Is it worth it to install solar panels in your home?
The electricity that your solar panels generate is a natural source of energy that can power your home. The initial solar panel installation cost may seem high, but savings made over time may make it a worthwhile investment. You can get free electricity with solar panels, which can significantly reduce your utility bills. Deciding whether or not to invest must be taken carefully, and we recommend you get advice from a solar expert.
How much does a solar panel and installation cost?
A typical 4kWp solar panel price is £3,225, with the solar panel installation costing between £2,000 and £3,000.
|Panel Type||Number Panels 1.62m² each||Estimated Cost ex VAT|
Our costs are ballpark averages – get a local tradesperson to quote now
Solar panel installation cost calculator
Your solar panel installation cost will depend on a few factors. These are:
- The type of panels you want
- The amount of energy you want to generate
- The size and type of your property
- The direction in which your roof faces
- The quality of components you require
- Whether you want a battery or not
These factors will play a part in your total solar panel installation cost.
Solar panel electricity calculator
Whilst the upfront solar panel installation cost might seem high, these can generally pay for themselves in a few years. There are two ways you save money with solar panels.
- Savings in electricity bills: A 4kWp solar panel can save you around £90 – £240 a year in electricity bills. These savings add up, offsetting the installation cost in a few years.
- Selling unused electricity: Any solar power you generate but don’t use can be exported back to the national grid. Depending on the supplier you choose, you can earn between 1p – 5.5p per kWh.
Getting solar panel installation quotes
When you’re looking to get solar panel installation quotes, we recommend contacting at least three installers to get their prices. That will help you get the most competitive rates. And, you’ll be able to compare their rates and reviews to find the price and service that works for you.
To make it easier for you, we also offer a ‘Request a quote‘ tool. Just enter your requirements in this form, and we’ll send it to solar panel installers in your area. Then, they will send over their quotes to you, and you can pick from them. It’s that easy!
An introduction to solar panel systems
Solar panels come in two different types – Photovoltaic (PV) cells that convert sunlight into electricity and thermal panels that provide heat for hot water and space heating. In the UK, they have been installed in both forms by homeowners on their roofs since the latter part of the 20th century.
The scheme, known as the smart export guarantee (SEG), was introduced by the UK Government in January 2020 to pay households for solar energy they ‘export’. This exported electricity is the spare capacity your solar system has generated that can be sold on and used by the National Energy Grid. This allows homeowners to make actual savings on their electricity bills. All homeowners who generate solar electricity who wish to receive payment for the electricity they export back to the National Grid need to apply to an SEG Licensee (an electricity supplier which offers a SEG tariff). It is worth shopping around to get the best rates.
The SEG isn’t as generous as the previous scheme – known as the feed-in-tariff (FIT) scheme – closed to new applicants in March 2019 and paid households for every unit of electricity generated. But if you’re thinking about installing solar panels, you can still save up to £360/yr and claw back your investment in 15 years, depending on your circumstances.
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How much energy do solar panels generate?
The power rating of panels varies by size and type (see below), but typical panels have a 0.25kWp rating, meaning that they can generate 0.25kW at peak levels. Most domestic installations tend to be either 3kWp (12 panels) or 4kWp (16 panels). For context, your kettle requires 3kW. Typically, installers expect panels to generate 80% of their peak capacity. So, at their best, if all the panels were generating well for 8 hours on a sunny summer’s day, you would create a maximum of 19 or 25kWh (kWh = kilowatts x hours generated) per day. Installers also work based on around 50% of the generated electricity being unused in the home and exported to the grid depending on usage patterns.
A 3kW system would, therefore, typically produce around 2,600 kWh during a year, of which half would be used in the home and half exported (as the panels produce energy when you need it least). A 4kW system might hope to produce around 3,400kWh over a year. According to OFGEM, the typical house uses between 3,200 and 4,100kWh a year.
The typical cost of electricity in the UK is currently around 14.7p/kWh – for examples of typical bills, head over to Ofgem prices July 2021.
Is battery installation worthwhile?
A range of new lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are now available that make the promise of battery storage a practical reality. The best known of these is the Tesla Powerwall, which holds up to 14kWh (around 1.5 days’ typical generation in summer) and can output 5kW continuously and 7kW spot energy. For in-depth prices and information on suitable options, read our guide on solar battery storage.
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How do solar panels work?
Solar panels benefit from direct sunlight but still generate using daylight – not heat, meaning they can generate (smaller amounts of energy) even on cloudy winter days. As daylight hits the cells on the panels, it is converted into direct current (DC) energy. This passes through an inverter to turn it into the AC energy we use around the house. Excess unused energy could be potentially fed back to the grid.
What are the different types of solar panels available?
- Solar PV panels consist of semi-conducting silicon-based cells covered in glass. However, there are different types of solar PV panels, with the variation being the silicon itself and the kind of glass—the closer the alignment of the silicon molecules, the more efficient the panel.
- Monocrystalline solar panels are the most efficient and most expensive type, converting more energy and getting more from lower light levels with more outstanding durability. As they’re more efficient, these solar panels tend to require less space on your roof.
- Polycrystalline solar panels consist of cells where many silicone crystals are bonded together. They tend to be cheaper to produce (and are more affordable for homeowners to buy), but they also tend to be less efficient and less durable than monocrystalline cells.
- Solar tiles are a smart option for those looking for a solution to blend in with an existing slate roof. Solar tiles are the same size as the typical roof slate and can be interlocked into the existing tiles, making a seamless finish. They look great but tend to be less efficient and more expensive to buy and install than traditional solar panels. Read our cost guide on solar roof tiles cost guide to see if they could be a suitable solution.
- Types of glass: Your installer may give you a choice between the plate and strengthened glass. Plate glass is the standard (and cheaper) solution, but a strengthened glass will be less likely to be damaged and can even improve the efficiency of the silicon cells it is designed to protect.
Step by step solar panel installation guide
Solar panels are usually installed on your roof in a single day. The area to be covered by the solar panel array will be cleared of tiles and the solar panels fixed to the existing battens with aluminium brackets. Solar Panels tend to sit slightly proud of the roof, and good installers will consider potential wind loading factors (only really an issue in exposed locations). The typical steps to install your solar panels are as follows:
- Erect the scaffolding – This is essential for the safety of the installation team. It’s worth checking that the cost for installing the scaffolding is included and that there’s enough room outside your house for the scaffolding tower.
- Attach roof anchors – The roof anchors are there to hold the frame for the solar panels, and the type of anchor used will be determined by the type of roof tile fitted. The installation team will start by lifting some of the tiles on your roof and fixing the roof anchors to the rafters. The installer should have already gone into the loft during the survey to check that the rafters and the roof are suitable for installing solar panels.
- Attach the frame – The aluminium frame (or solar panel rails) attach to the anchors, which run vertically and horizontally across the roof.
Install the solar panels – The solar panels are not fitted onto the frame. The panels clamp loosely to the frame, and then they’re tightened once the installer has positioned them at their optimal angle.
- Solar panel wiring – This is where you’ll need a certified solar installation team. The panels usually come prewired from the manufacturer, but they still need to be connected to an inverter. Whilst the installation team are busy installing solar panels onto the roof, and the electrician will set up the inverter in your house (usually in the loft). The inverter converts generated electricity – direct current (DC) – into usable alternating current (AC). After that, your free electricity is ready to be used by electrical appliances in the house. You’ll need to switch off the electricity at the fuse box before this step.
- Final checks – The electrician makes the final connections to the consumer unit and typically installs the generation meter near the fusebox. Once this is completed, the electrician switches the electricity back on to test the solar installation and confirms that all the units are performing as expected.
- Receive Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) – You’ll receive your certification usually within two or three days, once the installer has registered the solar installation with MCS.
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Solar Tips by solar panel expert Richard Harvey of Greenscape Energy Ltd
When considering your options for solar panel installation, it’s always worth taking advice from a Checkatrade expert. Our solar panel expert Richard Harvey of Greenscape Energy Ltd offers some insights on what to consider before you find your solar panel installation company and start your project:
String inverters limit the output of the entire solar PV system to the performance of the worst performing panel. So a slight shadow from a chimney/tree/nearby lamp post will make a surprising amount of difference to your production over the year. This issue can be overcome with an installation where the solar panels work individually, using either power optimisers or micro-inverters. One of our colleagues has a chimney on his roof. Using the online monitoring software, we can tell that he would have produced around a third less if he had not had micro-inverters.
Batteries can still be hard to justify from a financial perspective when looking at the potential savings vs their upfront cost. Customers are better placed to spend their budget on increasing their generation potential by installing additional panels and individual panel optimisation. We would expect the price of household batteries to fall to a more justifiable level in the next year or two, and they can be added to any solar PV system at a later date.
FAQs about Solar Panel Installation
Are my home and roof suitable for solar panels?
Solar panels harvest solar energy in almost all circumstances – but maximising the benefit is all about looking at your own home’s situation. As a northern hemisphere country, the best orientation for solar panels in the UK is south-facing, so the panels can enjoy the sun as it moves through the eastern, southern and western sky during the day. Because the height of the sun in the sky changes based on the season and the panels work at maximum efficiency when angled directly at the sun, the ideal pitch of solar panels would need adjusting throughout the year – steeper in winter (as the sun is lower) and flatter in summer. Clearly, that is impractical for most people, so experts tend to agree that around 30˚ is the best compromise. Again, solar panels will generate some energy in almost all instances.
Panels vary in size, but the typical panel is 1m x 1.65m. Typical 3kWp arrays of panels (12 standard panels) will therefore need 20m2 of roof space. The amount of useable roof space varies with different houses. Still, it’s possible that if you live in a small mid-terraced home, you might only have between 15-18m2 of potential space – so factor that into your planning.
Do solar panels need cleaning/maintenance?
Solar panels work more efficiently when they are cleaner. The taller the pitch of the roof, the less likely the panels are to gather dust or bird droppings; the relatively large and regular rainfall in the UK tends to give them regular rinsing. However, if your panels regularly get bird droppings on them, you will need to clean them. The good news is that many installers offer self-cleaning solar panels, which consist of a hydrophobic coating on the glass, which stops raindrops from sticking to the surface. As they drop off, they clean the glass very effectively.
From a maintenance perspective, it’s also essential to ensure that nearby tree branches are not growing too close to the panels over the years – overhanging leafy branches will affect your panels’ output. To find out more, read our Solar Panel Maintenance Costs guide.
Will having solar panels increase my home’s value?
Generally, the answer is no. Estate agents are unlikely to offer a higher valuation if a property already has solar panels installed. The age of the solar panels, whether they’re owned by another company, and their effect on the property’s appearance could all impact a property’s value. We recommend getting advice from a local estate agent on this as they will have the best insights into the current market and trends affecting prices.
Will I need planning permission to install solar panels on my home?
The installation of solar panels is part of your Permitted Development Rights – meaning you don’t need to gain formal planning consent to install them. There are, however, exceptions to this rule, such as limiting the installation of panels to the rear of a property in a Conservation Area and prohibiting them entirely if your home is Listed. Your home might also be exempted from Permitted Development Rights under an Article 4 direction. If you have the land and intend to install stand-alone panels in your garden rather than on your home’s roof, the array can be no bigger than 9m2 and must be at least 5m from the boundary.
What are the pros and cons of solar panels?
- Fit and forget: essentially maintenance-free and very reliable
- Guaranteed income, tax-free and index-linked;
- An element of insulation from future energy rises
- Increasingly marginal financial benefits of installation;
- Don’t add much to the overall appearance of a house;
- Don’t generate energy when it’s most needed – there’s a lot of wasted energy.
How can I find a good solar panel installer?
Look for an experienced installer who has performed installations on similar local properties, hasn’t caused damage to existing roof tiles and is willing to handle everything from quotation to finished installation on your behalf. An installer should be fully qualified and certified. To find an expert, qualified solar panel installer, start your search by reading our hiring guide and then search for a local installer near you on Checkatrade.com.
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