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Solar power

Solar power energy saving

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Written by  Mehdi Punjwani
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Reviewed by  Joe Minihane
5 min read
Updated: 30 Jun 2023

Find out how solar power can help save you money on your energy bills, as well as helping the environment

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?

Solar panels use separate photovoltaic cells to convert light from the sun into direct current electricity. Each photovoltaic cell can produce between one and two watts of power, but linked together, they can produce far more.

The electricity they produce flows into a meter in your home and then on to the consumer unit, from where it powers everything in your home.

Each cell is protected by a glass or plastic covering so that they can withstand being outside for years.

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.

Are solar panels right for me?

There are numerous factors to consider when working out if solar panels are right for you.

Have you got enough space? If your roof is small, you may not have enough space to produce enough electricity to power your entire home. Check directly with installers to ensure you get the correct system.

Can your roof take the weight? Solar panels are heavy, so before you have them installed, make sure proper checks are carried out to ensure that your roof can handle their weight.

Which way does your home face and are there any obstacles? If your roof is south-facing, then you’ll get more direct sunlight and be able to produce more energy. If there are obstacles, like trees, that can impede sunlight, consider positioning the panels elsewhere.

Is the angle right? If you have a roof between 30º and 45º then you should be ok to have solar panels. If not, special brackets can tilt the panels so that you get the greatest benefit.

Who are the best energy suppliers for solar panels?

If you have a solar panel setup, chances are you may not have the capacity to store enough, meaning you can sell it back to the National Grid. This takes place under a scheme called the Solar Energy Guarantee (SEG), although the prices suppliers pay for your energy are 50% or less than what consumers pay for electricity when it’s supplied in the usual manner.

You may only be able to sign up to some SEG deals if your consumer energy comes from the same supplier. This is true of Octopus Energy, which has the best rate for buying energy from solar panels, up to 15p per kWh depending on wholesale prices. British Gas, Ecotricity and EDF all offer prices around 6p, while Utility Warehouse only offers 1p per kWh. (Prices correct at the time of writing)

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.

Can I switch energy suppliers if I have solar panels?

Solar panels don’t prevent you from switching energy suppliers. You can do so as normal, but do extra research to find out which suppliers pay the best SEG rates for buying back the electricity that you generate but do not use.

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.

You may also be able cut your costs by switching supplier. Run an energy price comparison with MoneySuperMarket now to find out. 

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.

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