Solar panels for your home: How they work, what they cost and what you could save

Solar energy is growing in popularity year on year, and it’s easy to see why - capturing free energy from the sun just makes sense!

With zero emissions, a low carbon footprint and plenty of cost savings to be had, solar panels are a smart way to power your home with renewable energy, while also gaining independence from rising energy costs.

If we can harness the power of the sun on a global scale, it’s a huge step forward in reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. 

However, as with any home improvement, there is an investment required. We take a look at some of the frequently asked questions when it comes to fitting solar panels to your home, to help you to make an informed decision.




How do solar panels work?

Solar panels work by converting the energy from sunlight into electricity, which can be used to power your home in the same way as the national grid.

As solar panels use the light from the sun (rather than heat), if it’s light enough to see then it’s light enough to generate power - so the brighter the day, the more energy your panels will be able to create. Since the UK gets over 8 hours of sunlight a day all year round, and we don’t often experience the extreme temperatures that can affect the performance of solar panels, our climate is well suited to solar power.

There are two main types of solar panel: photovoltaic (PV) panels, which generate electricity, and thermal panels, which generate heat for hot water and central heating systems.

When your solar panels generate more electricity than you use, the excess energy can be fed back into the national grid. On the flipside, when you’re using more energy than your solar panels can supply (such as overnight), you can take extra energy in from the grid, paying for it as you would through your usual energy supplier.

Is my home suitable for solar panels?

Generally, solar panels can work on most homes. However, there are a few things to consider. 

A roof space that faces south will generate the most energy; a south-west or west roof can also be suitable (though will generate less power). A sloping roof is the best place to mount solar panels, though it’s still possible on flat roofs with the help of some specialist fittings.

Ideally, your roof needs to be unshaded between 10am and 4pm, so check if trees, telegraph poles or other buildings cast a shadow on your roof during the middle part of the day.  

Your roof should be in good condition to support the panels, and it’s worth making any necessary repairs before getting solar panels fitted. 

Lastly, you’ll need a decent amount of roof space to get the most energy from your panels, with an average household system taking up around 20m2.

Solar panels do not require planning permission, as they fall under permitted development for most homes. If you have a flat roof, or you’re in a conservation area, it’s best to check with your local council before moving ahead.

How much do solar panels cost?

With more and more of us working from home and using more electricity during the daytime, solar panels are a great way to cut your bills. Rising energy prices has also made generating your own electricity a more exciting option, as the potential savings have increased.

According to Checkatrade, solar panels for the average home can cost from £5,000 to £8,000 for solar PV, and from £4,000 to £5,000 for solar thermal panels. Prices have dropped an incredible 88% since 2010, so there’s never been a cheaper time to go solar.

This solar cost calculator from The Eco Experts is great to get a free solar panel quote for your home, as is this article from Federation of Master Builders which outlines how much solar panels cost.

In the long run, solar panels don’t need much in the way of maintenance, apart from cleaning to maintain their efficiency. Most modern systems offer a 25 year warranty, so your investment should stand the test of time.

As they’re a future-proofing measure as well as a cost saver, solar panels can also increase the value of your home, as well as its attractiveness to potential buyers - something to consider if you’re thinking of selling in the future.

How much could I save on my electricity bill with solar panels?

The great news is, while the initial investment is significant, solar panels will drastically reduce your energy bills as well as protecting you from rising energy costs. 

The average household with a 3.5kW system could save up to £445 every year, according to the Energy Saving Trust. Use their clever calculator tool to work out how much you could save with solar.

As your solar panels will be generating the most electricity during the brightest hours of the day, it’s wise to run your high-wattage appliances during daylight hours wherever possible. Timers can be used on your appliances to make the most of your solar electricity supply, helping you to make the most of this free energy supply.

To save the most money on your bill, it’s also helpful to stagger the use of your appliances to use your solar electricity in the most efficient way, such as by running the washing machine and dishwasher at different times (rather than both using energy at the same time) to use the energy from your panels wherever possible.

What funding and incentives are available?

Since January 2020, the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) is a government-backed initiative which allows homeowners to get paid for renewable energy that they generate but don’t need.

Larger energy companies can offer a special tariff to customers who are able to feed their excess solar electricity back to the national grid. 

This tariff can range dramatically, so it’s worth shopping around for the best rate. The Energy Saving Trust estimates a typical household based roughly in the middle of the country could make between £80 and £110/year (based on a rate of 3.99p per kWh).

You can find out more about the Smart Export Guarantee on the OFGEM website.

Until 2027, homeowners will pay 0% VAT on energy-saving materials like solar panels, helping the average customer to save around £240 on solar panels. Some solar companies offer homeowners finance options to make switching to solar easier, and bank loans for home improvement are also an option. 

Where can I find a reliable installer?

To get the most from your investment in solar panels, it’s wise to select your installer carefully. Asking neighbours with solar panels is a great place to start, as well as checking local forums and review sites. 

If you’re based in the South West, Green Flare is an experienced installer of a range of renewable energy solutions for homes and businesses in the Bristol area. 

GreenMatch is a directory site which helps you to find quick quotes from solar system installers using one simple form.

Centre for Sustainable Energy also has a handy checklist to help you to find a good installer, as well as check that your proposed installation plan has covered all bases. 

If other people in your neighbourhood are also interested in solar panels, it's worth seeing if you can save money through a bulk buying scheme, such as Solar Together.