Learn how to choose the right solar panels for your house, consider sunlight exposure, roof orientation, space & budget.
In many parts of the UK, it’s still quite rare to see homes with solar panels on their roofs. However, you might have noticed that the number has grown over the past few years. It could be down to increasing energy prices, or homeowners just wanting to do their bit for the environment.
But recently, the price of buying and installing solar panels has started to tumble, too. So as more people choose to grab the opportunity to start making their home more sustainable, the next hurdle is choosing solar panels that suit your location, building and energy goals.
Let’s start by reminding you of the benefits of installing the right solar panels.
Despite all the advantages, there are some occasions when solar panels might not be the right option for you and your home. Before you discover how to choose solar panels, ask yourself:
So, you’ve weighed up the benefits, and the potential negatives have been eliminated or worked around. Now it’s all down to choosing the right solar panels for your domestic needs. Looking at the list below, it might seem complicated at first. But most of the factors either sort themselves out or are down to budget or feasibility. And if you read on, we’ll show you a really easy way of working out what panels you need – in fact, you can find the perfect solution in less than five minutes. Here’s how to choose solar panels based on your requirement and what’s possible for your property.
It’s crucial to assess your energy consumption to determine the appropriate size and capacity of solar panels you require. Consider factors such as your average monthly electricity usage and whether you want to cover all or only a portion of your energy needs with solar power.
You won’t be disconnected from the mains, so whatever you choose, there will always be enough electricity coming into your home. But if you and your family are quite heavy users, the panels can make a noticeable difference to your monthly bills, and will cover their installation costs eventually.
Think about how often you use electric showers or under floor heating; whether you use the washing machine and dryer frequently; if you have an electric or hybrid car; how many gadgets, lights and appliances you regularly use; and whether you have air conditioning. You can get a good feel for your consumption by glancing at your bill, preferably over a year rather than a month, as that varies considerably. The average UK household uses 2,900 kWh of electricity in a year – how does yours compare?
There are different types of solar cells available, including monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin-film. Each has its own advantages and efficiency levels, and in general, the more efficient they are (monocrystalline are the most efficient of those types) the more the up-front costs will be. If you’re bamboozled by the technical options, don’t worry – an expert will be able to help you choose based on your power usage and the orientation of your roof.
The power output of solar panels is measured in watts. Higher wattage panels produce more electricity, so it’s important to choose panels with power output matching your energy requirements. Keep in mind that higher wattage panels tend to be more expensive.
While it’s nice for your panels to have an uninterrupted view of the sky, it’s not always possible. Trees, buildings and even your own chimney can get in the way. However, if you place several panels wisely, you can maintain a steady supply of power even if some of them are temporarily in deep shadows. Your installer can advise you on whether you need optimisers. They keep the energy flowing even when one or more panels are not gathering light. Without optimisers, power can stop flowing if just one panel is obscured.
Determining the number of panels you need depends on your energy needs, your budget and the available space for installation. A higher number of panels can generate more electricity, but you’ll need to strike a balance considering available roof or ground space and budget constraints. Panels come in different sizes, too, so that will determine the number. A common size is 1722 × 1134 × 30 mm (approximately 5′ 9″ × 3′ 9″ × 1″), which is a little shorter and wider than a normal domestic door.
The efficiency of solar panels determines how effectively they convert sunlight into electricity. Higher efficiency panels can provide more power output for a given surface area, making them suitable for small roofs or areas with limited installation space. However, these panels are generally more expensive than those with lower efficiency. If you’ve only got a small potential area to play with, it’s probably worth spending a little extra on fewer high efficiency panels than a greater number of less efficient ones.
Solar panels deliver power when enough light falls onto them, so once the sun sets, they will be taking a well-earned rest. While that has traditionally meant reverting to mains electricity, you can now extend their usefulness into the evening and night, too.
Installing a battery means you can be storing excess power during the day to use when the sun is not shining. That’s particularly useful for people whose homes are empty during the day but occupied at night. But even if your home is occupied all day, you can still benefit from a battery. In some cases, it might even be worth your while getting a battery instead of an extra panel.
If you’re hoping to make a trickle of income from your panels, note that a battery will reduce the amount of excess energy your panels will put back into the grid. But since you’ll be saving money on your evening consumption, it will tip the balance in your favour anyway.
Consider the mounting options available for solar panels, as different mounting systems have different costs and maintenance requirements. Panels work best when they are oriented at 90 degrees to the direction of light. That’s why commercial solar farms have panels that track the sun as it moves across the sky.
For most domestic applications, it’s not practicable to have tracking panels, so they are fixed in the position that’s calculated to be most effective. Panels sitting flush with the roof might be most aesthetically pleasing, but they might not be optimal, especially on a flat or gently sloping roof. In such cases, the mounts might need to do the job of positioning the panels, rather than the angle of the roof. That creates a very different look to the panels, which may or may not be to your taste.
Solar panels come at varying price points, so it's important to consider your budget. Remember to factor in installation costs, warranties, maintenance and potential system upgrades. Of course, this should be balanced with the cost savings and the potential increase in your home’s value – and it’s impossible to put a cost on the planet. In the real world, your budget today will decide on what system you can put in place now, not the potential savings 20 years down the line. If you find solar is working for you, you can always upgrade your system in 5–10 years.
When it comes to budget, remember that a large part of the cost is the installation. That’s why it works out better value for money if you have all your panels installed in one go, rather than doing half now and adding extra panels at a later date. Mounts and structural work, as well as things like scaffolding, transport and installers’ time, are cheaper when the whole task is planned and accomplished in a single day (which is usually as long as it takes).
Make sure you choose solar panels from reputable manufacturers that offer quality products. Consider the warranty period offered for the panels, as it reflects the manufacturer’s confidence in their product, and also protects you, and future owners of your home, from expensive repairs.
At Make My House Green, we only use panels from Tier 1 manufacturers. Tiers come from a ranking system managed by Bloomberg. It looks at the financial state of the supplier, which in turn estimates how likely they are to still be trading over the lifetime of your panels. That’s important, because a warranty only has value if the company is still around to replace or repair your panels. Find out more about TIer 1 here.
Research customer reviews and ratings from reliable sources to gain insights into the performance, durability and customer satisfaction of various solar panel brands and models. This can help you make an informed decision based on the experiences of other users. Pay close attention to reviews that highlight specific pros and cons related to your considerations, such as energy output, installation process and overall product satisfaction.
Also note that this is a rapidly changing industry, with new technologies coming on stream all the time, and prices continually falling. Reviews from 10 years ago might be testament to the longevity of a product or brand, but there could be panels around today that are more efficient and less expensive.
How to choose the right solar panel for you
Hopefully you’re now convinced that solar panels are not just feasible but also highly beneficial. That’s when many people stop and think … “What now? Do I have to trawl the internet looking for trusted suppliers and installers?”
Thankfully, you’ve now reached the easy part. All you have to do is visit our home page and you’ll see a box asking for your postcode. You’ll then be asked various questions about your home, such as the direction it faces and how steep your roof is. All your data will then go securely to our calculator.
Given the location and orientation of your home and its roof, the calculator will accurately work out how much solar energy you can expect to harness in an average year. From that, we can work out what that would represent in terms of cash savings. Then, we can guide you through the various options for solar panelling, and even put you in contact with trusted suppliers and installers in your area.
At every step, we leave the choices up to you, and hope the figures speak for themselves. That means there’s no pressure from retailers or installers once you’ve submitted your details. We are on a mission to make the world a more sustainable place, and that’s our key motivation. We’d just love you to join us on the journey.Why not read all about solar energy in our green guides?