A guide to solar power

A guide to solar power

Solar power offers a way to save on your energy bills and help minimise your impact on the environment – so it’s no surprise that home solar panels are becoming more and more popular. What are they all about, and could you get some? Read on to find out…

Mubina Pirmohamed From the Energy team
minute read

What are solar panels?

There are two main types of solar power – so there are two types of solar panels. They look similar, but are very different.

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

Why would you want solar panels?

There are a few great things about solar power.

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

How much do solar panels cost?

The usual type of domestic electricity-generating system, 4kWp (kilowatt peak) PV panels, will cost between £5,000 and £8,000.

Solar thermal panels are cheaper at between £4,000 and £5,000.
While the initial outlay is high, it’s worth considering the long-term and environmental benefits too.

How much do solar panels cost?

How much can you make from solar panels?

While some people make money on their PV panels, it's not guaranteed, and it will take a few years to recoup the purchase and installation costs. But as well as saving on your bills you are reducing your carbon footprint by using solar power instead of fossil fuels.

According to the Energy Saving Trust, a typical home solar power system can generate around 4,200 kilowatt hours of electricity a year in the south of England – roughly how much a typical household needs. 

In Scotland the same system can generate about 80% as much. But no matter where you live you will probably have to rely on the grid at times in winter or at night, so saving your entire energy bill is unlikely.

Solar panels can generate an income too, in two different ways.

  • You can sell your excess electricity from solar power back to the grid.
  • You also get paid some money from the Government for the electricity you generate even if you use it yourself – this is called a Feed-In Tariff.

For 2018 you could expect to earn £200-250 over the year, though this will change over time. The direction your panels are facing can make a difference to what you can earn too. In the UK, north-facing panels will produce the least and may present challenges to homeowners trying to go solar. 

Make sure you research current Feed-In Tariffs (FIT) when you’re looking into getting a system. To get Feed-in Tariffs  at the standard rate for solar PV, your property needs to have an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) of band D or better – A being highly efficient. If your property is in band E or lower when you apply, you will get the FIT at the lower rate, even if you improve your rating subsequently. So, if you are planning to take this route, check your EPC and make any improvements necessary and get a new certificate before you apply.

How to make the most out of solar panels

It’s most efficient to use your washing machine, hoover, dishwasher etc. in the daylight hours while the solar power is free.

Also, take a look at our energy saving tips so that you don’t waste any of that precious free power.

How to make the most out of solar panels

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 is supposed to be a replacement for that, ensuring you generate an income from your solar panels even if you use all the electricity you produce yourself.

You could set up your own 'panel fund' – take some energy saving steps and switch suppliers to save money. Put any money you save in your 'panel fund' and hopefully within a few years you could be harnessing your own free solar power. Compare savings accounts.

Not ready to invest yet? Compare energy providers instead to save

If now really isn’t the right time for you to install solar panels you can still consider your options and save money. Start comparing energy tariffs and see if you can find a better deal.

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