2022 has been a tough year for many UK homeowners, with average electricity tariff rates hiked twice over the course of the year: 54% in April 2022 and a further 80% in October 2022, though thanks to the Government’s Energy Price Guarantee, a typical household will be charged on average £2,500 per year in energy bills. This, coupled with the availability of government grants, has more UK homeowners opting to install solar panels on their homes. But how are solar panels installed and what do you need to be aware of when making the decision to go solar?
Installing solar panels on your home is not only a costly investment, it also affects the aesthetic and structure of your home. In this article, we provide a step-by-step guide on how solar panels are installed on your home, as well as other important information you should consider before investing in solar panels.
Factors to consider before investing in solar panels
Before installing solar panels on your home, it’s important to confirm if a solar panel system will meet your expectations. There are many factors to consider to ensure your system will work effectively and it’s best to research and ask solar panel companies what a solar system can and can’t do. Here are some factors you should consider before taking the plunge with solar power.
Roof condition and orientation
The majority of domestic solar panel systems are installed on roofs, so it’s important to confirm whether your roof can handle a solar power system. The size and layout of your roof will give you and your installer an idea of how many solar panels can be fitted and how much power can be generated.
Another factor to consider is the orientation and angle of your roof. A south-facing roof at a 30-degree angle is the optimum position for your solar panels to have a chance to achieve their highest output. Any obstructions like trees or chimneys on or around your roof will also affect how much electricity your solar panels can produce, as they create shade.
Finally, the condition of your roof and its construction material will affect your solar panel installation cost. Installers will charge more for challenging roof materials like concrete or ceramic tile, and if your roof is in poor condition you may have to first get it reinforced to accommodate the weight of the solar panels.
Your location and its weather patterns directly affect the amount of power your solar system can produce. Solar systems located in southern regions of the UK where there’s more sunshine will produce more electricity than those in the north, where the weather is more overcast.
Estimating how much electricity your household requires is vital in determining if solar panels can meet your demand and be a good investment. If, for example, your household needs 4 kW of electricity to run but you can only install a 3kW solar panel system on your roof, you’ll need to get the remaining 1kW from the National Grid.
Solar panels are not cheap. According to the Energy Saving Trust, a standard household solar panel system will cost around £6,500 including installation. So, it’s important to invest in a solar system that can offset this initial cost and provide long-term savings. We recommend looking at a solar system that can provide a payback period of 10 to 20 years on average.
It is also important to note that government grants and loans, such as the ECO4 scheme and the new Green Deal, are available to help make solar panel systems more affordable to UK homeowners, so be sure to check what you’re eligible for.
How solar panels are installed: The step-by-step process
After all the quotes, plans and licences are complete, your installer will schedule a date for the solar panel installation on your home. Here are the steps involved in this straightforward process.
1. Scaffolding is erected
A scaffolding team will visit a day or two before the installation to build the scaffolding around your home. This is required for any solar panel installation and allows the installation team safe access to your roof. Be sure to check that the cost of scaffolding is included in your estimate. Some companies might not include the cost of scaffolding in their quote and may charge extra or ask you to arrange it on your own.
2. Installation team arrives
After the scaffolding is erected, the installation team will arrive at your property with their equipment and the solar panels. Make sure to inspect the solar panels and confirm that they match the brand and model you were quoted. The solar panel will have a label on the back with the make, model and other technical information.
3. Anchors are installed
Anchors are metal brackets that are used to mount the rails that the solar panels will be attached to. If you have a tiled roof, the installation team will remove the tiles where the anchors are to be installed, screw the anchors to the rafters, and then refit the tiles.
If you have a concrete roof, the installation team will install the anchor brackets by drilling into the concrete, similar to the image above.
4. Solar panel rails are installed
The rails are typically aluminium sections on which the solar panels are mounted. The installation team will cut the rails to the required length on-site and attach them to the anchor brackets using nuts and bolts. Once complete, the progress should look similar to the image above.
5. Solar panels are installed
Once the rails are installed, the installation team will bring up the solar panels one at a time and attach them to the rails. The solar panels are mounted to the rails with clamps, which are tightened once the panels are positioned and angled correctly.
6. Electrical components are installed
After the solar panels are fitted, the team will install the electrical components and connect them to the solar panels. This includes a charge controller that regulates the charge produced by the solar panels and an inverter that converts the direct current (DC) electricity produced into usable alternating current (AC) electricity. There is also an isolator switch which disconnects the solar panel system from the main switchboard in your house.
From the inverter, a connection is made to the main switchboard and the consumer unit or utility meter. The meter records how much power your solar panels are importing and exporting to and from the National Grid. If your solar system includes solar batteries then the installation team will also connect these to the inverter and charge controller.
7. Solar panel system is tested
Once the solar panels and electrical components are installed and wired, the installation team will test the system. Be sure you are present at this point to confirm that the power generation is similar to what you were quoted. If you feel that the system isn’t performing to your expectations, now is the time to discuss this with the installation team. It’s also a good opportunity to discuss how to maintain your new solar panels.
How do I connect to the National Grid?
Your Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS)-certified installer will connect your solar system to the National Grid and give your District Network Operator (DNO) the details of your system up to 28 days before installation. The DNO reviews the information provided and will typically issue a certificate that acknowledges permission for your solar system to be connected to the National Grid.
For solar panel systems that produce lower than 3.68kW, the DNO will provide a rubber stamp approval. This means your installer only needs to provide information about your solar system to the DNO in order to connect to the National Grid.
For solar panel systems over 3.68kW, the DNO will conduct an investigation to verify that the local National Grid can accommodate the extra electricity produced by your solar system. Typically, this will be no problem and the grid will grant approval quickly. However, if your local National Grid cannot handle the extra power produced by your system, renovations may need to be done to the grid and you would be liable for these costs.
The Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) scheme is an initiative that compensates small-scale energy producers for any extra electricity they export to the National Grid. To qualify for the scheme your installer must be MCS-certified, or accredited to EN 45011 or EN ISO/IEC 17065:2012. In addition, each electricity provider will have different criteria for solar installations to qualify for connection to the National Grid, so be sure to discuss this with your installer and electricity provider.
Do I need planning permission to install solar panels?
Typically, planning permission is not required for domestic solar panel installations. However, if your home is listed or in a conservation area then planning permission may be required.
To check whether you need planning permission, contact your local authority, who will be able to let you know. Some local authorities have their own regulations based on the size of the proposed solar panel system. In most cases, if the solar panels extend more than 200mm from your roof, you will need planning permission, though this scenario isn’t common.
It is also advised that you inform your home insurance provider regarding your solar panel installation, as it may affect your insurance policy.