess power from your PV panels you send back to the grid is credited back to you via an export tariff per kWh.
This SEG tariff helps increase the amount you could save per year using solar. However, because any electricty that you buy from the National Grid is charged at a higher rate than what you get for exporting, it’s better if you can use the energy yourself.
The more PV power you generate the greater your earn. The SEG programme applies to all renewable energy up to 5MW so you don’t have to worry as much about investing in big system. Tariff rates for SEG vary depending on the supplier but they are reasonable at 4-6p/kWh. As long as you’ve come within their range the larger your system becomes, the shorter is the payback period.
How many solar panels do I need to power my house?
Most solar panel production has been estimated at 250 Watts each four hours with sufficient sunshine.
A 3kW system can serve around three residents, according to average electric consumption. The UK has a more common size 4kW that can cover 3-4 people. In case of all of your electricity and power needs a solar panel you must use solar energy at least partially instead. This would surely reduce the need of supplementary solar power, however in the long run it may not be as profitable as having more panels to power several parts or the entire house instead.
How much do solar panels cost?
Each solar panel costs £500 to £350 on average. The more sophisticated the method the more the cost will be. The number of panels required, how much battery storage (if any), and other integrations such as smart hot water systems all play a part in determining the cost. But any medium to large family home should cost around £5k, before adding battery storage.
The following table highlights the annual yearly energy / system size and estimated costs associated with it.
The tables on this table refer to systems that contain 250W panel output. Remember this number are estimates because the efficiency of photovoltaic technology will be a higher efficiency in general.
How long does it take for solar panels to be paid back?
A system costing roughly £6,000 would then take 10 to 15 years to break even. With the SEG tariff payments solar system payment cycle time is significantly shorter.
If you drive an electric car, and charge it at home, then the payback time reduces greatly.
The same is true if you already use a larger than average amount of electricity, for example if you have electric heating, an electric cooker, or run a business from home. All of these factors mean that panels could save more money per year.
Can I buy and install solar panels myself?
It may take a lot of time, but yes – you can definitely buy and install solar panels yourself. It’s not the easiest thing to do, but in this current age of technology, we have YouTube – which will show you various videos on how to install solar panels and your inverter unit.
You can save yourself a good amount of money when you do so, but you are sacrificing quite a bit.
There are a couple of drawbacks – as you may know, letting a professional handle everything is much easier than doing it yourself, and if something were to go awry, you can simply call the installer to work on your solar energy system.
There’s more damage that can be done with improperly installed solar panels that can cost you a large sum of money in the long run, which is what you’re trying not to do when you install energy-saving solar panels.
Here are a couple of reasons why you shouldn’t install solar panels on your own:
Placement of Your Panels
- You can use OpenSolar to determine the best areas of your roof to install solar panels, but there is quite a bit of planning that goes into properly placing them on your roof. This planning is made up of the size of your solar panels, the type of solar panel, and the correct tilt of the solar panels. More importantly, if you have trees or partially shaded areas on your roof – you cannot get the full effectiveness out of your own installed panels.
- If the placement of your panels isn’t 100% correct, you could be costing yourself more money in the long-run, versus working with a professional. With pro-installers, you will maximise the amount of energy your roof can absorb, leading to more savings in both the short and long run.
- Electricity is something you shouldn’t play around with – especially when you have high voltage currents. There is an enormous risk of injury when you play around with the wiring within your home, and if done improperly, you will be facing a potential fire hazard. Solar installers have certifications and building codes that they must work with, in order to ensure that the process of their installation goes smoothly.
- Your installer will also have a better understanding of the solar energy system that you had purchased, which will allow them to adapt your home’s wiring to the solar energy system with less resistance loss and with more safety.
Your Roof’s Condition
- Professional solar installers will know how to work with your roof’s current condition to get the peak performance out of your solar energy system. If your roof is in less than great condition, they would highly recommend that you get your roof fixed or upgraded before proceeding.
- If the integrity of your roof is bad, when you install solar panels on them – it may lead to more damage and more cost to you overall.
So, yes – you can install solar panels yourself, but would it really be worth it?
Can solar panels eliminate electric bill?
Solar panels can definitely eliminate your electricity bill – but there are more caveats than you would think. Solar panels can only provide you energy throughout the day, and if your panels can absorb enough energy to power your home during the daytime, they must also send back enough energy to your utility grid for you to get a credit large enough to offset the energy you use at night.
You may need to install an energy storage system to capture any energy you don’t use during the day, to be used at night. Even then, you must let your energy storage system charge to a high enough level before that is even possible.
It is possible for solar panels to eliminate an electric bill – but it takes a lot more work than just having the panels absorbing sunlight and feeding it into your home.
How do solar panels work?
In short – when photons (sunlight) hit your solar panels, electrons are removed from their atoms. The conductors within your solar panels guide the electrons through a circuit, which then generates direct current (DC) energy. With multiple panels holding multiple cells, they form a solar array which gives you a bulk amount of energy.
DC energy is then guided into your inverter unit, which then converts the DC energy into usable alternating current (AC) energy. When you have more panels, more photons can be absorbed, and more energy can be sent into your home. When choosing a solar PV system, it’s not essential to know all the details of how solar panels work.
What’s more important before installing solar panels, is to understand how the different parts of the system impact your energy bills, what the maintenance costs will be; and how smart the system is in terms of automatically deciding what to do with excess energy, working with an EV charger and or hot water system.
Tell me the main type of solar panel system?
The main type of solar panels is called monocrystalline solar panels, which are the most common type of solar panels that are being used today. Monocrystalline solar panels are produced from a single crystal of silicon and are more effective at absorbing sunlight than polycrystalline solar panels.
There are myriads of different brands, sizes, and qualities of monocrystalline solar panels, so make sure you ask us for some guidance before you purchase solar panels.
How many solar panels are needed to run a house?
Research shows that the average home size in the United Kingdom is 729 square feet. It would take roughly about 10-15 solar panels to cover the electricity cost for the home, and even then – that wouldn’t mean you’re free from an energy bill.
As for the question, it’s all about the size of your home and the amount of sunlight that hits your roof that really determines the number of solar panels needed to give your home enough energy throughout the day.
Do solar panels need planning permission?
One of the benefits of living in the United Kingdom is that solar panels do not need planning permissions for them to be installed.
The laws that were created concerning solar panels were left intentionally lenient for homeowners so that there is less red tape for those who are looking to switch to cleaner energy resources.
How green are solar panels really?
Everything that is manufactured has what’s called an ’embodied energy cost’, meaning the amount of energy that it took to produce the product. That energy can come from different sources, so it’s difficult to truly know the CO2 impact for a specific solar panel.
That said, a 2017 study found that in northern Europe, the typical ‘energy payback time’ for most solar panel installations is around two to two and a half years. Meaning that the solar panels produce enough energy in two years or so to offset the energy that was required to produce them.
There are also concerns regarding the use of certain metals in the production of solar panels. The current situation is not perfect, although it is clear that the alternative of using fossil power is much worse. Project Drawdown, a group of over 100 climate scientists, have identified residential solar panels as one of the key parts of their strategy for the world to go carbon negative.
What should I know before going solar?
There are a few things you should know before you make the switch to solar energy:
- Having solar panels does not automatically mean you are 100% freed from an energy bill. If your panels can absorb enough energy to power your home throughout the day and send it back into your utility grid for a credit, you may no longer have an energy bill.
- If your roof is in suspect condition, please make sure you have it inspected before you install solar panels. Again, this will take some time, but if your roof isn’t in great condition, you will need to have it fixed before you can install solar panels.
- You still have to maintain your solar panels. It doesn’t take much but having your solar panels cleaned on a monthly or annual basis will keep them working efficiently, actually reducing the overall cost of solar.
Conclusion: solar is still a very good investment!
In conclusion, solar is worth it, if you’re happy to invest for the medium to long term. If you’re planning on moving house soon then it’s probably better to wait rather than banking on them increasing your home’s value enough. If you’d like to check whether solar is worth it for you, and to get up to 3 competitive