Solar panels are a big investment that can offer many benefits to homeowners. The process of getting solar panels installed, however, requires a lot of thought and consideration from choosing the best solar panels, finding a trustworthy installer, and choosing any additional components.
After all, we all want to maximise future savings, and reduce your panel’s payback time as much as possible. Plus we want to make the installation process easy and stress-free.
In this post, we’re covering the most important steps of purchasing a solar panel system. After reading this post, you’ll be prepared to contact an installer and start the process of getting solar panels fitted on your roof.
Since 2008, solar panels are “Permitted Development” which means, in most cases, they don’t require a planning permission. However, houses situated in a conservation area, and listed buildings do need planning permission for solar panels.
Before setting unrealistic expectations for solar energy yield, one should assess their roof’s suitability for solar panels.
First of all, is the roof strong enough to take on the weight of the solar panels? If the roof is in good condition, the extra load from solar panels shouldn’t cause an issue. But if the roof is old or damaged, it probably needs to be fixed before solar panel installation.
Second, is the direction (orientation) and angle (pitch) of the roof optimal for solar? South facing roofs are the best for maximising solar energy yields, but roofs facing west, south-west, east, or south-east can have a good amount of sunshine for generating solar energy. If you have roofs facing east and west, you can split the array across both roofs and this will provide a more even amount of energy production throughout the day.
As for the angle of the roof, 35 to 40 degrees from horizontal is the best angle for UK roofs for solar panels, but almost any pitched roof angle can access enough sunlight provided it has a good orientation and is generally free from shade.
Trees or other buildings can cast shadows on the panels which doesn’t only reduce the output of the shaded panel, but the whole solar array. When shading is unavoidable, adding optimisers to the shaded panels will allow them to still produce some energy when shaded without negatively impacting the performance of the other panels in the system.
The three most important factors when it comes to finding the best solar panel are efficiency, the lifespan of the solar panel, and the aesthetics of the panel.
The efficiency of a solar panel is based on its power output and its size. The higher a panel’s efficiency, the more power output it has on the same surface area.
Currently an average efficiency for on-roof residential solar panels is between 19.5% and 21%. Solar panel efficiency is over 21% is considered excellent, and it will provide a much better energy yield than a 19.5% efficiency panel.
Solar energy is all about long-term investments whether it be about financial return or environmental sustainability. All solar panels degrade over time. Most panels are expected to last for 25 years with a reasonable power output (over 80% of the original power) but with improvements in technology, the levels of degradation are reducing and we now have panels that stay above 80% after 30 years.
When considering which panels to get, look for well established manufacturers. Many manufacturers including huge global brand names have come in and gone back out of solar over the past 15 to 20 years.
Do they have a UK representative? As most panels come from China, UK support is important. Although any warranty claims need to be handled by an installer, they still need to be able to communicate with the manufacturer, so local representation is important and helps to deal with issues in a timely manner.
Aesthetics are probably not as important for everyone, but for some, it may be the most important factor. But either way, these panels are going to be on your roof for 25+ years, you will have to look at them every day, your neighbours are also going to see them, so you might as well choose a panel that looks nice.
The Perlight Delta 415W (available from Autumn 2022) ticks all the boxes. It has a module efficiency of 21.2%, it comes with a 30-year product warranty and a 30-year linear output warranty, and it has a beautiful, all black aesthetic.
The Microgeneration Certification Scheme has been the recognised UK standard for renewable technologies including solar panels and also installation companies since 2007.
MCS installers must use MCS certified products and adhere to MCS guidelines for designing and installing panels in the correct way.
In addition, every MCS installer is required to be a member of a Consumer Code, which are organisations that promote consumer interests by setting out the principles of effective customer service and protection. It provides a place for you to go if you were to get into a dispute with your installer that couldn’t be resolved. Installers will be a member with either RECC, HIES or GGF.
Another important benefit is that only MCS certified installations are eligible to receive payments for excess energy exported to the grid through the Smart Export Guarantee.
Although there are a vast array of products on the market that adequately meet technical requirements, it is impossible in most cases to know if the workers within the supply chain are being treated properly. This has been a topic of controversy, which has cast a shadow on the solar panel, mobile phone and electronics industries in general over the past few years.
The SA8000 standard and certification scheme is a guarantee for social responsibility and worker’s rights that goes much further than safeguarding against the worst abuses such as child and forced labour but also guarantees safe working conditions, reasonable working hours, a fair wage and more to factory workers.
Choosing the right installer is crucial for these reasons: the cost, quality of installation and post installation service and support.
Even the best solar panels are going to produce terrible results if they aren’t fitted correctly.
Installation cost may vary greatly between installers, and that’s why it’s recommended to get quotes from at least 3 different companies. Finding value is very important, but that doesn’t always mean choosing the cheapest service. System design is crucial to performance and return on your investment. It is standard practice for an installer to need to survey the roof in order to provide a quote, which tells you how many panels you can have, the layout as well as an estimate of how much power you can expect to generate over the lifetime of the system and potential payback period.
Choosing a reputable company is very important, even if you have to wait a while due to the current spike in demand. Experienced installers are not just solar, battery and EV experts, they have expertise in roofing and electrical too. Choosing an MCS certified company should be the minimum requirement to ensure the company is reliable but also look for reviews or ask for referrals.
⚬ Search the MCS installer database to find local companies
⚬ Have any of your friends or family members had solar panels fitted recently? Who did they use?
⚬ Ask in local Facebook groups and forums for recommendations!
⚬ Check the installer company’s reviews on Facebook, Google Maps, and review websites.
⚬ Ask Us! Although waiting times are currently quite long, we can recommend installers that we know and trust.
Once solar panels are installed and working, they generally keep on doing so quite well, however, problems can still occur and 25 to 30 years is a very long time. In most cases, if the system stops working altogether, the inverter is the first place to look. Most inverters have a 10-15 year lifespan so they will need to be replaced at some point during the lifetime of the system. They can also have faults occur for various reasons. So if this happens, you will need to contact the installer.
We recommend having your system inspected once a year to ensure that all wiring is in good condition, and also cleaning if necessary as soiling will impact panel performance and the overall health of the system.
Another addition to consider is remote monitoring. Although this may cost slightly more initially, it can dramatically reduce costs in the event of faults by making fault finding much easier because the installer can see the condition of the system even down to individual panel level without getting up to the roof or even attending site. It also gives you full visibility and peace of mind to be able to see what each of your panels are doing. Furthermore, if you can no longer contact the original installer, you will be able to share the monitoring access with a new installer, helping them to pin-point any issues quickly.
The size (or capacity) of the inverter is also important, and it depends on the size of the solar system.
An experienced installer will be able to help you choose the right inverter size and a reputable inverter brand for your needs, so you don’t need to worry about choosing the best inverter by yourself, unless you really want to.
We are partners of SolaX because they offer a wide range of efficient solar inverters and battery storage solutions for every solar system size and importantly, they provide UK based technical support and training for installers.
Every household has different needs and habits and whether or not they need a battery will depend on many factors such as their energy use (quantity and time), the size of the solar system, and of course, the budget. The installer will be able to give quotes and estimates with or without a solar battery on which homeowners can base their decisions.
Featured image: installed by The Solar Electrician
For all product enquiries please speak to our customer service centre