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How do Solar Panels work in the UK: cost, placement, types

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solar panels

You have probably seen them on the rooftops of nearby houses or maybe on big industrial buildings, even perhaps on the roofs of cars. Whether you think they look ugly, too expensive, or you just don’t know how they work, solar panels could well be the future of renewable energy for your home.Here at Selectra we will answer your questions about solar panels and see just how good they are, not just for the environment, but for your home and lifestyle.

How do solar panels work?

A solar panel is made up of smaller units called solar cells. A typical panel will have roughly 36 cells. These cells are made up of crystalline silicon and within them are two different conductors: + and -, just like a battery.

The electrons within the silicone, once struck by photons from sunlight, perform a reaction which conducts electricity. The energy is moved along a circuit within the cell and down into your home, where it will power anything you have connected or turned on.

One cell only puts out half a volt of electricity, this is why the panels are so large. The more panels you have connected on your roof, the more electricity you will conduct.

When this reaction is happening on top of your roof, the energy is fed down into the inverter and then through a meter into your main electricity panel. The inverter, which will be located either in the roof or closeby, converts the energy into useable electricity. The meter’s job is to show you how much electricity you are harnessing.

Top 5 facts about solar energy

  • The solar energy that hits the earth in one day is more than the population could use in twenty five years!
  • We currently only use 1% of solar energy
  • The price of solar panels has fallen by 70% since 2015
  • Currently we have the technology to power the world with solar energy alone
  • China has the world's largest floating solar energy farm with 160,000 panels providing energy to 15,000 homes

How much do they cost?

This all depends on how big your home is and how many people are in your household. Of course, it will be cheaper if you live in a two bedroom house with one other person, rather than a large family living in a 5 bed house.

The average family home uses around 3,400kWh of electricity in a year, so for a medium sized house you will need around 12-18 panels depending on what company you choose, as there are different models on solar panels.

The price can range from £4,000-£8,000, which seems expensive, but considering the savings you will make throwing out your old energy bill, and also the money you could get back from the government, you will be saving in the long run.

The government have introduced a 20 year-long scheme called the feed-in tariff, where they pay you for the energy you use and also purchase the energy you don’t use and sell it back to the grid. For a 4 kW system that costs £6,000-£8,000, you could profit up to £2,000 in 20 years tax free.

Feed in tariff rate


The government pays you £168 a year for the electricity you use and generate on a 4kW panel tax free, for 20 years.

National grid sell back rate


The government also pay you for the electricity you don’t use. The energy gets sold back to the grid and you make £79 a year.

Savings on energy bills

Up to 50%

When your panels are installed, all the energy you are harnessing from the sun is yours to use for free. No need to pay for your old electricity bill anymore, you could be saving up to £150 a year and of course you are helping the environment and increasing your energy independence.

(All prices above based on a 4 kW panel being installed)

Of course you can partially switch your tariff to solar energy if you are not 100% sure. Switching 10%, 20% or 50% towards generating your own electricity from solar energy will still noticeably reduce your current energy bill.

This way you can see how solar energy works in your home and see if it can benefit you in the long run to go 100% dependant on solar energy.

House appliance facts

A 4 kW system has the potential to produce up to 3,400 kWh a year, which is more than the UK average of electricity consumption. To give you an idea of exactly what that can do, here is what this amount of power can do for some of your household appliances:

  • 4,857 hours using the washing machine
  • 97,143 hours powering the fridge
  • 80 hours boiling the kettle
  • 1,417 hours using oven

Is your home suitable for solar panels?

House with a solar panel

Most homes in the UK are eligible for solar panel installation, but you may want to check your conservation area first or if you are in a listed building.

You don't have to fully depend on solar power right away.

South facing roofs will give you the best results, as those east and west facing will produce roughly 15% less electricity.

A north facing roof will obviously also produce less electricity than a south facing one.

When the weather is cloudy (which happens a lot in Great Britain) you’ll still produce electricity, just slower than you normally would on a bright sunny day.

Do solar panels work at night?

The simplest answer is no, they don’t work at night; however, there is a ‘but’. During the day when you are at work or when you are using less electricity, your solar panels will still be hard at work, taking in sunlight and generating your electricity.

The energy that isn’t being used is being fed back to the grid. When you want to use electricity at night, you connect back to the grid as your solar energy is read in real time.

If you are planning on going 100% reliant on solar, you will need to add storage batteries that keep the excess electricity you have stored during the day.

How long does it take to install?

You can be up and running in no time: installation will generally take no more than two days when installed by a certified MCS installer.

Solar panels are normally covered for 20-25 years once they are installed and even once their warranty has run out, they are expected to last for another 25 years because they need such little maintenance and upkeep.

Top TipWhen it comes to installing your solar panels, make sure to add it to your home insurance policy.

The major benefits

  • No electricity bill
  • Clean renewable energy, reducing your carbon footprint
  • You do not need to depend on the grid
  • With the ‘feed-in-tariff’ scheme from the government, you can get your costs paid back to you
  • Make money from selling the electricity you don’t use
  • If you come to sell your home, it can be a really attractive proposition to potential buyers

What are the risks?

  • The potential upfront cost (you get the money back over 20 years from the government).
  • You may have to change the inverter in the first 20 years

To conclude

The cost of going green isn’t as expensive as you may have first thought, with the price of solar panels falling year on year, it is a great time to buy today!

The search for renewable energy is growing and with the government paying you to be more green, it can only be an advantage to reduce your carbon footprint right away.

The first thought of only harnessing your electricity from solar power is daunting, but the technology is available for us to use and so is the sun’s energy.

The services and products mentioned on this website may only represent a small selection of the options available to you. Selectra encourages you to carry out your own research and seek advice if necessary before making any decisions. We may receive commission from selected partner providers on sales of some products and/or services mentioned within this website. Our website is free to use, and the commission we receive does not affect our opinion or the information we provide.

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