Are solar panels right for me?

Thinking about going green? In this article we ask if solar panels are right for you.

Heating and energy

20 December 2021

With the price of gas and electricity soaring and global warming on the news every day, you have to wonder about solar panels.

According to eco experts 50% of our energy is predicted to come from wind and solar power by 2050.

Why not get a jump start now?

Believe it or not we have the sun. A report by the Met Office shows that we bathed in on average of almost 6 hours a day in 2020. There’s even a world famous eco-village called BedZED in Beddington, South London to inspire us.

Also, according to the Energy Savings Trust , prices are coming down from about £6,000 for a solar panel system to about £4,800. They’re more affordable than ever before. .

Do I have room for them?

First you have to make sure your home has enough space for solar panels:

  • You usually need a south-facing diagonal roof in good condition
  • You’ll need the right type of roof (each panel is about 2 metre square and ideally needs to be at an optimum 30 to 40 degree angle)
  • Your roof should also be unshaded between 10:00 and 16:00 (no overhanging branches)

Before you intall solar panels, you’ll want to check if you need planning permission. You can find out through the government's Planning Portal. If your property has a flat roof, is listed, or is in a conservation area you might need to get approval from your council's building control team.

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Will they work for me?

Solar power on its own is unlikely to provide all your power needs. If you want to be carbon neutral you’ll also need to invest in insulation and low power appliances as well.

But many households are installing them simply because they want to do their bit for the environment

Here’s some number crunching so you can see how it might work. These figures are based on averages so you’ll need to talk to a contractor.

  • The average 3-bed house generally needs a 3.5 kilowatt solar panel syste. According to the Energy Savings Trust (EST), that will will set you back about £4,800.
  • Most solar panels measure about 2 square metres [typical wattage is around 265W (watts) though they do go higher]
  • To calculate how much electricity one solar panel will produce in a day, you simply have to multiply its wattage by the number of sunlight hours
  • So if a 265 watt panel receives 4 hours of sunlight per day , it will produce almost 1060 watt-hours or 387 kilowatt-hours (kWh) a year
  • According to government figures the typical UK household uses 3,760 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity each year. Divide 3760 by 387 and you get just under ten. Meaning you’ll need ten panels.

Most solar panel systems include 12-16 panels just to be on the safe side. Also they’re not all 100% effective. Basically, as in all things, you get what you pay for.

Obviously you need to look at the whole thing in detail. You might have a larger home for instance, with a lot of people living under your roof, or a lot of mod cons.

Your contractor will help you work it all out.

You can also sell power back to the National Grid

Under what’s called the Smart Export Guarantee scheme (SEG), if you don’t use all the power you generate yourself, you can send it back to the national energy grid.

The Energy Savings Trust, claims that you could sell back around between £65 to £125 of electricity a year. It all depends which energy supplier you’re with.

It’s a long term investment

  • If you're at home all day you'll recoup the installation costs between 11 and 13 years on average, depending on where you live
  • If you’re serious about solar energy, you might also want to think about investing in solar batteries for better storage. They range in price from £1,200 to £6,000. For an in-depth review feel free to check out Which? here.

How to get started

  • Pick three reputable firms and get competitive quotes in writing
  • Make sure they have all the right accreditations and belong to the requisite trade associations (please see our list below)
  • Make sure your quotes are like-for-like (what seems like the cheapest quote might not be)
  • Expect the panel fitting to take one to two-days. However, the work all around it takes longer ( scaffolding, removing the existing roof, internal wiring, dealing with your energy supplier, adding a meter etc.)

Once they’re fitted you’ll need to regiser them for an MCS certificate then you’re all set.

Word to the wise

Sadly many people have learnt to their cost that it’s not a good idea to borrow from solar companies to pay for solar panels.

If you do it could be an issue when you come to sell your home, as a lien (loan agreement) will be placed on your home, and it will be very difficult for the buyer to get a mortgage.

Buying a house with fully owned solar panels is completely different. No lien. No problem.

Though things are different in Scotland where the government offers interest free loans to fund energy saving improvements in your home. You can borrow up to £15,000 but you must pay it back in 10 years. For more info please check out Home Energy Scotland.

Maintaining your panels

Solar panel systems are good for 20 or 30 years, but they do need regular maintenance:

  • Annual service – £100
  • Cleaning – a bucket of soapy water will do if you’re happy to get on the roof (if not a cleaner will charge aboutr £4-£15 a panel, depending on your roof)
  • Inverter – this will need to be replaced every 10 years at £500 – £1500 [it changes the direct current (DC) into an alternating current (AC)].
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Insuring your solar panels

At AXA your solar panel system is covered in the same way as any other part of your home under your home insurance policy.

Providing your solar panels are fixed and kept in good condition they are covered automatically under your buildings insurance. So do ensure your cover meets the rebuild value.

Solar batteries are usually kept outdoors but can be kept indoors, so if you have one it could be classed as contents, so once again please check you have the right level of cover.

If you do have a problem with your panels do contact the installer or manufacturer, so they can send out a professional technician to investigate.

Please don’t try to fix them yourself, as you could invalidate your warranty.

And keep hold of any receipts and warranties. If thieves do decide to get up on your roof (even though solar panels can’t easily be transferred from one property to another), we want you to be able to get up and running as soon as possible.

Finally

When choosing an installer please make sure they belong to all the relevant trade bodies and standards: