If the UK has a gloomy, cold and wet climate, why do we rank fourth in Europe for installation of solar photovoltaic systems? Also, why does the UK install photovoltaic (PV) panels faster than any other European country? It’s simply this, clouds and wind don’t make any difference to the amount of electricity produced. Generally, a cool climate helps solar panels operate more efficiently. Furthermore, the popularity of solar panels reflects the cost of energy in the UK.
The panels carry an initial outlay when first installed. But afterwards, they produce electricity for the rest of their very long lives. Nowadays, PV panels cost less to build because of advances in photovoltaic technology. So, the net cost of installing solar energy is actually decreasing. And by 2030, solar will cost less than fossil fuels.
Nowadays, you can see solar energy panels on private houses, schools, churches, farms, and even traffic signs. This is due to a combination of cheap installation costs, promises of cheap energy and increased awareness of the damage done to the environment by fossil fuel.
Most solar PV panels produce 250W of power so four panels will produce 1kW. This is about enough power for one person. So, a typical three-bedroom house with a family of 2 adults and 2 children needs to produce about 3,800kWh per year. Furthermore, if you decide to have this size system you’ll spend at least £6,000 for the cost of your solar panels.
Estimating solar panel costs
The cost of your PV system mainly depends on the size of your roof and how many panels you install. The commonest roof size in the UK available for photovoltaic panels is about 21m2. Therefore, in most cases, for a typical PV system producing 3kW of power, you’ll spend between £4,000 to £6,000.
Look at the following table for information on costs for various sized systems and their estimated return.
|Roof Area (m2)||System Size (kW)||Number of Solar Panels||Estimated Cost (£)||Electricity Output per annum (kWh)||Return after First Year (£)||Profit after 20 Years (£)|
|8||1||4||1,500 to 3,000||850||185||640|
|14||2||8||3,000 to 5,000||1,700||370||3,800|
|21||3||12||5,000 to 6,000||2,550||535||5,650|
|28||4||16||6,000 to 8,000||3,800||700||6,750|
An advantage of PV panels is that you can start with a small system and install more panels as you can afford them. Higher power production increases the installation costs, but you’ll also save more in the long term. The size of your system and whether you produce more than you use determine the solar panel payback time. Also, this determines whether you sell power back to the National Grid. In a home PV system, the best way to increase electricity prices per m2 is to choose more modern and more efficient PV panels. Quality, not quantity!
Solar panel installations
Now, these costs are only an indication. So, get a detailed quotation from three professionals before you decide to buy. We’ll explain how to do this later.
Generating power isn’t just about buying the PV units, you also need an installation engineer to fit the units.
Installation costs vary, depending on the ease of roof access and whether you have a house or a bungalow. You’ll find PV installation more expensive in London and the Southeast, and cheaper in the North and West. Also, your location will determine the electricity output from your system. For example, the north of Scotland has fewer daylight hours compared with the south of England. Therefore, the difference in produced electricity can vary from 4,200 kWh in the south to 3,400 kWh in the north. Furthermore, the fall in output also increases the solar panel payback time.
Although, the initial cost of installing a solar PV system may be expensive, your ongoing electricity bills will reduce by up to 50%.
How long does it take?
We’ll get to that later. Firstly, it’s not only the installation that takes time when fitting PV panels. Before you decide on the correct installer, get quotes from three installation companies registered by the MCS (Microgeneration Certification Scheme). Next, find out from your local planning office whether you need Planning Permission (you may live in a conservation area or have a listed building) and sort out the Building Regulations for installing electrical solar panels. Finally, choose the installer you want to use.
Although researching the information and regulations can be tedious, panel installation should only take one to two days. So, if the installer tells you it’ll take longer, they’re probably overcharging you and you should look elsewhere.
Solar Panel Costs FAQ
What are the benefits of solar panels?
Your solar panels can save or earn you money by:
- The UK Government’s Renewable Heat Incentive rewards householders using renewable heating in the home.
- The Feed-In Tariff applies if you sell your excess electricity to your energy supplier.
- Finally, lower energy bills are the real advantage of installing PV solar panels. They harvest part or all of your electricity from sunlight and not from your electricity supplier.
What is the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI)?
This is a UK government scheme designed to encourage homeowners and rental landlords to use renewable energy for domestic heating. The payment helps offset the costs of installing and operating modern renewable heating installations. And, the amount of money you receive will depend on the type of renewable energy you harvest.
Can I make money with a Feed-In Tariff?
This is a method of receiving payments from your energy supplier if you generate electricity yourself. Usually, you can make money if you’ve already installed PV panels of the correct size. However, this scheme stopped accepting new applications on 31 March 2019. But, if you already have solar PV panels installed and had a Microgeneration Certification Scheme certificate issued before this date, contact your energy supplier. Remember, make sure you satisfy the eligibility requirements and you haven’t passed the cut-off date before applying.
What is MCS?
The UK government supports the MCS or Microgeneration Certification Scheme. Basically, it’s the quality assurance scheme that certifies renewable energy technologies and installers. They cover electricity and heat generation from renewable sources such as wind, water and solar. Furthermore, a fundamental requirement, MCS certification proves eligibility for any of the government subsidies and incentives. Basically, the technology used and the companies installing the equipment must be certified. So, if you need advice regarding solar technology or need help finding a reputable solar panel installer look on the Solar Trade Association (STA) website for details.
What are the solar panel maintenance costs?
Solar panels have a very long lifespan. But, you must change the inverter after 15 years. This item converts the generated direct current into alternating current. At present-day prices, you’ll spend between £800 and £1,000 for this service.
Although the UK has plenty of rain to clean dirt and dust from the PV panel surface, there’s still the problem of bird droppings to deal with. So, try to have the panels cleaned regularly (get this done annually, or more frequently if you have birds perching over your panels). You can clean them yourself if you’re ok with heights. Alternatively, hire a company to clean them for you. Usually, to have a typical roof-mounted 3 to 4 kWp solar PV system cleaned professionally will set you back about £100.
Solar panels don’t break easily and have no moving parts so usually won’t require replacing. However, there’s always a chance that something might go wrong. Falling trees and extreme weather sometimes damage PV panels. If this happens, never repair a panel yourself, always hire a professional. Repairs for small breakages cost about £80 to £100 while large repairs will set you back by anything up to £1,500, depending on the problem.
What are the alternatives to Solar panel?
There are alternatives for saving money on household energy bills.
Fitting at least 270mm of loft insulation prevents heat loss through the roof.
Pump cavity wall insulation into the cavity to decrease the heat loss there.
Install double or triple glazed external doors and windows.
Finally, draughtproof all openings to reduce heat loss.
And, if you install a conservatory or enclosed porch, you’ll circulate sun-heated air through the house all day.
Even fitting thick carpets and curtains throughout the house will help keep the place warm.
What questions should you ask before hiring an expert?
Solar panel experts come in all shapes and sizes and some are better than others. However, all reputable installation companies fit solar panels according to specified requirements. So, always ask a few questions to ensure you’re getting the best installer available.
Is the Solar PV installer MCS certified?
If they are then they’re qualified to do the work and you have cover under the MCS scheme if their work proves substandard.
Is a structural report included in the quotation?
Before the installer fits panels to your roof, find out if your roof is strong enough to support them. Usually, you’ll need a qualified ISE structural engineer to inspect and calculate the strength. He will base the calculations on the size of your roof, the existing weight of the roof covering, rafter size and spacing, prevailing winds in your area and many more factors.
Will the roof need strengthening?
Once you have a structural report, the installer knows whether the roof needs strengthening or not. Extra strengthening can cost anything from £200 to £600.
How will the panels fix to the roof?
PV panels must have ventilation space behind the panel so they’re fitted using brackets. Some brackets (Click Fit) fix to the tile battens. Although, these are good enough in Europe, They’re no use for Britain. In the UK, you should use something a lot stronger and with better fixings. A typical example of this is the K2 solar mounting system which fits to the rafters.
What warranties are on offer?
All reputable solar technologies have warranties in place to guard against faulty manufacture. Also, you can extend the warranty period by paying an additional premium.
Are any extras added to the price?
Make sure you have everything you need on your list. Why not use a monitoring system? They’re useful and tell you, amongst other things, how much electricity you’ve produced. Also, check whether the quoted price includes VAT.
Always do your homework and ask an independent expert for advice. Read the small print. If you don’t understand something, ask questions. Furthermore, take your time when deciding. And, don’t let anyone force you to sign by ‘special money off discounts if you sign now’.
Finding Solar Panel Installers Near You
Solar power is the future and with advances in technology, the cost of solar panels for your home will only get cheaper. At present, installation can be somewhat expensive. But, if you look at it over the long term you’ll benefit from reductions in your electricity bill and may even make some money too.
To request an estimate from reputable installers, fill in the form on our website and see for yourself how much things cost. Also, you’ll use a reputable and professional installer who knows what they are doing.