Benefits of Solar Power: Free Electricity from the Sun

Long summer days are the perfect time to get the most out of solar panels. And over the last 25 years the cost of installing them has dramatically reduced. As a result, solar power is the world's fastest growing energy source.

The reason for their huge popularity is that solar power is reliable, affordable, easy to install and causes no pollution.

The cost of installing solar panels has dropped dramatically in the last decade with solar power systems costing from as little as £4,000. The cost of an average solar power system including installation is around £6,000 and of course, once installed, you’ll be generating your own electricity for free.

Today, producing electricity from daylight, a truly renewable source of power, is a technology that's accessible to millions of homeowners. And, to bust a common myth, you don't need lots of sunshine to make them work!

Solar power in Britain is still very productive, especially during the long summer days when photovoltaic (PV) panels, as they are often called, could meet your entire domestic electricity demand. Any surplus is exported back into your local electricity network. In future, you will be paid a fee for each unit exported but the amount for the smart export guarantee is awaiting a Government policy decision...

What are the benefits of solar panels?

Solar panels use the power of the sun to generate clean power. The benefits of solar panels include that they are:

  1. Easy to install.
  2. Require virtually no maintenance.
  3. Powered using sunshine, which is free and will never run out.
  4. Environmentally friendly as they produce no air pollution.
  5. Generate low carbon electricity.

You can quite literally fit and forget solar panels and enjoy the advantage of lower fuel bills. There are nearly 1 million solar installations in the UK already and they are often cited as one of the most desirable smart home solutions.

Installing solar panels can save you hundreds of pounds off your electricity bill.  The really great news is that the rise in global demand has seen solar power technology improve, panel production soar, and the price of solar panels drop by 80% since 2008. So solar panels are more affordable than ever before.

The further south you live in the UK the stronger the sunlight and the more electricity your panels will produce. But solar works well almost everywhere in the UK. Here's a video from Home Energy Scotland explaining how solar panels work:

 
 
 

How do I make money from solar panels?

Solar panels generate electricity from daylight - which is free of course - and therefore cut your energy bill. Electricity is produced in your home instead of buying power from your supplier which saves you arounnd 14p/kWh.

Any clean electricity not consumed in your home is exported to the local grid for other uses.  This surplus electricity flows through a metre which measures how much clean, renewable electricity was exported from your home. You will be paid for each unit (kWh) produced but the amount is unknown as the Government have not announced the solar export guarantee level.

The more the energy you use at home, the quicker you'll make your money back. But the payback period is very dependent on how much power you use in your home: it can be as little as seven years but could take longer. For more information see our article: How Do I Make Money from Solar Power?

Solar power at a glance

The following table provides an overview of the pros and cons of solar power for your home.

Solar Power Electricity for your home
Fuel Type and Cost Sunshine so it's free
Requirements Roof area (about 5m2) exposed to the sun. South facing is optimal but east and west facing roofs also work.
Installation Cost estimate £6,000
Payback Around seven years if you use most of the power at home. Payback period will increase according to the amount of electricity exported to the grid.
Suppliers Use installers registered under the Microgeneration Certificate Scheme (MCS).
Barriers Shading from trees and other buildings reduces electricity generation.
Top Tip Put your appliances on a timer so you use them during the day for the greatest savings on your energy bill.
Hassle Factor

It takes around two days to fit the panels as scaffolding may be required.

How much do solar panels cost?

A fully installed domestic solar panel system costs around £6,000 (based on a 4kWp solar system) for a typical home. But prices could be as low as £4,000 depending on the size you require and the installation requirements (ease of access and roof design).

This is a significant up-front investment. But if you have money sitting in a bank account at a low interest rate then this is something good to do for climate change and it could help improve the value of your home as the Energy Performance Certificate will reflect this.  At the very least, you will see a reduction in your utility bills.

If your home is empty for much of the day, the payback period will be longer. Your installer will be able to calculate the potential savings depending on your specific circumstances. But if you spend a fair amount of the day at home - for example, if you work from home - you're likely to make your money back much quicker and see real benefits from the start.

What's more, of course, you're doing something amazing with your money to help protect the planet.

Is my house suitable for solar panels?

Solar panels on house and garage roofsTo install solar panels, you must have a roof or other structure that meets three key criteria:

  1. No big trees or other buildings which block the sunlight on your roof for most of the day.
  2. Ideally predominantly south facing. To check the orientation of your roof or structure enter your postcode into Google Earth and see if your roof is more or less parallel with the bottom of the screen (the direction of south).  Many homeowners with east or west facing panels still receive good production figures, so it is always worth a discussion with an installer to clarify the potential for the exact location of your home.
  3. Not a listed building or in a conservation area, although it is still possible to fit panels is some cases, especially if the panels cannot be seen from the street.

Planning permission is generally not required as solar panels are classed as a 'permitted development'. However, it's always worth checking with your local council planning office, particularly if your house is a listed building or you if you live in a conservation area.

Solar panels, sandcastles and space

Solar panels are amazing. They are made from silicon, which is the second most common element on earth - or sand to you and me! They were first used by NASA to convert sunlight into electricity to power satellites in space over sixty years ago. Solar panels are a well established, affordable and reliable technology. They really are the future of power generation.

Birds flying over sandy beach

 

How do I get my solar panels installed?

Installing solar panels is relatively straight forward. Speak to any contacts with experience for firsthand advice however, and it is advisable to use an installer that is registered under the Microgeneration Certificate Scheme (MCS).  You can find an MCS installer in your area here.

Speak to at least three installers and ask for a detailed written quote on the scope of work and ask to see their references.

Check whether scaffolding will be required. If so, it may be worth scheduling other house maintenance or even adding a solar thermal system at the same time as the installation.

Solar PV installers can design, install and maintain a solar PV system. As there are no moving parts, there is very little that can go wrong and typically, maintenance involves an annual check. Over the lifetime of the system, the inverter is the only component that might need replacing. Both the inverter and the panels should be covered by an installer's warranty. Be sure to check the duration and details and if possible extend the warranty on the inverter to cover potential replacement costs. 

How do solar panels work?

Solar panels convert daylight into electricity. The energy from the sun excites the electrons in the solar cells and produces an electric charge. An inverter converts the power from a direct current to an alternating current, so it can be used on domestic appliances. This green electricity then flows through the electric wiring in your home to power gadgets, white goods and the lights in your home.

Solar PV panels are mounted on metal frames that are connected to an existing roof.  They can also be integrated into a new roof. The most cost effective and efficient PV panels come in black or blue. Tile photovoltaics are available however they are more expensive and, at present, not as efficient.

You can find more information here.

Where can I buy solar panels?

Now that you know the amazing benefits of installing solar panels, you're going to want to know where to buy some.

To find a solar panel installer near you look up the MCS website.

In addition to MCS, installers may also be registered with other trade bodies or websites. These include the Renewable Energy Consumer Code, Which?, the Solar Trade Association or You Gen. These sites are a handy resource for finding solar panel installers and other renewable energy suppliers and viewing recommendations from previous customers.

Disclaimer

This information is provided for guidance only. Please see the full disclaimer in our terms and conditions.

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