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Solar Panel Installation Cost

Solar panel installation in the UK is increasing faster than any other European country, with the popularity of solar for energy generation soaring. 80% of the public now supports the installation of solar panels, despite unreliable weather conditions.

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Introduction to Solar Panel Installation Cost

By 2030, solar panels costs are likely to be cheaper than gas and fossil fuel. Recent advances in technology mean that the price to install solar panels has decreased. They are now more efficient and easier to install.

Money-saving is the driving force of installation uptake. Once you have paid for the solar panel installation cost, the energy produced is free for the rest of their (very long) lives.

Solar power in the UK almost doubled last year with installations in homes, workplaces and solar farms.

Solar panel installation

The UK solar panel installation is increasing faster than any other European country, with the popularity of solar for energy generation soaring.

80% of the public now supports the installation of solar panels, despite the weather conditions in the UK.

Surprisingly, the country's temperatures can make the panels more efficient, while clouds are not a problem for electricity production.

London now generates almost as much solar power as Madrid. Experts estimate that, with the right support, solar energy could bring 50,000 jobs to the UK by 2030.

In 2020, for the first time, more electricity was produced with renewables than with nuclear plants. The UK now ranks as one of the largest markets in Europe, showing how attractive solar energy is, regardless of the climate.

How Much Does It Cost to Install Solar Panels?

A quote for your solar panel system will usually include labour costs, but if not, there are two ways of calculating solar panel installations in the UK.

One way is to calculate approximately £300-£500 per person, per day. As it usually requires two people to install the system, a final installation fee is normally £600-£1,000. If you are installing a larger system, it may take more than one day and cost more.

Solar panel roof installation

Solar power is obviously generated during daylight hours, so use dishwashers, tumble dryers and other heavy usage appliances in the daytime. Use smart appliances and timers if you're at work during the day.

Excess power can be diverted from the grid (where you'll only receive a small export payment) to a more useful application like warming your water through an immersion heater or charging up an electric car.

Alternatively, you can use battery storage to save up solar electricity during the day and then draw on it once the sun goes down.

Other Factors Affecting Cost

  • Complex roof and electrics layouts, or multiple aspects, take longer to design and install, which affects this part of the cost.
  • Prices will also be higher if installers have to travel.
  • The kit costs increase if you decide to go for premium panels and inverters or choose optional extras.
  • Scaffolding costs go up the more stories and roof orientations your building has or if you're based in London or the Home Counties.
  • Roof type affects the ease of install and, therefore, the price. Slate and plain tiled roofs are more expensive to install than traditional tiles. Flat roofs are costlier because of the different mounting system.
  • Does it include all aspects of the installation (e.g. a structural report, scaffolding, guarantees)?
  • Is the installer MCS certified and registered with the RECC, adhering to the high standards of these schemes?
  • Does the company have good reviews or recommendations?

Other Costs to Consider

While the vast majority of a solar installation is paid in the upfront cost, there are a couple of other future expenses worth bearing in mind:

  • Inverter replacement. Most inverters last about 12-14 years, so they will need replacing during the system's lifetime of 25+ years. Allow about £1000 for this.
  • Maintenance. The joy of PV systems is how little maintenance they need. Most of the time, you can spot faults by checking your online monitoring for sudden drop-offs in generation.

Below are some rough prices using similar system specifications to the example above, assuming a straightforward installation on one roof face in a block array:

System size Number of panels Average cost (ex VAT)
1kWp 3 £3,900
2kWp 7 £4,400
3kWp 10 £5,100
4kWp 13 £5,700
5kWp 16 £6,500
6kWp 20 £7,900
7kWp 23 £9,100

Here's a breakdown for an average 4kWp system with a straightforward install. As we'll see, these elements can vary depending on many factors, but as a rough guide:

Average cost (ex VAT) Total cost Percentage
Modules £1,128 20%
Inverter £495 9%
Mounting kit £520 9%
Electrical equipment £368 7%
Scaffolding £500 9%
Design & installation £1,965 35%
Testing & commission £435 8%

This gives a total system cost of £5,596 ex VAT:

  • Kit cost £2,511 ex VAT
  • services cost £3,085 ex VAT.

To give a broader overview, here is some helpful information about the most common and special types of solar panels.

Solar Cell Type Efficiency-Rate Advantages Disadvantages
Monocrystalline Solar Panels (Mono-SI) ~20% High-efficiency rate; optimised for commercial use; high lifetime value Expensive
Polycrystalline Solar Panels (p-Si) ~15% Lower price Sensitive to high temperatures; lower lifespan & slightly less space efficiency
Thin-Film: Amorphous Silicon Solar Panels (A-SI) ~7-10% Relatively low costs; easy to produce & flexible Shorter warranties & lifespan
Concentrated PV Cell (CVP) ~41% Very high performance & efficiency rate Solar tracker & cooling system needed (to reach high-efficiency rate)
Monocrystalline Solar Panels (Mono-SI) ~20% High-efficiency rate; optimised for commercial use; high lifetime value Expensive

Types of Solar Panels

Solar energy is a lasting, cost-effective and efficient energy source if the chosen types of solar panels and the environment are suited to each other.

Within one year in the UK (2014-2015), solar PV power generation increased by almost 87%. There are a wide range of solar panels available on the market.

Solar panels

Distinguishing between different types of solar panels often means differentiating between single-junction and multi-junction solar panels, or first, second, or third generations.

Single-junction and multi-junctions differ in the number of layers on the solar panel that will catch the sunlight. The classification by generation denotes the materials and efficiency of the different types of solar panels.

1st Generation Solar Panels

Monocrystalline Solar Panels (Mono-SI)

This type of solar panels (made of monocrystalline silicon) is the purest one. You can recognise them from the uniform dark look and the rounded edges.

The silicon's high purity causes this type of solar panel to have one of the highest efficiency rates, with the newest ones reaching above 20%.

First generation solar panels

Monocrystalline panels have a high-power output, occupy less space, and last the longest. But they are the most expensive option.

Another advantage to consider is that they tend to be slightly less affected by high temperatures compared to polycrystalline panels.

Polycrystalline Solar Panels (Poly-SI)

They are distinguished by its blue speckled look, panels of squares, and angles that are not cut. They are made by melting raw silicon, a faster and cheaper process than monocrystalline panels.

This means a lower final price but also lower efficiency (around 15%), lower space efficiency, and a shorter lifespan since they are affected badly by hot temperatures.

The first option offers a slightly higher space efficiency at a slightly higher price, but power outputs are basically the same.

2nd Generation Solar Panels

Thin-Film Solar Cells (TFSC)

TFSC's are a less expensive option. Thin-film solar panels are manufactured by placing one or more films of photovoltaic material (such as silicon, cadmium or copper) onto a substrate.

These solar panels are the easiest to produce, and economies of scale make them cheaper than the alternatives due to less material being needed for its production.

They are also flexible, great for alternative applications, and less affected by high temperatures. But they take up a lot of space, so they are unsuitable for residential installations.

Also, they carry the shortest warranties because their lifespan is shorter than the mono and polycrystalline types of solar panels. But they are a great choice if you have plenty of space available.

Amorphous Silicon Solar Cell (A-Si)

The amorphous silicon solar cell is the type of solar panels used mainly in pocket calculators and other small gadgets. This type of solar panel uses a triple-layered technology, which is the best of the thin film variety.

Second generation solar panels

"Thin" in this instance means a thickness of 1 micrometre (one-millionth of a metre). With only a 7% efficiency rate, these cells are less effective than crystalline silicon ones, which have an efficiency rate of circa 18%. The advantage is a relatively low cost.

3rd Generation Solar Panels

3rd generation solar panels include a variety of thin-film technologies, but most are still in the research or development phase. Some of them generate electricity by using organic materials, others use inorganic substances (CdTe, for instance).

Biohybrid Solar Cell

Biohybrid solar cell systems are still in the research phase after being discovered by a team at Vanderbilt University. The idea behind the new technology is to take advantage of the photosystem 1, copying the natural process of photosynthesis.

Many of the materials being used in this cell are similar to the traditional methods. Still, by combining the multiple layers of photosystem 1, the conversion from chemical to electrical energy becomes much more effective (up to 1000 times more efficient than 1st generation types of solar panels).

Cadmium Telluride Solar Cell (CdTe)

This photovoltaic technique uses Cadmium Telluride, enabling the production of solar cells at a relatively low cost with a shorter payback time (less than a year).

Of all solar energy technologies, this is the one requiring the least amount of water for production. Keeping the short energy payback time in mind, CdTe solar cells will keep your carbon footprint as low as possible.

The only disadvantage of using Cadmium Telluride is that it's toxic if ingested or inhaled. This is one of the greatest barriers as many people, especially In Europe, are very concerned about using the technology behind this type of solar panel.

Concentrated PV Cell (CVP and HCVP)

Concentrated PV cells generate electrical energy in the same way as photovoltaic systems. With an efficiency rate of up to 41%, it is the most efficient of all photovoltaic systems.

Third generation solar panels

Curved mirror surfaces, lenses and sometimes even cooling systems bundle the sun rays, increasing their efficiency.

CVP solar panels can only be as efficient if they face the sun at a perfect angle. In order to reach such high-efficiency rates, a solar tracker inside the solar panel follows the sun.

What Does a Solar Panel Installation Involve?

Step 1: Arrange the Power Components

You need solar panels, a charge controller, an inverter, and a battery pack. You will also need a breaker, meter, MC4 connector, and fuses. Make sure you read the solar panel module instructions.

Step 2: Calculate Your Power Load

It is crucial to know the power used at your home. Note down the home appliances used daily, including the television, washing machine, tumble dryer, and so on. Add the time these appliances run on a daily basis.

Check their usage duration or run time and power rating. Then, multiply the runtime of an appliance with its power rating to calculate the 'Watt-Hour'.

Do this for each electrical device, then sum up the individual watt-hours to get the total. To simplify these calculations, use an online off-grid load calculator available online.

Step 3: Select and Charge the Battery

Solar power doesn't provide electricity when the sun goes down. You can solve this problem by using a lead-acid or a lithium-ion battery that stores solar power generated during the daytime to use at night.

Use a power controller to monitor your battery's charging. They are typically fitted with a small LED light that shows the battery's charging state, adjusting the power that flows into the battery.

Step 4: Set up the Inverter

Solar rays produce electricity in direct current (DC), but electrical appliances use power in the form of alternating current (AC).

An inverter allows you to use electrical devices without using adaptors. Inverters come in varying power wattages and types, including square wave, modified sine-wave, and pure sine-wave inverters.

Square waves are not compatible with all devices, while the output of modified sine wave is not suitable for certain appliances such as fridges. A pure sine wave inverter the best choice for your solar system.

Step 5: Fix the Solar Panels on Your Roof

Once the battery, controller, and inverter are ready, mount the solar panels. Select the best spot for the panels on the roof or on open ground that receives the most sun.

The proper setting of the solar panels is critical for their operation & maintenance, so ensure that the panels face the sun all day, then wire the solar panels to the junction box at the back of the panels.

Man fitting solar panels on roof

The junction box has negative and positive signs of polarity. In a large sized panel, the junction box has terminal wires with an MC4 connector.

However, you will have to align the junction box with external wires yourself if you use small solar panels. Use the black and red wire for negative and positive terminal connections.

Step 6: Connect the Solar Panels with Battery

Some PV systems come paired together, but in cases not given as a single unit, you need to make series and parallel connections.

Connect the positive terminal with another device's negative terminal. For a parallel connection, you need to connect one device's negative terminal with another device's negative terminal and so on.

Step 7: Setup Stands for Inverter and Battery

You will need stands for the battery and inverter. Either build them yourself or buy them. Once the allocated positions for the inverter and battery are ready, you can work on the wiring.

Start with wiring the controller. The first connection from the left is for connecting the controller with the solar panels.

The second connection for pairing the battery with the controller. The last connection is for connecting the controller to the direct DC load connection.

To connect the solar panel with the charge controller, you will need a separate connector called an MC4 connector.

Once the controller is connected to the battery, the LED lights should light up. Connect the inverter terminal with the battery's terminal.

Although there is a high cost to install a solar panel system, rewards can be reaped later, as solar energy is clean but a cost-effective investment.

DIY Solar Panel Installation

It's not advised to attempt this task yourself. Having said that, it is possible to build and install your own solar-powered panel system, and often the cost of doing so is much lower than using professional solar panel installers.

Setting up your own panels can lead to inferior results, void your guarantee, and lead to serious injuries. After all, you'd be installing heavy pieces of hardware a dozen metres above the ground.

DIY installations are not immediately eligible for Feed-in Tariff payments, the principal attraction of PV systems for many people.

To be eligible for FiT payments (both generation and export tariffs), every installation must secure a government-approved Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) certification.

This certification must be carried out by an MCS-accredited engineer, who will ensure that quality and safety standards are met.

Man and young girl holding solar panels

Certain MCS-accredited engineers may be willing to certify your DIY solar panel installation, although most will be reluctant or refuse to certify a system that they didn't install themselves.

Some companies offer Solar DIY kits, including all of the necessary hardware (solar modules, inverter, generation meter, brackets, cabling etc.).

But to qualify for FiTs, the project needs to be administered by an MCS-accredited tradesperson. The total cost of this option may not be much less than the cost of a full installation by a solar company.

If you wish to install a solar panel on your roof, building regulations will normally apply. You do not need to apply for planning consent to install solar panels unless they are mounted on the ground or a flat roof and project further than 20cm above the roofline.

If you are using roof space or an existing structure and your property isn't in a controlled zone, it is considered 'permitted development' under planning law.

This means there no need to apply for planning permission. However, some planning regulations will apply when you are considering any solar installation:

  • Panels on a building should be sited, so far as is practicable, to minimise the effect on the appearance of the building.
  • They should be sited, so far as is practicable, to minimise the effect on the amenity of the area.
  • When no longer needed for micro generation, they should be removed as soon as possible.

Building regulations also apply to other aspects of the work, such as electrical installation. Electricians will need to be Part P registered. Part P Building Regulations cover the use of direct current electricity.

Your solar energy system should generate electricity for 25 to 35 years, so you must consider the costs versus the benefits.

When it comes to installing an expensive electrical system on your property, such as Monocrystalline (considered the best solar panels), or Tesla solar panels, or even portable solar panels, finding someone who knows what they're doing can actually save you both time and money in the long run.

Potential Problems and Pitfalls

  • Installing solar panels is expensive. A typical 3-4kWp solar PV system will cost around £6,500, although they are becoming increasingly affordable.
  • The average price of panels has fallen by about 70% over the past decade, and this is set to continue as solar energy becomes increasingly widespread.
  • The performance is directly affected by the weather. During the winter, you'll rely more on the grid – but that doesn't mean your solar panels will stop working entirely. Sunlight is not an essential ingredient in solar power, although it certainly helps.
  • Solar panels require your roof to be south-facing, at a 30–45-degree angle, unobstructed by shade. If not, then you might struggle to set up an effective solar PV system. Try optimising your roof conditions by buying high-efficiency solar panels (if you have limited space), cutting back trees to reduce shading, and using tilted racks to angle your panels.
  • Solar panels can take up a lot of space. Solar panels are large, around 2m2 per panel. So, the bigger the roof, the better. If you short on space, you can opt for premium, high-efficiency models. A small number of high-efficiency panels can do the same job as a larger number of standard panels
  • You will not be able to install solar panels if you do not get the planning permission or building regulations you require.
  • Producing solar panels can cause pollution. Despite their air-cleaning qualities, solar panels are made with a concoction of toxic materials. Although these chemicals won't affect your home, the manufacture and waste stages of a panel's life can release a lot of harmful chemicals into the atmosphere. However, a study published by Nature Energy showed that the global environmental impact of creating solar panels is vastly outweighed by the environmental benefits of using them. Only 4% of the energy generated by a solar panel is offset by the energy required to create it – making solar power one of the world's cleanest renewable energies.
  • Solar panels are expensive and almost impossible to move. So, if you're considering installing solar panels onto your home, make sure you will be living in that property for a substantial amount of time, as it will be pricey to remove and get them reinstalled.

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Sam J

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