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The SpotDif 2024 guide to UK solar panels

Investing in solar panels is a growing trend among UK homeowners, driven by the promise of energy savings and environmental benefits. But where to start? 


We understand the significance of making informed decisions when upgrading your home with solar panels. That's why we're committed to simplifying the process for you, providing a seamless way to compare offerings from various solar panel providers across the UK.


Read on for our comprehensive guide to grasp the essential benefits, the latest in solar panel technology, and the competitive pricing landscape as of 2024. Once you’re ready to start comparing top-rated solar panel providers in the UK, fill out our solar panel comparison tool and we’ll do hard work for you, offering detailed quotes so you can get the right system at the best price.


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solar panel aerial drone video

What are solar panels?

Before we start comparing your options, let’s dig deeper into solar panels — sometimes called photovoltaics — and what they are. Put simply, solar panels allow you to convert the energy from the sun into electricity. You can use this electricity to power your home or, if you generate a surplus, you can sell it to a company. Another option is to store it in solar panel batteries and use these to provide an extra boost of electricity during periods of low light.


Solar energy is also renewable, which makes it a green source of power for your home. And with well-made solar panels working for more than 25 years, they can be highly cost-efficient too. Your solar panels likely won’t operate at full capacity the whole time, but you can still see a reduction in your energy bills decades after installation.


Looking for solar panels in Ireland? Head over to our separate guide for all you need to know about solar power in Ireland.

Comparing the types of solar panels available

With solar panels being a relatively new concept for many homeowners, choosing the right type can feel a little challenging. But it doesn’t have to be. Let’s look at your options — there are three main types of solar panels available in the UK.


Monocrystalline


First, we have monocrystalline solar panels, which are made up of a single piece of silicone. Their construction gives them an iconic black colour and sleek aesthetic. When compared with their counterparts, monocrystalline cells can convert more solar energy with fewer panels and less space. This means they’re generally the most efficient type of solar panel. In terms of cost, however, they’re also the most expensive to install.

Best for

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Monocrystalline solar panels are perfect for properties with limited space, offering high efficiency and a sleek look that appeals to homeowners concerned with aesthetics and energy maximisation.

Polycrystalline

Next up is polycrystalline solar panels, which are constructed from multiple silicon crystals melted together. This format gives them a distinctive blue hue.


Polycrystalline solar panels still convert solar energy efficiently, but you might need more panels and roof coverage to generate the same amount of electricity as with monocrystalline. This is changing, however, with polycrystalline technology coming a long way. These panels are now among the most popular for homes and are also becoming cheaper.

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Polycrystalline solar panels are cost-effective and suitable for larger spaces, making them a practical choice for residential and commercial properties looking to adopt solar energy on a budget.

Thin-film

The third type is thin-film panels. These are often the most affordable option but they require more space to generate a reasonable amount of electricity. It’s not a hard and fast rule but they also tend to have shorter lifespans than monocrystalline and polycrystalline alternatives. Thin-film solar panels are, however, the most flexible option, making them useful for curved rooftops.

Best for

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Thin-film solar panels are versatile and lightweight, ideal for unconventional surfaces and temporary installations, catering to a variety of property types including commercial buildings with weight restrictions.

Unless you have a strong preference for the type of solar panels you want for your home, it’s worth asking your chosen installer for advice on which solar panels are best for your requirements. They’ll be able to suggest the most suitable solar panels based on your specific needs, such as your budget and your roof space.

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Find trusted solar panel providers today

SpotDif takes pride in only working with trusted and vetted suppliers across all industries, to ensure we get you the service thats right for you. First we ask you a few questions, then we’ll show you solar panels quotes from reliable installation companies that operate in your local area. All that’s left is for you to choose the right one for you.

Comparing on-roof and integrated solar panels

Deciding between monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film solar panels is the first step but you’ll also want to look at our set-up options. Do you want on-roof solar panels that can be mounted on your existing roof? Or would you prefer integrated solar panels, which replace your existing roof tiles?


Integrated panels are seen as more visually appealing because they sit flush against the roof. Typically, they’re also more likely to get the green light when it comes to planning permission. Retrofitting them can be costly and time-consuming, but they’re a great choice for brand-new properties.


On the other hand, on-roof solar panels can be more straightforward to install and can be more suitable for retrofitting.


Man fitting a solar panel on roof

Understanding solar panels in more depth

Now we’ve had an overview of the types of solar panels available, let’s look more closely at how they work, their pros and cons, and how solar panel batteries fit into the equation.


How do solar panels work?


Without getting too technical, solar panels work because of photovoltaic cells. These are responsible for absorbing and converting energy from the sun into an electric current.


This process varies slightly across the different types of solar panels we’ve looked at — monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin film — which is why their efficiency ratings differ.


Once your solar panels are fitted on your roof they’ll be connected to an inverter, which is usually kept inside the house. This is what allows you to use the electricity generated throughout your property.


Your solar panels might be out of sight but they won’t be out of mind. You’ll be able to see how much energy they’re creating by checking a display on your inverter or by connecting them to a smart meter.

Solar panels: Pros and cons

Installing solar panels is a big job, so it’s vital that you know it’s the right choice for your home. Understanding the benefits and drawbacks of solar panels is key in making your decision.


Solar panel benefits


First, let’s look at why you should consider solar panels.


  • Self-sufficient energy supply: The major benefit of installing solar panels on your home in the UK is that you can generate your own energy. As the sun shines above your property, your solar panels will get to work to convert light into electricity for your home.


  • Affordable energy generation: What’s more, your initial solar panel installation costs will be the largest fee you pay. Following this, you may choose to pay for maintenance and cleaning services when needed, but this shouldn’t set you back too much.


  • Return on investment: Alongside being a low-maintenance addition to your home, solar panels could also help you save money on your monthly electricity bills. The rising cost of energy is a huge conversation in the UK currently, so it’s no surprise that generating your own electricity (and paying a company less each month) is appealing to many. You might also decide to sell your surplus electricity back to the National Grid. To do this, you can apply for the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG). Once you’re set up, you can start making back some of the money you spent on your initial investment.


  • An eco-friendly choice: Another advantage of solar panels is that they’re considered to be a relatively eco-friendly way of generating energy. This is largely down to the fact that solar energy is renewable — we’re not going to run out of it any time soon! Generating electricity from solar power is also much less harmful than using fossil fuels.

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What are the disadvantages of solar panels?

Although investing in solar panels for the home has many great benefits, it’s also worth getting to grips with some of the potential drawbacks. This is all part of making an informed purchase.


  • Cost: Perhaps the most obvious one is the current cost of solar panels in the UK. The technology is becoming less expensive as it develops, but installing a whole solar panel system is still a big upfront investment. However, there are now many flexible finance options available to help speed up the return on investment.


  • They only produce electricity in daylight: Another limitation is that solar panels need light to create electricity, which means they’re not in use 24/7. There are ways to mitigate the impact of this, such as by looking into solar panel batteries or using electricity more during daylight hours.


Of course, this isn’t to say that they aren’t worth it. You can also use SpotDif to compare quotes for solar panels, fittings and batteries to help you find a service that meets your budget. We’re here to help you take advantage of great deals in your local area, and it only takes a minute.

Construction workers installing solar panels
Strengths
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Self-sufficient energy supply

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Affordable energy generation

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Return on investment

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An eco-friendly choice

Weaknesses
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Cost

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They only produce electricity in daylight

What are solar panel batteries?

We mentioned that solar panel batteries can help work around the fact that solar panels need daylight to produce electricity. They allow you to store electricity for later, rather than wasting any that you don’t use straight away. With a battery, you can store the electricity your panels generate during the day to use in the evening and throughout the night.


Solar panel batteries are another big investment, so you’ll need to do some research to find an option that suits your budget.

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Find great solar panels quotes in the UK

If you’re new to solar panels, knowing where to look can be difficult. They’re a sizeable investment, so it’s important to make sure you’re getting the best deal possible from an installer you can trust.  That’s where SpotDif comes in. We take the hassle out of comparing the cost of solar panels across the UK. Plus, it only takes a minute. Once we know what you’re looking for, we’ll show you solar panels quotes from reliable installation companies that operate in your local area. All that’s left is for you to choose the right one for you.

How does solar power compare to other energy sources?

When considering the efficiency of solar panels in comparison to traditional energy sources like gas, oil, and other fossil fuels, it's important to look beyond the immediate output to understand the broader benefits.


Solar panels typically have an efficiency rate between 15% and 22%. While this might seem modest compared to the high-efficiency rates boasted by fossil fuel systems, the story doesn’t end there. Solar energy shines when you consider its clean, renewable nature and the long-term financial savings it offers.


What’s more, unlike fossil fuels, which produce harmful emissions and require extensive processes to extract and transport, solar panels offer a green alternative. They harness the sun's abundant power, providing a sustainable solution with a minimal environmental footprint.


But what about other renewable energy sources? How do solar panels compare to heat pumps, for instance? Both ground-source and air-source heat pumps are growing in popularity, and while they are effective, solar panels edge out in terms of maintenance and versatility. They’re simpler to install across a wide range of properties, making solar panels a practical choice for many.


It’s worth noting, however, that you also have the option to combine solar panels with a heat pump to get the best of both worlds. This combination offers a practical and versatile approach to energy independence, reducing reliance on traditional energy sources and fostering a greener future.

How solar panels can save you money

We recognise that solar panels involve a significant upfront cost. However, they can also offer a huge return on your investment in several key ways. Let’s take a look at how solar panels can save you money in the long run and how these savings may vary depending on your unique circumstances


Financial savings after installation


According to MoneySavingExpert, an average household with a 3.5 kilowatt-peak system can save between  £135 and £360 on their energy bills each year.


This means most UK households with solar panels will break even on their investment in about 14 and a half years. This might seem lengthy, but when you consider how solar panels can also add 25% to your property value, the scales tip further in favour of the investment.


Of course, the exact energy bill savings you can expect depend on your property and the number of solar panels, your household’s energy consumption, and whether or not you have a solar panel battery. Your location will also have an effect, as some parts of the UK benefit from more direct sunlight than others.


As an example, if you live in London, you could save between £150 and £360 on your annual energy bills — or even more if you make use of the SEG, as we’ll go on to explain.

Solar panel energy savings by area in the UK

A graphic showing the different level of savings that can be made from solar panels, divided by areas of the UK

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How long will it take to break even?

Energy Prices

Electricity Bill Savings

SEG Payment

Cost of System

Years to Break Even

Savings based on April price cap

Average: £235

Average: £273

£7,000

14 Years

Selling energy back to the grid

Did you know you can shorten that payback period by selling energy back to the National Grid, too? Through the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG), you can sell surplus energy produced by your solar panels. This process allows many households to break even on their solar panels in around 12 years.  

Let’s look at some figures. According to the Energy Savings Trust, a household in London could save up to £630 per year by making the most of the Smart Export Guarantee. Meanwhile, homeowners in Aberystwyth, in west Wales could save up to £580, and those in Manchester could see savings of up to £565.

How much money can I save a year with solar panels?

Time at home

London

Aberystwyth

Manchester

Stirling

Belfast

Time at home

London

Aberystwyth

Manchester

Stirling

Belfast

Home All Day

£630

£580

£565

£525

£495

Home from 4pm

£535

£490

£475

£435

£340

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Grants and financial options

The Smart Export Guarantee is just one of several grants available to help more households embrace solar energy. We recommend having a look at our Guide to Solar Panel Grants for more in-depth information, but here’s an overview of a couple of the best options available.


ECO4

The Energy Company Obligation Scheme is in its fourth phase and offers low-income households financial support to help cover the cost of solar panel installations. Eligible households in England, Wales, and Scotland can get the cost of their solar panels fully or partially covered. 


This scheme is set to run until the end of March 2026 — learn more on our ECO4 page or check your eligibility through Ofgem


0% VAT

Under the Value Added Tax (Installation of Energy-Saving Materials) Order 2024, households — and some charitable businesses — won’t need to pay VAT on solar panel installation. This tax relief came into play in February 2024 and is set to run until the end of March 2027.


From April 2027, VAT will be reinstated, but at 5%, a lower rate than before.


Saving solar power for dark winter days


We’ve looked at how you can earn money by selling your solar energy back to the National Grid, but that’s not your only option. With a solar panel battery, you can also save it for a rainy day — quite literally. 


Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need direct sunlight to power solar panels — ambient light is plenty. In fact, solar panels are, on average, 15-20% efficient in the UK, which is the same as hotter countries around the world. Bear in mind that, as we mentioned above, some areas in the UK do get more sunlight than others. 


However, as you can imagine, longer daylight hours and higher levels of sunshine mean most UK properties harness more solar energy in spring and summer. Despite this, solar panels can still cover up to 51% of your home’s energy usage in the winter.


With a solar panel battery, you can store any excess energy generated in the summer to power your home even more in the winter months.

All you need to know about solar panel maintenance

We recommend hiring a professional for your solar panel maintenance needs. However, if you’re taking the DIY approach to maintaining your solar panels, here’s what you need to know.


How to clean your solar panels in the UK


It’s a good idea to clean your solar panels at least once a year to ensure no dirt or debris is stopping them from working properly. You can hire someone to take care of this for you, which is much easier and safer.


However, you can also clean your solar panels yourself. You’ll need a soft cloth or a non-abrasive sponge with an extended handle that allows you to wipe the panels without climbing a ladder. Don’t scrub too hard or use chemicals, as you could damage the glass. You also need to turn off the whole system before you begin.


The benefit of having solar panels in the UK is that heavy rainfall means you won’t need to clean them all that often! Once or twice a year should be fine, but you might need to book a clean more regularly if you spot build-ups of dirt or leaves.

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Buying solar panels: where to start

Before you begin comparing quotes from solar panel providers, there are a few elements to tick off the to-do list.


1. Check if you need planning permission


In many cases, you won’t need to gain planning permission to get solar panels for your home. However, you might if it’s going to change the appearance of your property significantly or if you live in a listed building. There are also restrictions on how far your solar panels can protrude from the roof, which tends to affect flat roofs the most — guidelines generally stipulate a maximum protrusion of 200mm, but it’s always best to double-check.


The rules regarding solar panels and planning permission in the UK vary, so it’s always a good idea to check with your local council for the most accurate and up-to-date advice. There's been a recent government update to planning permission rules to make solar energy more accessible.


You can also ask your chosen solar panel installers to help you navigate this area, as they’ll be well-versed in the rules and regulations you need to follow. Remember that you’ll also need to seek your landlord’s permission to install solar panels if you rent your home.


2. Work out how many solar panels you need


There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this because it depends on how much space you have, how much daylight your property receives and how much electricity you typically use. It also depends on the type and size of solar panel you choose. As the most efficient choice, you can usually generate more electricity with fewer panels when you opt for monocrystalline.


However, the typical household would benefit from between 10-20 solar panels.


3. DIY or professional installation?


While you can install your own solar panels, the real question is: do you want to? The process can be long-winded and complicated, and there’s a chance that you’ll need to hire someone to help you out anyway. You’ll also need to work at height and with electricity, both of which have their own safety concerns and qualification requirements.


The safest option is to hire professionals to take care of your solar panels and fitting. This way, you can also trust that your solar panels will be installed properly. Poorly fitted solar panels are more likely to need repairs frequently, so it may be more cost-effective to have them handled by a professional in the first place. Check whether your solar panel installer is MCS-certified to ensure the quality of your installation.


4. Know your budget


How much do solar panels cost, and does your budget allow for it?


The cost of installing solar panels depends on a variety of factors, including:

  • The type of panel you choose
  • Whether you opt for on-roof or integrated panels
  • How many panels you need


However, as a ballpark figure, the average cost for a solar panel system in the UK is around £6,500.


For the most accurate estimation, compare quotes for solar panels using SpotDif. It’s quick and easy to gather solar panel quotes from reliable companies, so you’re fully prepared to make the right decision.

Two men installing solar panels on rooftop
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Compare quotes for solar panels with SpotDif

Now you know a little more about solar panels, it’s time to find the best deal. Getting started with SpotDif couldn’t be simpler. We’ll ask you a few simple questions to get to know your needs better, including your desired price range and whether you’d like to explore financing options. Next, we’ll match you to solar panel suppliers that meet your specifications. It’s that simple. Fill out our solar panel comparison form and let us help you find the perfect system for your needs.
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author
Anna Dearden
Home Sector Specialist
Combining in-depth research with an interest in all things home improvement, I aim to keep SpotDif readers up to date with interior design trends, renewable energy options, and more.
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