What are solar panels?
Solar panels – also known as photovoltaic or PV panels – convert sunlight into electricity you can use in your home. Generating your own solar power gives you the opportunity to cut both your electricity bill and your carbon dioxide emissions.
How do solar panels work?
These panels work by using small photovoltaic cells nestled between layers of silicon. When daylight hits the cells, it knocks off electrons, creating a flow of electricity.
They’re usually mounted on your roof, but it might be possible to install them on the walls of your home as well.
Do solar panels work on cloudy days?
The UK is famed for its grey skies, but luckily solar panels don’t need direct sunlight to work. This is because they react to the visible light spectrum, meaning if it’s light enough to see, there’s enough light for solar panels to start generating electricity. But the stronger the sunlight, the better.
This also means that solar panels don’t work at night so when the sun sets, you’ll be relying on the National Grid. Alternatively, you could consider buying a home battery to store solar power for when you need it.
Will it affect the quality of my electricity?
No, you won’t notice any difference when using solar power. If the PV panels aren't producing enough electricity, you'll just use electricity from the Grid instead. Solar energy is unlikely to fulfil all your energy needs, but it can make a significant contribution.
What are the benefits of solar panels?
There are many benefits to using solar power, including:
- Cheaper energy: Depending on how much electricity you use and the size of your PV panels, you may be able to produce enough energy for your whole home
- Carbon cutting: With solar panels, you’re reducing your consumption of electricity from coal and gas, cutting down your carbon footprint
- Renewable and sustainable: Solar power is environmentally friendly and won’t run out
- Sell your surplus: If you have solar panels, you might be able to make extra money by selling any electricity you don’t use to your energy provider
Are there any disadvantages?
There are some cons you should consider when thinking about installing solar panels:
- The initial outlay: The initial cost can be expensive, setting you back thousands of pounds. While the installation process can also be time-consuming
- Not all houses are suitable: You’ll need a big enough roof, and one that’s not in the shade in the middle of the day. In conservation areas, you’re unlikely to get planning permission
- Location matters: Because different parts of the country get different amounts of daylight, the benefits of solar power will depend on where you live. Chances are you’ll be producing less power – and saving less on your bills – in Scotland than you would in Cornwall
How much do solar panels cost?
The cost of installing solar panels depends on the size of your roof and the kind of system you buy.
A small system can cost as little as £1,500, but in 2019 the average cost for a 4 kW system – roughly enough to power a three-bedroom home – was between £4,000 and £6,000.
The initial cost is expensive but it's worth considering the long-term financial and environmental benefits.
How much money could I save?
You can use the Energy Saving Trust’s solar energy calculator to work out how much power you can get from solar panels, and how much money you could save.
Can I get solar panels for free?
Previously, it was possible to install solar panels for free under ‘rent a roof’ schemes. This meant that an energy company would pay for solar panels to be installed on your roof, and in return the company would receive the money made through the government’s feed-in tariffs (FIT).
However, since the feed-in tariffs were abolished in 2019 these subsidies have also been scrapped – so you can no longer get free solar panels this way.
How to save on energy
Whether you’re considering investing in solar panels or not, check out our energy saving tips and do some research to see if you could save money by switching supplier.