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Guide to solar panels for the home

Guide to solar panels for the home

Solar power can help you do your bit for the environment, while saving you money on your energy bills. So it’s no surprise that home solar panels are becoming more and more popular. How do they work? And are they worth it? Read on to find out.

Peter Earl
From the Energy team
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Posted 10 FEBRUARY 2020

What are solar panels?

There are two main types of solar power, with two kinds of solar panels. They may look similar but they’re very different in terms of what they do.

  • Electricity-generating solar panels. Known as photovoltaics (PV), they take the energy from the sun and convert it into electricity. These are the ones that give you electricity that you can potentially sell to the grid.
  • Water-heating solar panels. Known as solar thermal systems, these use the sun to heat your water. The water flows through coils in the panels and back into your water cylinder. The panels don’t generate electricity, so it's only your household that can benefit from reduced running costs.

Why is solar power so important?

Did you know that the sun radiates more energy down to the earth’s surface in one day than the whole planet will use in a year? Imagine every home being able to tap into that energy, without the need for a power grid to make and distribute energy all over the country.

Our sun is an amazing source of renewable energy, and an ever-increasing number of UK homes are installing solar panels on their roof to take advantage of it. The Solar Trade Association aims to achieve 2 million solar homes by 2020, and you can join the energy revolution too.

What are the benefits of solar panels?

There are many benefits to solar power, including a lower electricity bill, money-making potential and reducing your carbon footprint.

  • A lower electricity bill. Depending on how much electricity you use and the size of your PV panels, you may be able to produce enough energy for your whole home. If you opt for a solar thermal system, you should also save money on heating water.
  • Money-making potential. You can sell your unused electricity back to the grid. Someone else can use it, and you’ll make some extra cash as a result.
  • A lower carbon footprint. Solar energy is renewable, so you’re powering your home without burning fossil fuel – saving the planet one bit at a time.

How much do solar panels cost?

The average three-bedroom UK home needs 3kW of energy and has 21 square meters of roof space for solar panels. So, on average, homeowners are looking at between £1,500 and £8,000 for solar panel installation and equipment.

While the initial outlay is high, it's worth considering the long-term financial and environmental benefits.

How much can you make from solar panels?

Making money from your PV panels isn’t guaranteed, and it could take a few years to recoup the purchase and installation costs. But you can certainly sleep easier knowing you’re reducing your carbon footprint.

According to the Energy Saving Trust’s Solar Energy Calculator, for an electricity bill of around £49 a month, the typical payback time would be about 20 years, and your net profit might be around £880. 

And, even though a typical solar power system could generate roughly all the energy needs of a home in the south of England – 80% in Scotland – you’ll probably have to rely on the grid in winter or at night. So it might not be possible to have entirely free energy. Even the placement of your panels can have an effect on the amount of energy produced.

Aside from saving on your bills and selling your energy back to the grid, however, there’s another way to potentially make money from solar power. You can receive a government payment – known as a Feed-in Tariff – for the electricity you generate. Even if you use all of it yourself.

It’s worth researching current Feed-in Tariffs (FIT) when you’re looking into getting a system. To get the standard FIT rate for solar PV, your property needs to have an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) of band A to D – A being the most efficient.

If your home’s in band E or lower when you apply, you’ll get a lower FIT, even if your rating subsequently goes up. So, it’s worth checking your EPC and making any improvements, before you apply.

Can I get a grant for solar panels?

Unfortunately, the government no longer offers grants to help pay for your solar panel installation. The Feed-In Tariff acts as a replacement for this.

But you could set up your own 'panel fund' by taking some energy-saving steps and switching suppliers, for a better tariff. The money you save could eventually cover the cost of installing solar panels and harnessing your own energy, for years to come.

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