Solar panels: Are they worth it?

Harness the power of the sun and lower your energy bills? Sounds like a plan!

A solar array on the red roof of a house


In April 2020, the UK reached its highest level of solar energy electricity generation. Solar power accounted for almost 30% of the UK's energy needs.

And lower levels of pollution during lockdown allowed for more efficient solar energy capture.

With solar adoption on the up, and concern for the environment growing, are solar panels worth it?


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How much do solar panels cost?

For the average UK household, a solar panel set up could set you back around £5,940.

The actual cost will depend on how many solar panels you can fit on your roof. 


Can I get a grant to buy solar panels?

There aren't any grants specifically for getting solar panels.

The Energy Company Obligation (ECO) scheme is designed to help you make energy-efficient improvements. But these tend to focus on adding insulation to your home.

The main scheme for solar panels is the Smart Export Guarantee. This doesn't cover the cost of getting solar panels, but lets you sell energy back to the National Grid.


Do I need planning permission to install solar panels?

You won't normally need planning permission to install solar panels, so long as:

  • The panels are on your house or shed
  • They're not installed above the highest part of the roof
  • They don't stick out more than 20cm from the surface
  • The building isn't a listed building or a scheduled monument.

If the building is in a conservation or world heritage site, the panels can't face the highway.

READ MORE: Planning permission explained


Are solar panels less efficient in places like Wales and Scotland?

Let's dispel a common myth. You don't need direct sunlight for solar panels to work - though it definitely helps.

Daylight is all you need. Solar panels can work even on cloudy days.

But not all places have the same amount of daylight. The further north you go, the less daylight you get during the year.

So, solar panels are at their best when installed in south-east England. They're at their least efficient when installed in the north of Scotland.

But no matter where you are in the UK, there should be enough daylight for you to enjoy them.


How many solar panels do I need to run my house?

This depends on a few things:

  • How much energy you use
  • How much daylight you get
  • The size of your roof.

On average, for a family of four, you'd be looking at around 20 panels to suit your needs.

If you're a couple, around 12 solar panels should do the trick.


How do solar panels work?

Solar panels use photovoltaic (PV) cells to absorb energy from the sun.

These PV cells use silicone that energise when hit by sunlight. This converts the energy into a direct current.

An alternator inside the panel itself converts the current from direct to alternating. This lets you use it in your home or send it to the National Grid.


How much can I save on my energy bills with solar panels?

This depends on a few things:

  • How efficient your panels are
  • How many panels you have
  • How much daylight you get
  • Whether you're using the Smart Export Guarantee.

Based on figures from the Energy Saving Trust, you could shave up to £320 a year off your bills.

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How long do solar panels take to pay for themselves?

This will depend on:

  • The size of your panel setup (called a solar array)
  • How much daylight you get
  • How much they're saving you on your energy bills.

There's a bit of variation on the return on investment for solar panels.

Estimates range from seven to 20 years, so getting solar panels only for the savings is a bit of a long-term thing.

But, doubled with the positive environmental impact, this could be enough to give it a go.


How much do solar panels help the environment?

For starters, energy from the sun is free, it's clean and it's going to last the next few billion years.

The specifics on how much they help depends on how much daylight you get.

On average, you're looking at an annual saving of 1.3 to 1.6 tonnes of CO2 each year.

This is about the same as driving a car for 4,000 miles, so it's no small amount.

The average UK household emits around five tonnes of emissions a year. So, a solar setup could slash your emissions by around 25%.

READ MORE:'s carbon neutral pledge


Can I sell extra energy back to the grid?

Yes, you can.

The Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) means energy suppliers pay for energy you sell back to the grid.

The suppliers set their own rates, so it's worth looking around for one that offers a good deal.

The SEG replaced the Feed-In Tariff scheme, which also paid you for energy you generated and used at home.

READ MORE: Smart Export Guarantee and Feed-in Tariffs


How long do solar panels last?

On average, solar panels last for about 25-30 years.

Their lifespan will depend on:

  • The specific model
  • How new they are
  • How well-maintained they are.

It's said that some of the newer models can last for up to 50 years.