Installing a solar panel system on your property allows you to harness the sun’s limitless energy and generate your own renewable electricity. While solar panels require an initial investment, they can pay for themselves in the long run through significant energy savings. This guide will walk you through everything you need to know to install solar panels on your property, from the key factors you need to think about before installation to the various ways you can maximise the impact of your renewable energy system.
Switching to solar may sound complex but it’s an effective way to add value to a home and improve the energy performance of the property. Here, we’ll break the process down into simple, easy-to-understand steps, providing you with all the information you need to get started.
Factors to Consider Before Installation
Before deciding to install solar panels on your property, there are several important factors you need to take into account that will impact your experience and ROI. Carefully assessing these key points will help ensure you make the right decisions throughout the solar installation process.
One of the most important considerations is your property’s location and sunlight exposure. Ideally you’ll want solar panels to be installed in an area that receives consistent, unobstructed sunlight throughout the day. Things like shade from trees and buildings can limit solar production. Determine if you have adequate south-facing roof space or ground area to accommodate solar panels too.
For maximum energy production, solar panels should be oriented to face true south (in the northern hemisphere) as closely as possible. Facing south allows panels to capture the most sunlight over the course of a day, especially during peak sun hours. If you have an east or west-facing roof, you can still install panels, but the productivity will naturally be lower than that of a south-facing roof.
The optimal tilt angle of solar panels typically matches your latitude. By tilting panels at a latitude angle, you capture the most direct sunlight throughout the seasons and year. For example, if you live at 52° North latitude in the UK, tilting panels at a 52° angle would be ideal. Tilt angle can be adjusted within 20 degrees of latitude without significantly impacting production.
You’ll also need to carefully consider the costs. For a domestic solar installation prices can range from £4,000 to £8,500, depending on the size of your property and the installation required. It’s important to weigh the upfront costs versus the long-term energy savings and environmental benefits to decide if going solar suits your budget.
You’ll also need to assess your household energy usage and electrical needs. Examine your monthly utility bills to get a sense of your average energy consumption, which will help size an appropriate solar system that can handle the majority of your electricity demands. If you consume a lot of power, you may need a larger system than a low-energy home.
Choosing the Solar Panel System
Once you’ve determined that going solar is right for your property, it’s time to choose the specific solar panel system that fits your needs and budget. With today’s technology, homeowners have several options when it comes to the type of solar panels and purchasing arrangements.
When it comes to solar panels, the three main types are monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin-film. Monocrystalline panels are the most efficient but also the most expensive, so they may not work for all budgets. Polycrystalline panels are slightly less efficient but also less costly and could serve as a good option for most homeowners. Finally, thin-film panels are cheaper but require more physical space for the same power output. It’s worth doing the research and weighing up the pros and cons of each panel type based on your goals, space and budget.
You’ll also need to determine the appropriate system size to match your electricity consumption using your past utility bills. Optimal solar panel systems are sized to cover the majority of your home’s energy needs, though backup power from the grid may be needed at night or on cloudy days. For this, it’s worth working with professional installers to get properly sized system recommendations for your home and energy needs.
Be sure to enquire about warranties, guarantees and certifications. Many solar panels come with 20-25 year limited performance warranties to provide you with peace of mind, but also look for companies that have qualified, certified installers who follow industry best practices for safety and performance.
Hiring the Right Installer
Finding the right solar installer is key to a successful PV system installation. Do your research and take the time to evaluate qualified installers in your area. Getting multiple quotes can help you find competitive pricing and ensure you’re not paying over the odds.
When researching potential installers, verify they are licensed, insured and have strong credentials. Check their rating and reviews on various sites and if possible, talk to people you know such as friends, neighbours or colleagues who can recommend companies to you. With such a large financial investment, this step is vital to make sure you’re happy with the end result.
Reputable solar companies will provide a detailed proposal and scope of work tailored to your property, and will conduct a site survey and audit before finalising a system proposal. This will involve them assessing factors like your roof size, orientation and current electrical setup to make sure your property is suitable for a solar PV system.
They should also be able to provide you with evidence of their credentials and help you handle any required permits and utility paperwork. Signing a contract with the right solar company for your needs will ensure a smooth installation and the best return on your investment in solar power.
Installation Process and Timeline
Once you’ve signed a contract with a solar installer, you can expect the system installation process to take between 2-8 weeks from start to finish. The installation timeline will vary depending on system size, your property and weather conditions. There are several stages to the installation process.
The process will kick off with an initial site survey by your installer to take precise measurements and assess any site-specific factors. They will finalise the system design and submit paperwork to your local council for any required building or planning permissions. If your home is listed or in a conservation area, additional heritage approvals may be needed which can add time, so bear this in mind.
After permissions are secured, your installer will schedule delivery of the solar equipment, including the panels, inverter, racking and cables. The equipment will typically be staged in your garden ready for installation.
When your installers are ready to begin installation, the team will layout the panel positions and start mounting the racking system on your roof or ground mounts. Panels are then securely attached to the racks, with cabling neatly run from the panels down to the inverter which often is wall-mounted on an exterior wall. The inverter converts the solar energy into usable AC power.
Your electrician will connect the inverter to your property’s consumer unit and existing electrical wiring. Once everything is installed, your system will be tested thoroughly through commissioning. Finally, your Distribution Network Operator (like UK Power Networks) will inspect the system to approve your connection agreement and switch on the export meter. When live, your solar panels will start feeding renewable energy into your home network!
The whole process requires coordination between various teams and companies, from your chosen installer and potentially electricians to council departments and utility companies.
Ongoing Maintenance and Care
Once your solar panel system is installed and operational, some basic maintenance is required to keep it running efficiently for decades. While solar panels are very durable, it’s important to perform occasional inspections, cleaning and service when necessary to keep everything in good working order.
The easiest regular maintenance is washing dust and dirt off the solar panels about 2-4 times per year. Solar panels can lose up to 25% of their energy production if they become dirty, but luckily the process of keeping them clean is easy to do and doesn’t take long. Use a soft brush and water or solar panel cleaning solution. Be sure to check for any animal droppings, leaves or pollen buildup.
As the owner of solar panels, you’ll also need to inspect wiring connections, the inverter and parts of the mounting system about once a year for corrosion, cracks or rodent damage. Tighten any loose components and check that drainage and vegetation clearing around ground mounts is adequate. Most solar panel manufacturers recommend a professional electrical inspection every 5 years. Consider an infrared scan for hot spots, bolt torque testing and inverter servicing to extend system lifespan.
While solar power systems require little maintenance compared to appliances, budgeting for periodic inspections, cleaning and repairs will help your system perform optimally for 20-30 years or longer than if you leave it to chance. As with any device, the better care you can take of your solar panel system, the longer it will work and the more efficient and productive it will be.
Realising the Benefits
Once your solar panel system is functioning, you can start reaping the many benefits of generating your own renewable electricity. With your panels actively collecting sunlight, it’s time to capitalise on your investment and maximise your solar energy system. One of the best parts is monitoring your export meter spinning backwards as solar energy flows into the grid!. Keep an eye on your generation data over time to see energy savings accumulate. Many inverters provide performance statistics through an app or online portal.
Under the Smart Export Guarantee, excess solar electricity you don’t use is exported to the grid in exchange for bill credits from your energy supplier. This can lead to very low or even zero cost electricity bills after accounting for your exports — especially in sunnier months. The Energy Saving Trust estimates a typical 4 kW solar system prevents over 1 tonne of carbon emissions per year. So, homeowners who switch to solar are doing their part to build a sustainable future.
One way to maximise a solar panel system is by pairing it with a home battery energy storage system. Batteries allow you to store excess solar electricity for use at night or during power outages. These sleek, compact units mount to the wall or ground outside, with battery capacity ranging from 5-20 kWh for most homes.
Batteries store unused solar energy during the day to provide power to your home when the sun goes down. This gives you access to your own renewable electricity around the clock. Stored solar energy can provide backup power during grid failures or protect you against fluctuating energy costs.
Adding battery storage does increase upfront system costs. However, batteries allow you to consume more of the energy you generate which further reduces grid dependence and electricity bills. Fortunately battery costs are dropping, and government incentives can help offset purchase expenses. If energy independence and backup power are priorities, battery storage is a great option.
Solar energy can also be a great selling point down the road if you decide to sell your home. Solar increases UK property value by an average of about 14% according to Yopa. Property owners will benefit from solar in terms of savings, sustainability and satisfaction. It’s a great investment that updates your home, whether you’re staying put or selling. Your panels will provide renewable energy and excellent return for decades to come.
Installing solar panels may seem like a big endeavour, but this guide has equipped you with the key fundamentals to switch successfully to solar energy in your home. By following the steps outlined, you can take control of your energy costs and carbon footprint while also adding value to your property. While solar power represents an investment, the long-term rewards are plentiful. And as solar technology improves and costs continue to fall, payback periods get shorter and shorter. There has never been a better time to make the investment.