Can You Get Free Solar Panels and Solar Panel Grants in 2020?

monocrystalline solar panel on top of nighttime city scape

By 11 min read

The Feed-in Tariff has concluded, but solar panels are more affordable than ever

Homeowners can now make money through the Smart Export Guarantee

Solar panels can cut your energy bills by up to 50%

The Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) launched on 1st January 2020 to replace the old Feed-in Tariff. Check out our guide to the Smart Export Guarantee to find out how much you could earn.

The sunlight-absorbing magic of solar panels has captured the hearts and minds of eco-conscious homeowners up and down the country.

A 2019 study from the Solar Trade Association found that over 800,000 UK homes now have solar panels, and that number looks set to keep on rising.

Although the Feed-in Tariff came to an end in April 2019, the Smart Export Guarantee launched in January 2020, so it pays to switch to solar right now.

On this page, we’ll tell you all you need to know about the government’s solar panel initiatives (old and new), and explain why solar panels are still worth it.

To find out how much it would cost you to install solar panels, simply simply fill in this short form, and our qualified installers will be in touch. You can also check out our detailed page on solar panel costs to learn more.

solar panels in field in front of city

What’s on this page?

Head straight to a specific section by clicking the links below.

Can I still get free solar panels in 2020?

The short answer: not anymore, unfortunately.

It’s hard to believe that, back in 2010 when the Feed-in Tariff began, companies would literally buy your solar panels for you. They’d put them on your roof, you’d benefit from the energy bill savings (and all that eco-friendly electricity), and they’d earn all the money from the Feed-in Tariff. It was an efficient system, but the 64% reduction in Feed-in Tariff payments in 2016 put an end to the whole thing.

Although the Feed-in Tariff has now concluded, a new government initiative (called the Smart Export Guarantee) has launched. See below for more information.

Are there any government grants for solar panels?

There are no grants for solar panels available in the UK. The government used to provide interest-free loans and grants as part of the Green Deal, but this concluded in 2015. The Feed-in Tariff also came to an end in April 2019, but the new Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) started in January 2020.

The story of the Green Deal is a short and disappointing one:

1. Back in 2013, the government set up the Green Deal, which gave people a loan to help them buy solar panels (amongst many other energy efficient home improvements)

2. In 2014, the government launched a second Green Deal, changing the loans to grants – an upgrade that people took for granted…

3. In 2015, the government scrapped the Green Deal, largely due to lack of interest from homeowners

The current Green Deal Home Improvement Fund (GDHIF) is not quite the resurrection you’d be hoping for. It focuses on multiple types of energy-saving home improvements, but there’s no funding for solar panels.

Are there free solar panels for council tenants?

If you’re a council tenant in the UK, sit tight; free solar panels might be coming your way.

In 2017, the government set up a scheme that will provide 800,000 low-income households with solar panels in the next five years. It’s an ambitious plan, relying on £160 million of investment from Dutch firm Maas Capital, and implementation by UK firm Solarplicity.

The scheme has been very successful in Stoke-on-Trent (with over 3,500 council tenants signing up), and Solarplicity are now planning a nationwide rollout. The panels are expected to bring down tenants’ energy bills by around £300 each year.

This is all part of the government’s aim to ensure that 15% of energy consumption in the UK comes from renewable sources by 2020. Given that the government recently declared a climate emergency, this is pretty important stuff.

Are there free solar panels for pensioners?

Unfortunately not.

Back when the Green Deal was alive and kicking, pensioners could easily receive a government grant for solar panels. The idea behind prioritising pensioners was that they are more likely to spend time at home than any other age group, so they’ll get more out of their solar panels.

However, the conclusion of the Green Deal put this lovely arrangement to bed.

Solar finance and solar panel loans

If you can’t afford the total upfront cost of a brand new solar PV system, there are ways to source the cash. Some companies are offering homeowners low-interest loans and reasonable repayment plans to help them make the switch to solar. For example, check out the options currently offered by Pegasus Personal Finance and Evo Energy.

You can also get a loan from your bank to cover solar panel installation costs. Most banks offer personal loans specifically for home improvements, which could be used for renewable energy developments.

Did You Know?

You can save more than £400 each year, just by switching your home’s energy supplier. If you’re looking to cut down your bills, this one’s a bit of a no-brainer.

That’s why we’ve partnered with Switchd. With four different price plans (including a free option), Switchd will find you cheaper, greener energy suppliers in no time.

What about the Feed-in Tariff?

The Feed-in Tariff was a UK Government initiative that paid households for every kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity that they produced from renewable sources, also known as the Generation Tariff. On top of this, homeowners were also able to sell any unused electricity to the National Grid (this was called the Export Tariff).

The Feed-in Tariff was a huge success. Between 2010 (when the scheme began) and 2017, the UK’s renewable energy capacity rose from 9.3 gigawatts (i.e. 9.3 billion watts) to a massive 38.9 gigawatts.

The Feed-in Tariff concluded in April 2019, but anybody who signed up before the deadline will still receive payments until their contract (usually 20 years long) expires.

Why has the Feed-in Tariff concluded?

Well, the government wanted to focus on more commercial, high-impact solar panel projects, and the tumbling cost of solar panels (decreasing by 70% since 2010) means there isn’t as much need for a subsidy.

That’s right, a solar PV system for a three-bedroom house in the UK currently costs about £6,000 – compare that to around £20,000 just one decade ago. Check out our detailed guide to solar panel costs in 2020 to learn more.

Nevertheless, subsidies are helpful, and fortunately the government has set up a replacement for the Feed-in Tariff…

The Smart Export Guarantee (SEG)

The Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) has filled the hole that the departed Feed-in Tariff has left behind. However, instead of being based on payments from the government, the SEG will ensure that energy suppliers pay homeowners for any unused solar-generated electricity.

Check out our full guide to the Smart Export Guarantee for more info.

While the Feed-in Tariff involved Ofgem setting the rates, the SEG allows energy suppliers determine their own prices. In a competitive market, this should lead to companies outbidding each other with higher repayment rates, creating better deals for the homeowner. Ideally, you’ll be sitting back in your solar-powered home while suppliers scrabble for your business.

What’s more, the SEG is a lot fairer than the Feed-in Tariff. The government used to pay homeowners for just 50% of their unused solar-generated electricity, even if households were exporting as much as 80% of their electricity back to the grid.

In contrast, with the SEG in place, energy suppliers pay homeowners for every single bit that they send back – although this process will be a lot simpler if your home is fitted with a smart meter.

How much can you earn with the SEG?

With the SEG in place, homeowners are now benefitting from 100% of their solar panels’ hard work:

• All used solar-generated electricity contributes to savings on energy bills (which can be up to £220 per year, according to Energy Saving Trust)

• All unused solar-generated electricity is exported to the National Grid and bought by an energy supplier, with several suppliers paying around 5.5p/kWh. According to the Energy Saving Trust, a 4kWp solar PV system could make around £94 per year on a 5.50/kWh SEG tariff

The best way to make the most of your solar panels is to combine them with a solar battery, and create a ‘solar-plus-storage’ system. A solar battery will stock up all the electricity that’s generated during the day (while you’re out), so it’s there for you to use in the evenings.

To find out how much a solar battery will cost you, and to check out the best models on the market, visit our guide to solar batteries.

Is it still worth getting solar panels?

is it still worth getting solar panels

The short answer: yes!

With the Feed-in Tariff a thing of the past, you’re probably asking yourself if the switch to solar is still worth it.

Fortunately, the Smart Export Guarantee is up and running, and solar panels still come with a whole host of other big benefits. Here are the main advantages of installing solar panels at home:

You’ll save money on your energy bills

Once your solar panels start soaking up all that golden sunlight, they’ll be fuelling your house with complimentary energy. That means you can seriously reduce the amount of electricity you buy from the grid, and slice a sizeable chunk of money off your annual energy bills.

Based on stats from the Energy Saving Trust, a 4kWp solar PV system (around 12-16 panels) could save you between £85 and £220 each year, depending on where in the UK you’re based (solar panels in the south of England perform the best).

Likewise, we surveyed 390 UK homeowners in January 2018, and 84% of them said their solar panels were reducing their monthly energy bills by as much as 50%.

For the biggest savings on your energy bills, it’s sensible to get your hands on high-efficiency panels. In solar speak, ‘efficiency’ refers to the proportion of sunlight that a panel can convert into usable electricity, measured in %. To find out more, check out our guide to the most efficient solar panels on the market in 2019.

If you’re keen to go the whole hog and use as much as 100% of your solar panels’ electricity output, consider installing a solar battery (it’ll work hand-in-hand with your panels), and make sure you’re insured for your solar panels.

They’re extremely eco-friendly

Solar panels are exactly what the Earth needs right now.

While the planet coughs and splutters its way through the humanity-induced “climate emergency”, everyone must do their best to switch to clean, renewable sources of energy. Solar panels are exactly that, crafting electricity from sunbeams without dumping any carbon emissions in the process.

Oh yes, your carbon footprint will take a serious battering. A typical 3-4kWp solar PV system will prevent around 1.3-1.6 tonnes of carbon from entering the atmosphere every year (compared to a household that isn’t using any renewable energy, the swines).

Swap your car for a horse-drawn wagon and you’ll be the eco-friendliest human there ever was, nursing the ailing Mother Nature back to full health.

They’ll give you ‘electricity independence’

Installing solar panels can have a very liberating effect.

Once you start making your own energy instead of buying electricity from the grid, you’ll be relying far less on energy suppliers. When energy companies want to increase their prices, non-solar-powered households are essentially putty in their hands, forced to pay up or go without power.

What’s more, the future of energy prices isn’t looking too rosy, with the “Big Six” energy suppliers regularly increasing their rates, and Ofgem’s ‘price cap’ doing little to help (they’ve already had to increase it).

For example, in April 2019, approximately 15 million households in the UK saw their energy bills increase by more than £100 per year.

Once you switch to solar, you won’t have to worry about these price increases. You might still need to buy a bit of electricity from the grid (especially during the evenings), but the storage capability of a solar battery has the potential to take you entirely off the grid. So long, grid!

Finding an installer

So that’s that – the Feed-in Tariff has checked out, but the Smart Export Guarantee is very much in, and energy companies are coming up with all kinds of tempting initiatives. Meanwhile, solar panels are the most affordable they’ve ever been, promising hefty energy bill reductions and wholesome eco-friendly gains.

To find out how much it will cost you to get solar panels, fill in this short form, and our qualified installers will get back to you with their best prices.

Charlie Clissitt Content Manager

When it comes to all things eco-friendly and economically savvy, Charlie is a spectacularly woke millennial. A university-educated solar panel scholar with an eye for detail, when Charlie isn’t writing, he’s tucked up in bed watching his favourite black and white film.