A guide to solar panels

Many people are exploring opportunities for generating their own electricity and solar panel installations are becoming more common. 

Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels create electricity from sunlight which is used to power household appliances and lighting. Solar panels require daylight – not necessarily direct sunlight – to generate energy. 

Solar panels

How do you know if your roof is suitable for solar panels? Whilst you should seek guidance from a PV technician, you can start by considering these basic factors:

  • Shading: The roof space should not be in the shade.
  • Orientation: The roof will ideally face south, to take advantage of maximum daylight exposure. If you have a flat roof, consider tilt frames or frameless panels to stop water from pooling in the panels and eventually creeping in.
  • Existing foundations: Be sure that your electrical panel is up to scratch and that your roof can handle the extra weight.
  • Permissions: Solar panels are permitted developments, so households should not need planning permission. It’s a good idea to check with your local authority if you’re not sure though, because there may be limits and restrictions in certain areas.
  • Roof area: Several factors will influence the size of the system you can install, including available area and home electricity use. An area of about 10-20m2 could deliver 20-45% of household electricity needs.

If you think your home might be suitable for solar panels, find an MCS certified contractor to request a quote.

Congratulations! You’ve decided to get solar panels. Now’s the time to think about how they’ll interact with your home’s current and future systems. Here are three main considerations.

  1. Electric vehicles: Consider over-sizing your solar panel system if you plan to get an electric vehicle.
  2. Batteries: If your goal is to gain energy independence from the grid, installing batteries for back up power may be a good option for you. Tell your installer if you’re keen to explore this since you may only be able to run critical household items on it.
  3. Community Energy Networks: As a renewable energy generator, you can sell your extra electricity at a competitive price, and as a purchaser you can often buy local renewable energy at a competitive price. Joining a community energy group is a great way to make useful contacts.

A number of financial incentives can help with the cost of solar panel technology:

  • Group-buying: Buying in bulk is often cheaper than buying independently, and group-buying projects, like Solar Together, take advantage of this to drive costs down for everyone who proceeds with an installation.
  • Grants: Funding may be available for low-income households who meet specific criteria. Check out our Grants and Funding page for more information.
  • Smart Export Guarantee: Certain energy suppliers offer tariffs that pay you to export solar electricity. Your solar installation must meet a set of eligibility requirements, but you can choose a supplier other than the one that supplies your energy.

You might also find the Energy Saving Trust Solar Energy Calculator useful for costs and benefits information.

By consuming as much generated solar electricity as possible, you reduce the amount of electricity you buy from the grid and thereby you reduce your electricity bills. A solar diverter (also known as a PV booster, solar PV optimiser or solar immersion controller), which can pre-heat water, is one way to make use of excess electricity that’s been generated. An EV battery is another way to store excess electricity.

Finally, don’t confuse the PV generation meter with your mains electricity meter when providing meter readings to your electricity supplier! You may not even need to take readings if you have a smart meter.

Our Southampton Healthy Homes programme offers financial support for solar panels to eligible applicants.