The crisis in energy bills has caused a large increase in demand for solar panels.
Just over 3,000 solar installations are taking place every week, according to trade association Solar Energy UK, up from 1,000 a week in July 2020.
One provider said this month that it has seen inquiries about solar panels increase tenfold.
“More solar panels are being installed on UK roofs than ever before,” said Chris Hewett, chief executive of Solar Energy UK.
The fact that renewable energy sources help protect the planet has always made it an attractive choice.
How they work is simple: the panels absorb sunlight through photovoltaic cells that convert it into electricity that can flow through your home or into a battery.
The process significantly reduces the amount of electricity you will need from the grid.
People who have successfully installed solar panels report saving hundreds of pounds on their electricity bills.
But they’re not the answer for everyone, as installing them means an initial investment of thousands of pounds and you’ll need the right kind of property.
Rising energy prices, however, have reduced the time it takes to recoup your initial cost.
A decade ago, a typical solar panel system cost around £20,000 and it would take around a decade to recoup those installation costs.
But prices for solar panel systems have fallen by more than 60% since then, meaning it takes between four and five years for a system to pay for itself.
The price includes installation and the number of panels will depend on the space you have on the roof. A typical 20 square meter roof could hold 12 panels.
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors suggests a typical solar panel system costs between £9,000 and £11,700, while Solar Energy UK lists the cost of a ‘typical’ 3.1kWp system for a three-bed house as £3,925.
What you end up paying will depend on the size of the system, the type of panel you choose, the quality of the components, the accessibility and state of repair of your roof, and the individual installer, says the Which?
What types of properties are suitable?
Not everyone will have a home that can benefit from solar, especially if you have a north-facing property or your home is heavily shaded.
“Solar panels are ideal for homes with south, east or west facing roofs, preferably without shading,” says Mandip Bhamra, head of renewable energy at SaveMoneyCutCarbon.
“Depending on how old your home is, you may want to check that your roof is structurally sound before putting solar panels on it,” says Brian Davenport, owner of The Solar Center.
He says most installers will have access to a structural engineer to calculate wind loads in case a roof shows signs of distress.
“There should also be a small space available in your attic for the inverter, about the size of a microwave oven,” he adds.
If you live in an apartment, you should discuss installing solar panels with other residents and the freeholder.
“For an apartment building, most roofs should be fine, and with some apartments where there is excess land, they can be placed on the ground as well,” says Mandip Bhamra.
How Much Could Solar Power Help Lower Your Bills?
The amount of electricity produced by solar panels depends on the type and size of the system and the home.
A report for Solar Energy UK suggests that a typical home could reduce electricity bills by more than £300 a year. Households with electric heating could be £900 a year better off, the report said, although most UK households remain on gas central heating.
If energy bills rise as predicted this winter, then the value of electricity generated through solar panels could almost double, says Kevin Holland, managing director of The Solar Shed, a Norfolk-based renewable energy business .
He says a typical solar panel system could produce £1,200 worth of electricity in a year at current prices.
If energy bills rise by 80% in October plus a further 50% in January, as predicted, then the value of the electricity produced by a typical system could rise to around £3,240.
Also, if you don’t actually use all the electricity you produce, you can sell that excess to an energy company.
“Solar panels help me save £80 a month”
Colin Froude installed solar panels on his detached house in Salisbury, Wiltshire, 11 years ago.
“I’ve never regretted it. It paid for itself in about seven or eight years and now my energy bills are just £67 a month, a saving of up to £80 a month,” says Colin, who was previously. Royal Air Force but now retired.
“Paying it by direct debit means I’ve built up £330 of credit over the last few months, so even when the bills go up in October, I won’t be increasing my direct debit as that credit will see me through the new year.”
He spent £18,000 installing 19 solar panels on his home in 2011 and says it has since produced £21,000 worth of electricity, around 400kw.
He spent another £12,000 installing a battery, new transformer and optimisers fitted to each panel a year ago, but says performance has improved enormously.
“I did it to protect the house as protection against power outages, but it pays for itself quickly.”
He cooks with electricity and says the solar panels produce all the hot water the household needs, so in the summer months when the heating is off, he pays nothing for gas.
“Given the rising cost of energy, I would recommend solar panels to anyone,” he says.
What else should you keep in mind?
It’s a big investment, so there are a lot of things to consider.
“Well-chosen solar panel systems can provide a reliable source of renewable electricity for decades, helping to reduce your carbon footprint, but buying the wrong system could leave you out of pocket,” says Who?
In other words, it’s important to do thorough research and get a variety of quotes.
It’s also worth considering that no matter how much you splurge, it may not add equal value to your home. Aging, unattractive old solar panels could well turn off some potential buyers.
“As long as you can’t see them, solar panels are a great idea,” says Charlie Wells, managing director of estate agency Prime Purchase.
“Estate agents are unlikely to offer a higher valuation if a property already has solar panels installed,” says Brian Davenport.
But some buyers will be attracted by renewable energy and the chance to save cash on their energy bills, says Kevin Holland.
“If there are two houses on the road for sale, one has no solar and £4,000, the other has solar and a £1,500 bill, which do you buy?” He says.