The Independent’s journalism is supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission. Why trust us?

14 solar panel facts you’ll want to know

Solar emits zero greenhouse gases and is one of the lowest-cost energy sources out there. If the UK has a chance of reaching net zero, by 2050 (as planned), there is a need to continue momentum in the solar panel sector — including more people investing and installing solar in their homes. According to an International Energy Agency 2022 Solar PV report, solar generation increased by 22 per cent in 2021 and, as of 2022, solar PV accounts for 3 per cent of global electricity generation. 

More than one million UK households are now sporting solar panels and, although a big investment, they’re a worthwhile one with many benefits if you’re interested in clean, cheap energy and lowering your home’s carbon footprint. So, if you’re on the fence about installing them as your next home improvement, here are some more facts that might persuade you to take the leap.

1. 173,000 terawatts of solar energy reaches the Earth continuously

Solar is never going to run out, and although it may not seem like it on a cloudy day, 173,000 terawatts of solar energy hits the Earth continuously. Put simply, solar is one of the most abundant natural energy sources available to us. 

2. The first solar panel was created in 1883

The photovoltaic (PV) effect, the process by which solar panels generate electricity, was first demonstrated in 1839 by French scientist, Edmond Becquerel, but it was some years before then, in 1767, that the first solar oven was designed by Swiss scientist Horace-Benedict de Saussure.

The first solar cell was born in 1883 by Charles Fritts, with the first installation of a panel on a New York City roof the following year. Albert Einstein won a Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the “photoelectric effect” in 1922, which informed the creation of the first practical solar cell in 1954 by researchers at Bell Laboratories. 

3. Solar boosted renewable energy production to 41.4 per cent in 2022

Once past the initial investment of solar panels, as long as the sun is shining, you could supplement your home’s electricity supply, for free. The UK’s output of solar energy actually reached record levels in 2022, which helped boost renewables’ share of energy production to 41.4 per cent, compared with 39.6 per cent the previous year. 

solar panel farm on fields
Solar panel farms are now a common sight around the UK, and they are helping the UK government reach their net zero commitment by 2050 (Image credit: Adobe)

4. Solar energy isn’t just used to turn on the lights

As well as using solar power to produce electricity to run your home’s appliances and save on bills, you can install solar thermal panels to provide domestic hot water. And, if you have an electric car, you could use the solar power generated to charge your vehicle.

5. 111,512 solar PV systems were installed in UK homes last year

The UK saw a 138 per cent uplift in the number of domestic solar installations in 2022. According to data released by the The Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS), there were 111,512 domestic installations in 2022, versus 46,286 the previous year. Scotland has the highest percentage of households in the UK with solar panels already installed and, as of April 2023, there have been 53,677 homes with new panels.

This should be set to increase, considering governmental plans included in the British Energy Security Strategy 2022 to increase the UK’s solar capacity fivefold. Though it may seem like you need to install solar panels to be greener in the home and tackle climate change, if you don’t have room (or the money) for solar, you could consider buying shares in a solar farm for a fraction of the cost. 

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) polled 2,000 participants from the UK and found that solar panels were the third most valued home improvement. Behind a new bathroom or kitchen, and new windows, 33 per cent of respondents favoured installing solar PV panels. What’s more, over half were aged 18-30, conveying it’s something that even those on the first rungs of the property ladder are considering as important when purchasing a home.

7. You don’t need planning permission to install solar panels

Unless you live in a listed property or conservation area, you won’t need to apply for planning permission to install solar panels for homes in the UK. The panels must not protrude more than 200mm from the roof but, if this is not possible, you can choose ground-mounted solar panels, or add them to a suitable garage or an outbuilding. If you just don’t like the look of panels or live in a protected area or house, solar tiles, although slightly less efficient, run next to existing roof tiles and can be less obstructive.

solar panels on green garage roof
Solar panels don’t necessarily need to be installed above your home. They can be mounted on a suitable garage or outbuilding roof, or mounted on the ground. (Image credit: Adobe)

8. The solar panel industry could create 60,000 jobs by 2035

The solar panel industry does more than just reduce carbon emissions. Solar panel installations will boost employment, too, as the British Energy Security Strategy by the government is planned to encourage mass job creation – 60,000 by 2035, to be precise, according to Solar Energy UK’s Solar Impact report 2022.

9. Global solar panel costs have dropped by 82 per cent over the last decade

Solar panels are a costly initial investment but, thankfully, with more investment in production methods and the technology being integrated into mainstream home improvements, we are seeing lower prices, making them more accessible. Over the last decade, the cost of electricity from utility-scale solar photovoltaics (PV) has dropped by 82 per cent, according to an IRENA report

However, despite a global industry decrease, UK residential solar panel prices remain steady; expect to pay roughly £6,000 for a solar array on a three-bed house. In the US, this is even steeper and a typical solar panel system could cost around $30,000 (approximately £24,098) before the federal tax credit.

10. Solar panels could increase house resale value by 2 per cent

In the UK, properties with the best solar panels installed could sell for nearly 2 per cent more than those without, according to a recent study by RICS, amounting to an average increase of £1,800. To gather data, RICS cross-referenced Land Registry household data with the MCS solar install database. Further, the time RICS estimated it would take to pay back your solar install (10 years) is notably less than the average time you might typically occupy a home (they note roughly 17.4 years is average before moving), meaning you’ll have more than seven years to enjoy saving a third on energy bills.

11. Solar panels do work when it’s overcast

There’s a myth that clouds and solar panels don’t bode well, when actually they can still produce electricity on cloudy days and in winter. Panels won’t be as efficient as when there is no cloud cover, but the sun’s rays will still penetrate the clouds and reach the solar PV cells, so you can still generate electricity.

12. Solar panel recycling is new, but possible

One of the disadvantages of solar panels is they can be difficult to recycle. Solar panels are predominantly made up of silicon but some can contain lead and other toxic materials, such as cadmium, which are bad for the environment if left in landfill. However, if the majority of solar panels were effectively recycled, the recoverable assets could yield materials equivalent to 2 billion new panels by 2050.

A Dutch company has created what it believes to be the world’s first fully recyclable solar panel. Solarge teamed with EconCore claim their modern panels to be 80 per cent more effective than classic modules, due to easy dismantling. Plus, they are 50 per cent lighter and contain no toxic materials. There are also UK-based facilities to help with the recycling of already-installed solar panels. PV Cycle, for instance, is a take back and recycle scheme for solar PV panels and is government-approved.

13. The UK is investing more in residential solar panels

To incentivise solar panel installations following the closure of the Feed-In-Tariff (FiT) for new applications in April 2019, the UK government introduced the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG). The scheme means that those generating surplus energy using solar panels at home can be compensated for feeding that energy back into the nation grid. The Energy Company Obligation Scheme (EOC) was updated in April 2022 to the ECO4, which could help some homeowners save on the cost of solar panels, and there are more solar panel grants, so you’ll want to check if you’re eligible.

14. Globally, we’re investing in solar panel production

China is still leading in terms of solar panel production, but more local manufacturing could help ease supply chain issues and keep the fire going for solar growth. In the UK, there are more UK-based solar panel designers and manufacturers cropping up. Across the pond, The Biden-Harris Administration has actually announced it will invest $82 million to increase domestic solar manufacturing and recycling as part of the Investing in America Agenda report to help boost domestic manufacturing and power up the grid with solar; indicating a clear need for investment into domestic manufacturing to increase the availability of quality solar resources and make solar more accessible for everyone.

Get free solar panels quotes
Discover how much solar panels would cost for your home by answering a few questions.

Cam is an experienced writer and editor who has been creating content for more than 10 years. She studied English Language and Italian at The University of Manchester, where she started out blogging and copywriting on fashion and travel.

She’s worked for Groupon and its partnerships – including <em>The Guardian</em> UK and US, the <em>HuffPost</em>, and Today.com</i> – and has covered a plethora of topics, from kitchen design trends to the best ways to score a good deal on home insurance. S

Swifty tapping into her love for everything home decor-related, she moved into the interior design space and edited realhomes.com, part of Future plc, for three years, where she worked with a tonne of DIY and renovation experts.

She currently lives in North London and is passionate about helping others perfect their surroundings with stunning interiors and functional home additions, whether they own or rent.