Why Should You Go Solar in the UK?


The number of UK homes with solar panels has skyrocketed in recent years. Nearly 1 million homes now have solar photovoltaic (PV) systems installed, generating clean renewable electricity, and reducing energy bills.

With rising electricity prices and increased awareness of climate change, more homeowners are considering going solar. If you’re thinking about installing solar panels on your roof, this guide covers everything you need to know, including:

– Why solar power makes sense for UK homes

– How solar PV systems work to produce electricity

– The different types of solar panels and system components

– Key factors impacting system performance

– Solar installation costs and available incentives

– Calculating potential bill savings and return on investment

– The installation process from start to finish 

– Ongoing solar panel maintenance needs

– And more…

By the end of this guide, you’ll understand the basics of residential solar and be able to decide if a solar PV system is right for your home.

Why Go Solar in the UK?

Installing solar PV panels on your home can provide multiple benefits that make it an attractive option for UK homeowners looking to reduce their carbon footprint, gain energy independence, and realize long-term cost savings. 

Reducing Your Carbon Footprint

Generating your own renewable electricity with solar panels will significantly reduce the carbon emissions associated with your home’s energy use. Even though the UK’s grid electricity is decarbonizing over time, it still has a carbon intensity of around 233 gCO2/kWh. Solar PV systems produce clean energy with zero emissions during operation, meaning every kWh of solar electricity you generate is displacing grid electricity and avoiding the associated carbon emissions. Installing a typical 4kW solar system can reduce a household’s carbon footprint by 1.5 – 2 tonnes of CO2 per year.

Gaining Energy Independence 

Producing your own solar electricity gives homeowners much greater energy security and independence from the grid. Over time, increasing numbers of homeowners with solar PV systems and batteries will be able to cover a substantial portion of their electricity needs with their own generated solar power. Relying less on the grid provides insulation from electricity price increases and volatility. If you size your solar system to cover most of your home’s electricity demand, you can significantly reduce your household’s vulnerability to grid blackouts or supply issues.

Realizing Long-Term Cost Savings

While solar PV systems require an upfront investment, they can provide excellent long-term cost savings for homeowners. Once installed, the fuel source (sunlight) is free. Moreover, solar panels have a useful lifetime of 25-30 years, meaning the system will keep generating electricity and savings for decades after being installed. The Feed-in Tariff (FIT) also provides guaranteed payments to homeowners with solar panels for every unit of electricity they export back to the grid. Overall, most UK homes with solar PV systems realize 10-15% returns on their investment annually.

How Solar PV Systems Work

Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems convert sunlight directly into electricity using panels made up of solar cells. This differs from solar thermal systems that use the sun’s heat rather than light to heat water.

PV systems work through the photovoltaic effect. When sunlight hits the solar cells in a panel, the energy knocks electrons free from the atoms in the semiconducting material, allowing them to flow through the material and produce electricity.

Specifically, solar panels contain silicon cells made up of two layers of semiconductors – a positive layer (P-type) with an excess of holes for electrons, and a negative layer (N-type) with free electrons. When sunlight strikes the solar cell, electrons are knocked loose from the atoms of the N-type layer. If an electrical circuit connects the N-type and P-type layers, these electrons can be captured as an electric current for power generation and storage in batteries.

The more sunlight that hits a solar panel, the more electricity that can be produced. Solar panels can still produce some electricity even on cloudy days, but more diffuse light results in less power generation. Orienting panels to directly face the sun’s rays maximizes energy production.

Types of Solar PV Systems

When installing a solar PV system on your home, there are a few key decisions to make regarding the type of system. The two main options are roof-mounted systems versus ground-mounted systems. There are also differences in the inverter setup you can choose.

Roof Mount vs. Ground Mount

The most common type of residential solar panel system is roof-mounted. Panels are installed directly on the roof, either using rails or brackets. This is generally the most affordable and straightforward option. It utilizes your existing roof space without taking up additional land area. One downside is that roof orientation and shading can limit solar production if the roof doesn’t face direct south.

Ground-mount systems require installing a racking system in your yard to mount the solar panels. This allows orienting the panels at the optimal angle facing due south. It also keeps all weight and stress off your roof. However, it does take up additional outdoor space. Ground-mount systems tend to cost more due to the racking equipment and labor involved. They are more common for larger solar arrays rather than typical residential installations.

Inverter Setups: String Inverters vs. Microinverters vs. Power Optimizers

Solar panels produce direct current (DC) electricity that must be converted into alternating current (AC) to power home appliances. This is done using an inverter or inverter system. There are a few different setup options:

– String inverters: Multiple solar panels are wired together in “strings” and connected to a single large inverter. This is the most common and cost-effective inverter option. However, shading on just one panel can bring down production for the whole system.

– Microinverters: Individual microinverters are installed on each panel, converting DC to AC at the panel level. This avoids shading losses and maximizes production. However, microinverter systems are more expensive.

– Power optimizers: These modules are installed on each panel but feed into a central inverter like string inverter systems. They provide panel-level monitoring and optimization but are more affordable than microinverters.

When deciding on an inverter setup, it’s important to consider your roof layout, potential for shading, and budget. Your solar installer can help determine the best option for maximizing system production.

Key Components of a Solar PV System

A complete solar PV system is made up of several main components that work together to generate electricity from sunlight. The key components of a residential solar PV system include:

Solar Panels

Solar panels, also known as photovoltaic (PV) panels, are the main component that absorbs sunlight and converts it into direct current (DC) electricity. Solar panels are typically made of silicon cells encased in a weatherproof casing. Monocrystalline and polycrystalline are the two main types of solar panels used in home systems. The more efficient monocrystalline panels are made from a single silicon crystal, while polycrystalline panels are made from multiple silicon crystal fragments melted together. Each panel consists of 60-72 solar cells wired together. The more sun exposure the panels receive, the more electricity they can generate.


An inverter is a crucial device that converts the DC electricity from the solar panels into alternating current (AC) electricity that can power your home and appliances. Grid-tied inverters synchronize the electricity your system produces with the utility grid. Any excess electricity gets fed back into the grid. During a power outage, the inverter automatically shuts down your system for safety reasons. Microinverters can be installed on each solar panel instead of using a central inverter. This allows for panel-level monitoring and optimization.

Mounting System

The mounting system securely holds the solar panels in place on the roof or ground. For rooftop systems, the panels can be mounted parallel to the roof using railing systems. Or panels may be tilted toward the sun using racks for better sun capture. Ground mount systems use poles anchored into the ground to position the panels. The mounting system must be made of durable, corrosion-resistant materials able to withstand weather extremes for decades.


Electrical wires are required to connect all of the solar system components together into a working system. The DC wires carry the electricity from the panels to the inverter. On the AC side, wires connect the inverter to the home’s electrical panel and utility meter. Proper weather-rated wiring helps protect against fires, electrocution, and system failures. A qualified solar installer handles the specialized electrical design and wiring for safety and compliance with electrical codes.

Factors that Impact Performance

The amount of electricity that a solar PV system generates depends on several factors:

Roof Orientation, Tilt, and Shading

– The orientation and tilt of your roof significantly impacts the productivity of solar panels. In the UK, south-facing roofs provide maximum solar exposure. Panels should be tilted at an angle equal to your latitude for optimal production.

– Shading is detrimental to solar panel output. Even a small amount of shading from trees, chimneys, or other buildings can greatly reduce the electricity generated. Solar installers conduct shading analysis to identify obstructions and design panel layouts to minimize shading.

Panel Efficiency and Warranties

– The efficiency of solar panels affects how much electricity they can produce from the available sunlight. Panels available today typically range from 15% to 22% efficiency. Higher efficiency panels produce more electricity from the same roof space compared to lower efficiency options.

– Reputable manufacturers offer 25-30 year warranties on solar panels to guarantee at least 80% of rated power output. Extended warranties covering parts, labor, and workmanship are also available. Quality panels will provide decades of power production.

Local Weather and Sunlight

– Areas that receive abundant sunlight throughout the year will produce the most solar power. The UK has less sunlight compared to sunnier countries but still has sufficient solar resources for PV systems to be worthwhile. 

– Solar power generation fluctuates seasonally with more production in spring and summer vs. fall and winter. However, solar panels can still generate electricity even on cloudy days.

Costs and Incentives

The upfront cost of a solar PV system in the UK depends on the size of the installation and type of components used. Generally, a typical 4kW solar system for a family home costs around £8,000 including installation.

To help make solar more affordable, the UK government offers incentives under the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) scheme. This requires energy suppliers to pay households for excess solar electricity exported back to the grid. The SEG payment rate varies by supplier but is around 5p/kWh currently.

The SEG replaces the previous Feed-in Tariff scheme which closed to new applicants in 2019. Under the Feed-in Tariff, households also received a ‘generation tariff’ for solar electricity generated, which made payback periods much shorter.

So while SEG payments provide some income, solar PV is now a longer-term investment for UK homeowners. With system costs continuing to fall however, return on investment timescales are improving.

Payback Period/Return on Investment

Installing solar panels on your home requires a significant upfront investment. However, solar panels can provide great long-term savings. It’s important to understand how long it will take for the solar system to pay for itself.

The payback period refers to the length of time it takes to recoup your initial investment in the solar panels. This depends on several factors like the cost of the system, energy usage, electricity rates, available incentives, and sun exposure at the installation site.

In the UK, the typical payback period for a home solar system range from 7-12 years. After this time, the solar panels will have paid for themselves and begin providing free electricity for the remainder of their 25+ year lifespan.

Here are some estimates for the payback period in different UK locations:

– South England – 7 years

– Midlands – 9 years

– North England/Scotland – 10 years

These numbers can vary based on system costs and local electricity rates. Payback periods may decrease as solar panel costs fall and energy prices rise over time.

Over the lifetime of a solar PV system, owners can expect to huge savings on their electricity bills. For a 4kW system, 25 years of electricity production equates to over £30,000 savings! Solar panels add value to your home by up to 25% and provide decades of free power once paid off.

When evaluating solar panels, payback period and lifetime savings are key metrics. A shorter payback time and higher lifetime savings make for a better investment. While solar panels require an upfront cost, the long-term financial benefits are well worth it for most homes in the UK.

Installation Process

Installing a Solar PV System on your home requires careful planning and adherence to safety regulations. Here are the key steps involved:

Physical Installation

the installation process typically spans 2-4 days. It involves:

– Site inspection and planning by the installer to customize the system design and layout.

– Mounting structure assembly. Rails and racks are installed on your roof to hold the panels in place and orient them properly.

– Panel installation. Modules are mounted to the racks and wired together.

– Inverter mounting. The inverter is installed and connected to the panels.

– Electrical connections. Cables are run from the panels down to the inverter and electricity meter.


Your installer will walk you through the interconnection agreement and approvals to operate your system. Paperwork such as MCS, NAPIT & DNO application is applied after the installation is completed and usually takes around 4 to 6 weeks to be completed.

Proper installation is key to maximizing solar panel productivity and return on investment. Be sure to hire a licensed, reputable installer who follows all codes and manufacturer specifications. The end result will be a high-performing solar array seamlessly integrated into your home’s electrical system.

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