First, it’s important to establish which kind of solar panels you want. Solar thermal panels use the sun’s energy to heat water, which you can use to heat your home or for baths, showers and laundry. Some people find these panels useful: they can cut your heating bills, and they’re a good way to reduce your carbon footprint.
However, the ones that can earn you money are photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. So if that’s what you want, when the sales rep comes to your house to talk you through the benefits, make sure you’re buying solar PV panels rather than thermal.
These panels capture the sun’s energy in photovoltaic cells. The cells then convert the sunlight into electricity, which you can use for lighting and powering household appliances.
If you sign up to the government’s Feed-in Tariff (FiT) scheme, your PV panels could also create income for you.
Solar panels can save you money by creating energy savings. If you use your solar energy in real time, while it’s being generated by the sun – for example, if you use your washing machine during daylight hours – it can draw electricity straight from your PV panels. If you use it at night, it will draw electricity from the national grid, and you’ll pay for it on your energy bills. So any electricity you use from your PV panels will reduce your energy costs.
Solar panels can earn you money through the FIT scheme and the export tariff. You’ll find up-to-date details, rates and rules on Ofgem’s website. Check out the latest rates here, and find out whether you’re eligible for FIT payments here.
You’ll earn more if your home is in the south of the UK, as the days are marginally longer than in the north, and if you can install the panels so they’re facing south. Ideally, your roof should face due south at a pitched angle of around 30°. However, the photovoltaic cells in the panels don’t actually need direct sunlight to work; they can still produce some electricity when it’s cloudy.
You should also check whether there’s anything overshadowing your roof, like nearby trees or a neighbour’s extension. Your roof needs to be open to the sun from 10am until 4pm each day.
Most solar PV systems installed in homes in the UK are 4kW. In the south of England, where daylight hours are slightly longer, a 4kW system could generate around 3,800 kilowatts of electricity a year. That’s about the amount used by a typical household. If you live in Scotland, the same system would generate around 3,200 – but that’s still more than 75% of a normal household’s annual electricity use.
The Energy Saving Trust has an absolutely brilliant solar energy calculator which you can use to work out what savings (if any) you’re likely to make, and what payments you might receive.
Very little – your panels should last for 25 years or longer, and you just need to make sure they stay relatively clean. If they’re tilted to 15% or more, they’ll probably be cleaned by rain – that’s one of the good things about living in the UK. After 25 years you can replace them if you wish, and re-apply for FiT payments. However, the technology, and any government support or grants, may well be completely different by then.
If there are trees nearby, you also need to keep an eye on them to make sure they’re not starting to overshadow the panels.
Your installer should give you a written list of any checks you need to carry out, and how often.
I’ve been offered free installation – will I definitely make a profit from my panels?
Some suppliers do offer free installation, but in exchange they’ll take your FiT payments. You’ll still save on your energy bills, but you won’t get any income.
Are there any other costs involved?
Yes – you should also take these possibilities into account when you’re deciding whether to install PV panels: