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13 solar panel pros and cons

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If you’re in the market for solar panels, you could be joining roughly 1.2 million UK homes that already have them installed. According to Ember’s latest Global Electricity Review, solar (and wind) power reached record highs of 12 per cent of global electricity in 2022, and are growing at a rate of 15-20 per cent per year, based on a 10-year average. And, with the spotlight very much on the UK reaching net zero by 2050, this should only be set to increase on both a domestic and industry level to help counteract the effects of climate change.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) notes in its 2022 technical report how solar is already significantly contributing to a global reduction in carbon emissions, highlighting that “installed PV [photovoltaics] capacity at the end of 2020 saved more than 860 million tonnes of CO2”, and estimate this figure as 1 gigatonne (Gt) in 2021. It shares how continuing to install solar panels in households will be pivotal in decarbonising the electricity sector and suggests that 100 million households will rely on solar by 2030.

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What are the main advantages of solar panels?

Using solar panels as a renewable energy source is growing in popularity, and there are many advantages to look forward to when you start using clean energy. If you’re ready to save some cash, while you help save the planet, take a look at the solar panel stats and weigh up the pros and cons of solar panels for yourself to see if they will be worthwhile.

  1. Become more energy efficient
    Solar panels are very energy-efficient and reduce reliance on the National Grid. “Solar panels generate clean energy and help reduce your carbon footprint. By switching to solar energy, you can reduce your household’s carbon emissions by up to 1.2 tonnes per year,” says Alan Duncan, Founder of Solar Panels Network. By comparison, the usual fossil fuels used in domestic systems, such as oil, coal and gas, have a detrimental effect on the environment as a result of drilling to source them and burning for energy, which further pollutes the atmosphere.
  2. Save money on bills
    With electricity prices increasing by 67 per cent in January 2023, compared to the same time in 2022, those without solar power might be feeling the pinch, but installing these renewables could help. Alan Duncan, Founder of Solar Panels Network also notes how reduced energy bills is one of the main advantages of solar panels: “By generating your own electricity, you can reduce your reliance on the grid and lower your energy bills. In fact, you can save up to £270 a year on energy bills by installing solar panels in the UK”. How much you’ll save will depend on a number of factors including the type and size of solar panel array you have, your home’s location, your energy consumption and, of course, the weather. However, an average household could save up to £1,200 per year and breakeven 11 years after installation, making solar panels for homes worth the initial investment for many.
  3. You’ll add value to your property
    A greener home is without doubt more attractive in more ways than one and, according to a 2022 RICS journal: Affirming the value of solar property, homes with solar panels installed are markedly higher in price premium: between 0.9 and 2 per cent. A terraced house in the East Midlands could, for example, add £1,800 onto the resale price by installing solar. What’s more, the more time you spend in your home with solar panels before moving, the bigger the uplift in house value. Plus, with this in mind you’ll break even in around 10 years, just shy of the previous estimate included.
  4. Solar gives you more energy independence
    By sourcing your own energy, you won’t have to rely on the national grid as much. This is especially true when the UK experiences good weather conditions, as more energy is generated using solar photovoltaic panels when we have longer summers, meaning you can have more control over your energy output, not to mention, effect on the environment.You don’t need batteries as part of your PV system, however, they are a good option as without them, when the efficiency is less, say in winter, you will by default use energy from the National Grid, which will cost money. Whereas, if you invest in batteries, it gives you the flexibility to store excess energy generated in your batteries, for use over periods when your panels are less efficient or not able to work at all, such as at night.
  5. Installation costs are decreasing
    A solar panel system for a three-bedroom house in North London should cost around £5,500 in 2023. IEA’s report noted that equipment and installation costs decreased by 80 per cent in the last 10 years, which is good news for any new installers. And, with the cost of solar panel batteries said to be gradually reducing, this is advantageous for homes that already have solar panels installed but that are thinking of adding batteries to their PV system to store excess energy.
  6. You can still sell excess solar energy back to the grid
    Homeowners can make money back off any supplemental solar energy your panels generate by selling it back to the grid via the Feed-In-Tariff (FiT) if you are already signed up (new applications closed in April 2019) as you will still be eligible for payment 20 years from your setup date. The Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) scheme is the latest government alternative whereby, if eligible, you can similarly get paid for any electricity exported back to the National Grid. The tariff varies across suppliers and can either be fixed or variable, but it must always be above zero. You will need to have a Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) certified or equivalent system in place, as well as a smart meter, and the amount you recieve will be directly impacted by how much electricity your solar panels produce.
  7. Solar panels are low maintenance
    Duncan adds how the best solar panels are built to last and should require very little maintenance. Note that this will depend on the brand and installer you choose, “With proper installation, solar panels can last up to 25 years with minimal maintenance”.
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What are disadvantages of solar panels?

As you might expect, it’s some of the associated solar panel costs that could be prohibitive to many, but there are some other disadvantageous facts that are worth being clued up on. In the same breath, with solar panels in the mainstream limelight, most negative perspectives have encouraged industry action to make changes and adaptations, so that solar panels remain a brilliant (and financially viable) option for homes everywhere.

  1. They are an upfront investment
    Although the cost of solar panels is decreasing, it is still a sizable investment and overall quality can still come with a higher price tag. Better designed solar panels, with enhanced specs, including extended warranties, tend to come out more expensive. For example, the Suntech Ultra V Mini Mono 405W costs £155.58 per panel while the SunPower Maxeon 5 AC 415W is priced at £514.00 per panel – considerably more. However, SunPower’s product comes with 22.6 per cent efficiency, a 25-year warranty and low annual degradation rate of just 0.25 per cent, all features to consider when choosing solar panels. Suntech’s panel, although reliable, is slightly less efficient at 20.7 per cent, comes with a 12-year warranty and a 2 per cent power degradation for the first year, followed by 0.55 per cent for every subsequent year. So, depending on the model you choose and whether you have a large roof surface area to cover, it will still be an upfront investment to pay. Furthermore 10-11 years is a considerable amount of time to wait until you breakeven on the initial cost of your install, so it won’t be for everyone or every household. That being said, there are solar panel grants that reduce costs for lower-income homes and those on benefits.
  2. Performance can be weather dependent
    Given they generate energy from the sun, solar panels perform better in the summer with longer, brighter days, which means during winter they’re less efficient and they don’t produce energy at all at night. Typically, households rely on solar energy to power their homes during the day and then rely on grid electricity at night and in winter. Or, they invest in solar battery storage for the surplus energy from summer, which comes at an added cost.
  3. There are space and roof requirements
    There’s more to think about than you may realise when deciding to install solar panels. Firstly, you must own your roof and, according to Gilbert Michaud of Loyola University Chicago: “One of the most important things to consider for homeowners thinking about solar is the age, shape, and condition of a roof. Taking care of any needed repairs, and understanding how much weight a roof can handle, is fundamental when thinking about installing solar panels.” Alan Duncan, of Solar Panels Network, adds that solar panels need the right amount of space for installation (typically the average household will need 1.4m² per solar panel, roughly 22 ㎡ for 12 panels), and how not all roofs will be suitable; thatched roofs, for example, won’t be suitable for solar panels. “Solar installers can advise on the best placement and orientation of solar panels to maximise their efficiency,” he explains.
  4. There are bad solar panels (and bad installers) out there
    Just as you get cowboy builders, you can come across shady tradespeople who may not do an exceptional job of installing your solar panels. Michaud notes that you should do your homework on the installation company first off. In the UK, you’ll want to make sure you find an MCS-accredited installer, and also highlights the importance of understanding how solar panels work, as well as the major differences in performance and quality. Check reviews and see which brands get good ratings for their solar equipment, too, and the same goes for installers; “Search around for a local installation company that has a good history and strong customer reviews, and they can also help walk you through your options”, says Michaud.
  5. You need to read the smallprint
    As mentioned, maintaining solar panels is quite straightforward but a key element of a solar array, the inverter, may require a replacement during the panels’ 25-year lifespan, which your original warranty may not cover. Be sure to check the smallprint and with your installer as to whether you can extend your warranty period, bearing in mind that it might be more cost-effective to replace the panels altogether. Michaud shares how part of choosing solar panels successfully is making sure you understand the warranties offered, as the years and levels of coverage can differ significantly across brands. Michaud recommends getting your solar panels insured once installed, “make sure you amend your homeowner’s or property insurance to protect your solar energy system” also. Solar panels typically come under buildings insurance in the UK but it is best to check if the cover is sufficient.
  6. Questionable production and recycling methods
    Although solar panels are a greener way to generate domestic energy, manufacturing and disposal can pose problems. Recycling the panels after their 25-30 year lifespan, in particular, is cause for concern. However, if the recycling process is re-designed in future, the industry could see a 42 per cent reduction in Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. Duncan shares: “Although solar panels have a long lifespan, they will eventually need to be replaced. The disposal of solar panels can be a concern due to the presence of toxic materials, such as cadmium and lead. However, responsible solar panel manufacturers and installers ensure that panels are disposed of safely and sustainably.” Thankfully, there are continued efforts around the world to improve how they are disposed of.

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</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, 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.