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Are Solar Panels Worth It? The Costs And Returns Explained

Thinking about having solar panels installed? Well, I have conducted my most expensive experiment yet to see how much you can save with solar panels and whether they are worth it. And take a look at why birds and solar panels are not a good mix…

the cost of solar panels

I love saving money on my bills, as it means I can buy more things that I enjoy (namely alcohol). The only other option is to work more and I really don’t want to do that. Apart from my mortgage, one of my major costs is my energy bill.

I’ve already spent smaller amounts on insulating my house as well as having LED bulbs installed throughout. Last year I even conducted an experiment on how much it would save me if I only turned my hot water on for a couple of hours per day. The savings weren’t huge, so I looked at something more drastic… solar panels!

How do solar panels work?

I won’t bore you too much with the science, mainly because I have no idea. But, basically, photavenic panels convert the sun’s rays into electricity. So rather than your house drawing its electricity from a power station, it comes from your roof instead.

Do they work in winter?

The good news is, solar panels don’t need direct sunlight to generate electricity. That means that they can work all year round, even on dull days. Of course, for maximum efficiency, they need strong sunlight. And during the winter, because of the shorter days, they produce far less electricity compared to the long, summer days.

How much do solar panels cost?

This is a difficult question to answer as it depends on quite a few factors such as:

  • The ease of installation
  • The number of panels
  • Whether you want a battery

According to research, the average cost for solar panel installation in the UK ranges from £4,000 to £6,000, depending on your needs. In fact, my quotes fell within this range.

Can you install solar panels on any roof?

There are a few you need to consider before you have solar panels fitted:

  • The size of the roof. Obviously, the bigger the better. A small roof can only fit on a few panels, which will reduce the amount of electricity you can generate. This could mean that it will take you even longer to see a return on your investment.
  • Loft space. An inverter will need to go into your attic. It’s only slightly bigger than a microwave, but you still need to make sure that there’s room available. If your loft has been converted, you may struggle for space.
  • Structure. This may sound obvious, but is your roof safe? Solar panels are heavy, so your roof needs to be in a good state of repair.
  • Pitch. Panels can be fitted on rooves with a pitch anywhere between 10 – 60o, although a pitch between 35o and 40o would return the best efficiency. It is possible to fit panels to a flat roof, although they will need to be tilted slightly for improved performance.
  • Aspect. Which way your roof faces makes a big difference in how much power panels generate. A south-facing roof will see far more sunlight, but both east and west-facing can also see reasonable returns. If your roof points north or is shaded by other buildings or trees, it probably isn’t worth installing panels.

But if you’re still not sure whether your roof is suitable, most installation companies will provide you with a free visit and will let you know if your house is suitable or not.

Do you need planning permission?

In the majority of cases, you won’t need any kind of planning permission as they fall under permitted development. The exceptions to this are if you live in a listed building or you are in a conservation area.

If you’re unsure whether you fall under any of the above, then contact your local council for clarification. Again, most installation companies can give you further guidance.

Do the panels need cleaning?

Panels have a long life and come with a standard 25-years warranty. As most panels are tilted and we have quite a bit of rain in the UK, they generally stay clean. However, they can pick up some dirt over the years so it may be an idea to hire a professional company to clean them. Although after several years, I still haven’t needed to with mine.

Not just free electricity

Perhaps like me, you thought that the only benefits to solar panels were free electricity and a chance to help the environment. But not only that, any excess you generate can be sold back to the power companies. This is known as a FIT (Feed in Tariff) payment. Please note that these payments closed to new applicants on March 31st, 2019.

However, there are companies that now run schemes separate to FIT and will pay you for exporting your electricity to them. Octopus Energy runs “Outgoing Octopus” and you can find out how much they pay per unit here. This is a must for anybody with panels that don’t qualify for FIT payments.

And not only that, switching to Octopus will earn you £50.

Are you stuck with the same energy supplier?

Having panels installed onto your roof has no impact on who you choose to supply your energy. So you’re free to switch tariffs and find better deals.

Solar panels and smart meters

If you have a smart meter installed, you may wonder how it works once you have solar panels fitted. Well, it really won’t have much of an impact. The meter will still read how much electricity you import from your supplier, but it won’t tell you how much energy you give back to the grid.

My first step towards installation

I was spurred on to look at solar panels after reading a news article that IKEA offered them at a very good price. The advantage was, I could get a quote from their website without anybody calling at my house. So, I paid a visit to the IKEA website and used their handy tool to decide what I wanted. Within a couple of days, I received an email with my quote.

Now, this price was subject to change after acceptance depending on whether they discover any issues at my house when they came to install. Not ideal because I’m not a fan of potentially nasty surprises. However, it still gave me a good idea on price.

A 7 panel 1.89 kWp solar system from IKEA would cost £4,325. This was actually far cheaper than I expected, so initially I was fairly keen to go ahead… until I did some research and found what 1.89 kWp meant. 

1.89 kWp is the amount of electricity your panels can produce. This is their peak production though, and over time this will reduce. Let’s say, that on average, the panels will produce 1.5 kWp. The average kettle uses 3kw.

That means that the solar panels can only generate half of the energy needed to boil the kettle – the other half would have to come from the grid which means it would still be costing me! That is not what I want. Okay, so a kettle does use more electricity than many other appliances, but it goes to show how underpowered these panels are.

But having solar panels installed shouldn’t be treated any differently to any other work you have done in your house. Don’t just automatically go with the first quote you get.

Keeping it local

So, I decided to get a quote from a smaller, more local company. Unlike IKEA, they came around to my house to give me a detailed quote. Within a week, I received a price from them to install 15 panels onto our roof with an output of 4.5 kWp for a total cost of £5,995.41.

Then it was a case of comparing the two offers. Choosing the smaller company would increase my initials cost by 38.61% but would see my power output increase by 138.1%. The extra money I would need to pay out wasn’t something I would take lightly, but as I planned to be in my home for the long stretch, I decided that the extra cost would definitely be worth it. I could boil the kettle and watch TV without it costing me a penny… as long as it was sunny.


I liked dealing with a smaller company as the engineer was always on the end of the phone and they were very flexible about installation dates.

Installing the system took just over a day. The only real inconvenience was having scaffolding around my house for a week. A small box which measures the amount of electricity my system produces was placed in my kitchen cupboard and a solar inverter placed in my loft. The inverter is the piece of kit that converts the current from your panels into electricity that you can use around your house.

To be honest, apart from the massive panels on my roof, you would never know they were there! Truthfully though, because of the pitch of my roof, they are quite difficult to spot.

are solar panels worth it?
You can hardly see my panels

Are solar batteries worth it?

You may think that as you have to rely on sunlight, you can be a little restricted by solar panels. However, you can invest in a battery. This allows you to store electricity built up during the day and use it at night time. The issue is, a battery could cost you between £1k-£2k. You really need to weigh up whether the cost of a battery is worthwhile.

We decided against it. My wife is a childminder who works from home which means we use almost as much electricity during the day as we use at night. If your house is empty most of the day, then a battery might be more cost effective.

The figures

So, this is the most important part.

My system was installed in November, but as I was on holiday, it wasn’t until December before I had my system registered for FIT payments. I did this myself, which involved sending a lot of paperwork to my energy provider (First Utility) but it was all quite straightforward. Some installers will do this for you, but mine didn’t. Booo.

As I had a smart meter installed, I could see how much electricity I was using in real time. Not very useful, but I still did it all the same.

Without solar panels (kWh)With solar panels (kWh)
May (313)
Total cost£497.96£302.48

And typically, I changed providers from First Utility to Bulb in April as it saved me money. But it was a pain for the sake of this experiment as it meant a change in the price per unit. So to make things simple, the figures above have a blanket cost of 14.37 p/kWh. 

From the figures above, you can see that I saved £195.48 in electricity costs. On top of the money saved,  I also received £257.96 in FIT payments. In total, the amount generated from the panels for the year equalled £453.44. However, the figures might be not so generous every year. According to this article, 2018 was the 2nd sunniest year on record.

How much can you save with solar panels?

Taking a look at the initial costs of installation and the amount I make each year from the solar panels… it will take 13 years before I’m into profit. Actually, it’s not quite so bad. Each year, my FIT payment will increase which means I make more from selling my electricity to the grid. Plus, the cost of electricity will rise over this period too, which means I will save extra. But even with that taken into consideration, I would be surprised to see a profit within 12 years.

To be honest, the figures aren’t as great as I hoped. Yes, I plan to be here for the long-term and I am helping the environment, but I’m not convinced that I would install them in another property.

So, are solar panels worth it?

With FIT payments having stopped for new installations, the money-making potential has dropped drastically. Unless the panels drop in price, you could be looking at 25 years + before you see a return. So unless you’re in your home for the long run, it’s just not worth it. And most reports suggest that solar panels don’t increase the value of your home and in fact, could decrease it.

One more thing… Problems with nesting birds and solar panels

One thing that wasn’t made clear at any time was the attraction of birds to solar panels. They absolutely love them. The first I knew about it was the sound of little feet across my roof at about 5 in the morning, around 6 months after installation.

Initially, I thought it was quite cute until it happened more regularly and there seemed to be about 6000 pairs of feet. From about April onwards, our roof looked like a scene from the Birds. It was mainly pigeons and seagulls but I’m not convinced I didn’t see a penguin.

And it appears none of them could build a nest properly as there was a constant barrage of eggs landing on our car. And a quick note on that – eggs and a boiling hot day are not good for a car’s paintwork.

solar panels and birds

How to stop pigeons nesting in solar panels

I spent quite a lot of time finding out how to stop pigeons nesting in my solar panels. It seems like quite a common problem and there are plenty of ideas. But I didn’t own an air rifle and I’m not sure my cat would like to live on my roof.

There are a couple of other solutions for discouraging birds from your roof and solar panels. You can have mesh installed around the panels or spikes placed on the top of the roof. There are plenty of builders that offer the service but I wanted somebody to do a tidy job.

So, I contacted my installers who recommended a company they have used in the past. Although I wish they had said it could have been a problem in the first place.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t cheap and set me back £500 for half a day’s work. Still, it was better than £1800 that my neighbour was quoted. They did a good job though and the mesh isn’t noticeable. And no more birds!

If you decide to have solar panels fitted, ask your installers if they can install mesh at the same time as it will save you money. If they’re already installed and the birds are causing you issues, take a look on some local Facebook pages. I can guarantee that other people have had issues.

If you enjoyed reading my post about ‘are solar panels worth it’, why not take a look at whether LED bulbs can save you money.


Will solar panels charge on a cloudy day?

They will, although not as well as on a bright, sunny day. It is estimated that they will produce around 10-25% of their normal output.

Can solar panels work at night?

No, solar panels will not produce any energy at night. The only way for panels to power your home when it gets dark is if you invest in a battery to store energy produced during the day.

Can solar panels be fitted to a flat roof?

They can, as long as the roof is able to hold the weight. Although it is recommended that the panels are tilted slightly.

Are solar panels expensive to run

Once installed, there should be very few costs. You may need to pay for cleaning if the panels become too dirty or repair costs if something should go wrong.

How much does a solar battery cost?

Average prices range from £1,200 to £1,500.

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