With the huge increase in energy prices we’ve seen since the second half of 2021, we’re all looking at ways to cut our bills, whether that’s by reducing energy use or finding alternative sources of energy.
That’s where solar panels come in. Rather than getting all of your electricity from an energy company to power your home, you can generate some of it yourself using the sun, saving you money on your energy bills in the process. You can also earn money by selling your excess energy back to suppliers, adding to the potential savings.
The demand for solar panels has jumped sharply, according to the latest figures from the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) – a quality assurance scheme led by the low-carbon energy industry. The number of solar photovoltaic (PV) installations in the first quarter of 2023 was more than double the number a year before at 50,719 versus 23,747.
Solar PV panels generate electricity from the sun while solar thermal panels generate heat.
Another benefit is that the energy you generate will be renewable, helping you reduce your carbon footprint and your impact on the planet. Measures to tackle climate change mean we’ll all have to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and installing solar panels is one way to do this.
While there are plenty of renewable electricity tariffs available from suppliers, the actual energy coming into your home isn’t guaranteed to be renewable as it’s simply part of the mix you get through the grid. If you’re generating your own electricity using solar panels, however, you’ll know for sure that you’re using renewable energy for at least some of your energy needs.
As the outlay involved in installing solar panels is significant, it can take many years for your investment to pay for itself. But as energy prices have skyrocketed, the amount you could save by using electricity you’ve generated yourself rather than buying it all from a supplier has risen too, helping to pay off your investment sooner. Some suppliers have also increased the amount they pay you for your surplus energy.
The plentiful sunshine we had last summer will have been welcomed by homeowners with solar panels already, who would have been able to generate a significant amount of electricity. You could do the same by installing panels in time for this summer.
According to Energy Saving Trust, the cost of the average solar PV system for a home is around £5,500 but this will vary according to a range of factors, including the installer, how easy your roof is to access and how many panels you get – 10 is typical.
Installation costs have fallen over time and the government has also cut the VAT rate on certain types of energy-saving materials like solar panels to 0% until 2027.
The more of your energy you use during daylight hours when you’re generating electricity, the more you’ll save. Based on fuel costs under the current Energy Price Guarantee, which applies until the end of June 2023, if you live in London and are home all day, you could save £500 a year on your electricity bills, which means it would take 13 years to pay for the cost of your investment, according to Energy Saving Trust.
If you also received payments through the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) – the government-backed scheme through which suppliers pay you for the surplus energy you export to the grid – you would save £610 a year and pay for your investment in 11 years. On the other hand, if you were out all day until 6pm, you would only save £360 with the SEG and it would take you 18 years to pay for your investment.
Energy prices are set to fall from July, however, so the savings you can make will decrease while the payback time will increase.
You can boost your energy savings by running appliances like washing machines and dishwashers during the day and reducing your energy use to minimise the amount of energy you need to buy from a supplier.
Other ways are combining your solar system with a solar hot water system or a heat pump to heat your home instead of using gas, or installing a PV diverter, which uses your excess energy to heat water in a tank that’s stored for when you need it. You can also buy a battery to store excess energy. These extras will all add to the cost of your investment, though.
According to the trade association Solar Energy UK, a typical home with solar PV and a heat pump could save £1,454 a year on energy bills based on Energy Price Guarantee prices and up to £3,089 in the best-case scenario. It says a solar installation can also add more than £2,000 to the value of your home.
With the demand for solar panels increasing and this trend likely to continue, if you’re already a heating engineer or electrician, or you want to retrain, adding to your skills by learning to install solar panels could boost your business and your income.
To install solar systems that are intended to feed excess energy back into the grid, you’ll need to get certified through the MCS, although if your employer is MCS accredited you don’t need to get accreditation yourself.
You’ll need to attend MCS approved training courses to learn the skills necessary to demonstrate your competency in installing solar panels. Visit the MCS website for a list of courses, which can be filtered according to the type of technology you want to learn to install.
Before your MCS assessment you’ll need to join the Renewable Energy Consumer Code (RECC) or the Home Insulation & Energy Systems Quality Assured Contractors Scheme (HIES). This shows you are committed to complying with a consumer code that sets out standards for delivering services and protecting customers beyond what’s legally required.
These bodies also support you in a number of ways, such as by giving you access to deposit protection and insurance schemes, helping you market your business, delivering training on how to comply with the code and the law and providing mediation to help you resolve disputes with customers.