Pros and Cons of Solar Panels

The UK has one of the fastest growing Solar industries in the EU, with 650,000 installations last year.

Solar panels are becoming more affordable meaning that the UK is using more clean, renewable energy than ever. As traditional energy prices rise, solar power is becoming an important investment.

Below we review the many pros and cons of solar panels and solar energy in the UK:



Advantages of solar panels

+ Solar Panels produce renewable energy

Solar panels use a renewable energy source, the Sun. The Sun is a renewable energy source because it will not run out, unlike our current main source of energy, Fossil Fuels (coal, oil, gas). Experts predict that the sun will be around for another 7.5 billion years. Compare this to the UK’s own fossil fuel reserves which may be depleted within as little as 5 years and the current worldwide reserves which may be exhausted by 2088 if more people do not utilise renewable energy sources. Solar panels are a way of investing in future generations as the sun provides more than enough energy for the world’s population every year and will continue to do so for the entire time humans populate the Earth.


+ Solar panels also produce clean energy

The electricity produced by solar panels is completely clean. Clean energy means that there are no negative effects on the environment. Solar panels do not produce any harmful byproducts or pollution. Solar panels do not contribute to rising Co2 emissions as fossil fuels do. They are also silent so they do not contribute to noise pollution. There are certain amounts of Co2 and pollution generated in the initial manufacture and transport of the solar panels, however studies have shown that this initial environmental cost is offset by the clean energy that the solar panels produce. It has been suggested that the Solar panels compensate for the energy needed to produce them within their first four years, a relatively quick payback for a system that has the potential to produce clean energy for up to 50 years!


+ Solar panels can save you money

Using the electricity produced from your solar panels means that you are not using as much electricity from the National Grid. This will significantly reduce your monthly energy bills. You could be looking at savings of around £125 per year just on your energy bills (based on a 3.5kW system on a standard family home). This does not include the money that you could actually make from installing solar panels- more on that next! The amount you save is likely to rise year on year as energy prices look set to continue rising, with some experts believing we could see a 50% rise by 2019.


+ Solar panels can also make you money

Installing solar panels on your roof can actually make you money. In order to encourage more people to invest in solar panels the government introduced the Feed-in Tariff (FiT). Through the FiT you can earn money two ways.

Firstly, the government pays you for all the energy you produce, even if you use it yourself, this is called the Generation Tariff. The current rate is 13.39p per kWh, this amounts to around £400 a year from an average 3kW system. The second way you can make money through FiT is by automatically selling the electricity you don't use back to the National Grid, this is called the Export Tariff. At a current rate of 4.85p per kWh you could expect to earn back about £60 a year from exported energy.

The great thing about the FiT is that it is guaranteed at the same rate for 20 years and the payments are Tax-free. Taking into account the savings on your energy bills and the FiT payments the average house could look to earn up to £14,000 over 20 years, that’s nearly £7,000 profit on the initial costs. However, as more people install solar Panels and take advantage of this scheme the rates are getting lower each year. This means if you are considering installing solar panels now is the time to go for it in order to benefit from these payments.


+ Easy installation and maintenance

Solar panel installation is very easy compared to other renewable energy sources. Solar panels can be installed on any suitable roof within a couple of days and you could be using your clean, renewable electricity from the very next day.

The mechanism involved in the solar panel system is very simple which means it is easy to maintain. There are no moving parts which means most systems have a very long lifespan. Many installers guarantee their panels for around 25 years and the systems have been known to last for double that. The only part of the system that may need more care is the inverter. The cleaning and maintenance needs of the solar panels are infrequent and low cost.


+ Increase the value of your house

The lower energy bills of a house with solar panels could be very appealing to potential buyers if you are planning on selling your house within the next decade. The income generated from the Feed-in Tariff and selling excess electricity back to the grid would also be passed on to the future owners. These factors could potentially raise the value of your home. It is difficult to say exactly how much solar panels can add to property value as there are many factors to consider (area, date of installation, type/power of system etc). One of the main reasons people have been adverse to installing solar panels in the past is the fear that they will lower their property’s value due to the unappealing appearance of the panels. However, modern solar panels are becoming sleeker, thinner and more aesthetically pleasing every year. Studies have shown people are now willing to pay more for houses already fitted with solar panels in order to benefit from cheaper energy bills and Feed-in tariff payments.



Disadvantages of solar panels

- Initial costs

The initial cost of installing solar panels is still fairly high. You can expect to pay between £4,000-£6,000 for an 3kW unit to power a family home. However, the costs are steadily declining, just a few years ago you could have expected to pay double that price for a similar unit. The high start-up costs mean that solar panels are an investment. This investment can see large benefits over a period of years. This means that solar panels are most beneficial to those planning on staying in their current home for a number of years and may not be as rewarding for those intending to move in the near future.

There are some schemes which offer free solar panels and installation which could negate the initial costs. However, these schemes are often loans which are repaid through provider collecting the FiT payments. You may still benefit from cheaper energy bills from the offset but remember that if you wish to sell your house you will have to pass on the remaining balance to the new owner. If they do not want to take it on you may have to pay for the solar panels to be removed.


- Solar panels do not produce constant electricity

At present solar panels cannot store energy. This means that they are only providing your house with electricity during daylight hours. There is a common misconception that it has to be hot and sunny for solar panels to work. Fortunately for us Brits, this is not true! All the solar panels need is light. However, this does mean that overnight and during particularly cloudy weather you will automatically switch back to the grid to provide your household electricity. Only using the grid for electricity during these times will still lead to massive savings on your overall energy bills. You can help yourself save even more by using appliances, such as washing machines and dishwashers, during daylight hours to benefit from the cheaper electricity.

One way to combat this problem in the future is with a solar battery. Solar batteries store unused electricity during the day to use when the sun is not able to reach your solar panels. However, at present the batteries are still very expensive and their reliability has not been fully tested. Studies suggest that they will become more efficient and less expensive in the coming years as more people invest in solar power.


- Potential reduction in house value

Some people still do not like the look of solar panels and will therefore be less likely to want to buy your house if you have them. As mentioned above, this number is reducing and solar panels are more likely to add value to your house. It is still worth remembering that they are not to everyone's liking. This is particularly important if you are planning to install solar panels for free through one of the available schemes. If you choose to install solar panels this way you will pass on the obligations of whichever scheme you choose to the potential buyer. If they do not want to carry on the scheme you may have to pay for the panels to be removed.


- Solar panels are not suitable for everyone

Whilst solar panels are able to go onto most houses they are not suitable for everyone. Solar panels will be most beneficial to those with south facing roofs but those with east or west facing roofs will only produce 15% less electricity. If you have a completely north facing roof, or your house is particularly shaded from the sun, Solar panels may not be your best option. Similarly, if you live in a listed building or conservation area you may need to check whether you are allowed to install Solar Panels. Solar panels themselves do not take up very much space as they are installed directly onto your existing roof, however you will need a small amount of attic space for the inverter (the machine that converts the solar power into usable electricity).



Benefits of solar

Solar power can save you significant amounts of money. Using less electricity from the expensive National Grid will lead to large reductions in your monthly energy bills. You can also make money through your solar panels and the government's Feed-in Tariff (FiT). This government incentive pays you for all of the solar energy you produce; both the energy you use yourself and the excess which you sell back to the grid. Solar power has a hugely positive impact on the environment. The use of Fossil Fuels to power our appliances is not sustainable and experts believe if we continue at the current rate we could deplete our fuel reserves within the next 70 years. However, the Sun can give us a never ending supply of energy that will not damage the Earth for future generations in the process! Solar panels are easy to instal and could raise the value of your house.



Are there any bad things about solar?

Solar panels carry a fairly high initial cost. Although the costs have decreased significantly in recent years and will likely continue to do so, the average house could still expect to pay between £4000-£6000 for a 3kW system. If you are willing to invest in solar panels you could see a profit of around £7000 over 20 years and continued savings on energy bills thereafter. Solar panels do not offer electricity during the night or on particularly cloudy days meaning you are still reliant on the National Grid during these times.



Is my home suitable?

Solar panels are suitable for most homes. Houses with a south facing roof will gain the most from solar panels as they have more access to sunlight. However, east and west facing roofs are also suitable and will not see too much of a loss in the solar panel’s efficiency. If you live in a listed building or an area of conservation it is worth checking with your local council to see if solar panels are an option for your home.



Is renewable the way forward?

The energy we currently use from Fossil Fuels is finite, meaning it could run out. In the past we believed this end would not come for a very long time. However, our growing population and their demands has lead to a potential end date within the next 100 years. Renewable energy, such as solar energy from the sun, will never run out! Renewable energy also has a less damaging effect on the environment. The burning of Fossil Fuels releases mass amounts of Co2 and other chemicals into the air causing pollution. Renewable energy is clean and does not contribute to this pollution. So, yes, renewable energy is the way forward and the sooner the better!