Solar panels can cut your energy bills, and pay you for producing electricity, which makes them an appealing option if your energy costs are going up. But before paying thousands to install solar panels, consider whether your property is suitable, and whether they'll really cut your bills.
How solar panels work
Solar panels harness the sun's energy through photovoltaic cells. The cells convert sunlight into electricity. You don't need direct sunlight for the panels to work, as they still generate some power on an overcast day.
- Cut your carbon footprint - the panels are environmentally friendly, as solar electricity doesn't release harmful carbon dioxide (CO2) and other pollutants into the atmosphere.
- Renewable and sustainable - you can't run out of this type of power.
- Cut energy costs - sunlight doesn't cost a penny, once you've paid for the panels to be installed.
- Financial support - solar panels are eligible for Feed-in Tariffs. You earn money for each kWh of electricity you generate, and you get an additional payment for the electricity you export back into the grid.
- The initial cost - this can be expensive, at thousands of pounds, unless you're eligible for financial help towards the cost.
- Dependent on weather - solar panels still produce power on a cloudy day, but the weather may influence how well they work.
- Your property might not be suitable - you need a roof that's big enough to fit the panels, and produce enough power. Ideally, your home should also be south-facing. Listed buildings are unlikely to be allowed to install solar panels.
- Effort - there is a big initial outlay, and building work is required. This will put many people off, when energy is available simply from a range of suppliers.
Call your local Energy Saving Trust Advice Centre on 0800 512 012 for more information on solar panels.
The cost of solar panels
The average 4kWp solar panel system costs around £5,000-£8,000 to install, according to the Energy Saving Trust.
This can generate around 3,800 kWh of electricity a year, and save around two tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. However, costs vary widely between installers - so get several quotes.
Before spending thousands installing a system, make sure it's worthwhile. Check if other energy saving measures could save more, such as switching suppliers, loft or wall insulation.
Your home must reach band D or higher in the Energy Performance Certificate to be eligible for the highest rate of Feed-in Tariff.
If you're unable to install solar panels or you decide against it, cut energy costs by comparing tariffs and switching to a cheaper deal. Make sure you're on the most competitive tariff, particularly given the rising cost of energy.
Fitting solar panels
Tell your buildings insurer: The panels will form part of your home's structure. This means your insurance could get more expensive, if your insurer decides you need a higher level of cover, particularly if the house needs rebuilding and the panels need replacing.
Consider separate insurance: Your home insurance won't guard against any mechanical fault in the panels. If they stop working, check if they're under warranty. You may need to insure them separately.
Check the provider: Look out for the REAL Assurance and Microgeneration Certification Schemes (MCS), ensuring you can trust the company. The MCS mark shows that the installer offers high-quality products, while the REAL Assurance Scheme is a consumer code that offers protection.