Facts
7 min read

The pros and cons of solar panels

Last updated on 19 February 2024

Learn about the many upsides and (not many) downsides of switching to solar, including typical savings.

Photo of author Sophie Lewis

Written bySophie Lewis

A polycrystalline solar panel with a thumbs up and a thumbs down either side of it

☀️ Solar panels are a clean and renewable energy source that can help reduce your carbon footprint

⚡ Benefits include reducing your reliance on the grid and saving money on your monthly electricity bills

💷 However, installing solar panels can require a significant upfront investment

Considering the increasing popularity of solar panels, you might be wondering if they are actually worth the investment. Well, whilst solar panels come with a series of pros and cons, fortunately there are far more advantages than there are drawbacks. Read on for our rundown. 

If you’re interested in finding out how much a solar & battery system could save, simply click the button below and provide us with a few details.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of solar panels?

Solar panels have become increasingly popular in recent years, with 2023 set to be the best year ever for renewable energy installations in the UK, according to MCS data. This is unsurprising, given that more and more of us are becoming aware of our carbon footprint, plus saving money on energy bills is high on many people’s lists (given the current economic climate).

So what do solar panels have going for them, and what do they have going against them?

The seven pros of solar panels

Here are the seven benefits of installing solar panels on your home:

1. You'll have lower energy bills

2. You can earn money through grid export tariffs

3. They're environmentally friendly

4. You'll have increased energy independence

5. They could increase your home's value

6. They are low maintenance

7. You could benefit from government incentives

1. You’ll have lower energy bills

One of the most significant advantages of solar panels is that they can help you save money on your energy bills. By generating your own electricity, you can reduce your reliance on the grid, decrease the amount you pay on bills each month, and gradually pay back the initial cost of the solar panels. In fact, you could slash your energy bills by around 89% each year*.

2. You can earn money through grid export tariffs

If you generate more electricity than you use, you can earn money by selling the excess back to the grid. For many properties with a solar & battery system, export income could be worth over £600 each year*.

A bit of government legislation back in 2019 called the Smart Export Guarantee (which replaced the Feed-in Tariff) allowed households to sell renewably generated electricity back to the grid. The scheme ensures that all large energy suppliers (i.e. those with more than 150,000 customers) have to offer households a price per kilowatt-hour (kWh).

To do this you would need to sign up to an SEG tariff, but there is a lot of choice, and fortunately the tariff provider does not have to be the same as your energy supplier. 

However, many energy suppliers now offer multiple export tariffs, not just an SEG tariff. What’s the key difference? Well, some export tariffs allow you to import electricity from the grid when it’s cheap, store it in your battery, and then sell it back to the grid for a profit. In fact, a household could install a storage battery without solar panels, and still make use of certain export tariffs.

Rates regularly change, and they also vary widely; some export tariffs pay as low as 2p per kWh, whilst others exceed 30p per kWh. 

3. They are environmentally friendly

Solar panels are a clean and renewable source of energy, meaning they don't produce any harmful emissions. By using solar power, you can reduce your carbon footprint and help protect the environment. According to the IPCC, the carbon footprint of rooftop solar panels is roughly 12 times less than natural gas and 20 times less than coal. 

With a solar & battery system, your household carbon footprint could drop by almost 1,100kg per year, equivalent to a return flight from London to New York*. Over your solar panels’ lifespan, this adds up to 30 flights. So you’re not just saving money — you’re helping the planet, too.

If you're interested, you can check out our full rundown of solar panel facts.

4. You'll have increased energy independence

By generating your own electricity, you can become more self-sufficient and less reliant on the grid. This can be particularly beneficial during power outages or other emergencies.

It’s important to note that not all solar batteries are set up to keep working during a power cut, but it is possible to have some models of solar battery installed in this way. If you're not sure about whether to get a battery, check out our full guide to whether solar batteries are worth it.

A row of red houses in the UK with solar panels on each rooftop

5. They could increase your home’s value

Installing solar panels could increase the value of your home if you come to sell. Potential buyers are often willing to pay more for a property with solar panels, as they know they will save money on energy bills, and modern black solar panels look much better on rooftops than older blue panels did.

If you have a property with a D-rated EPC, adding solar panels can increase your EPC score by around 15-20 points, which in most cases will raise it to a C. And a study by Rightmove suggests that increasing a property’s EPC from D to C will also increase its value by 3%, or £11,157.

If you'd like to find out more solar energy statistics that could help you make your mind up, read our guide.

6. They are low maintenance

Solar panels require very little maintenance once installed and have a typical life expectancy of at least 25 years, with some premium models reaching up to 40 years. They have no moving parts and are designed to withstand harsh weather conditions, making them a reliable and long-lasting investment.

However, they do sometimes require cleaning - maybe once every one or two years. This is especially necessary if your solar panel system doesn't have any bird protection and pigeons have made their nest under your panels.

7. You could benefit from government incentives

There are various government incentives available for those looking to install solar panels to make them a more affordable option. These include:

  •  The Home Upgrade Grant. This is available to 45 local authorities in England (until 31 March 2025) where you could get up to £10,000 funding if you are low income, are off the gas grid, or your home has an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) between D and G
  • The Energy Company Obligation 4 (ECO4). Available until 31 March 2026, this scheme aims to improve the country’s least energy-efficient homes and also targets low-income families and other vulnerable households receiving government benefits  
  •  Zero VAT (until 31 March 2027). This applies to the supply and installation of solar panels and solar batteries on residential properties in the UK. However, this zero rate does not apply to standalone solar battery installations.

*Our source: these figures are based on an average of 32 different solar & battery system designs from Sunsave’s database, comprising properties from all over England and Wales. Each system in this sample uses 430W solar panels and a 5.8kWh battery, and is signed up to the Octopus Flux export tariff.

The three cons of solar panels 

While solar panels have many benefits, like anything, there are also some drawbacks to consider before investing in them. Here are the three main cons of solar panels:

1. There's a fairly high upfront cost

2. They work less well in the winter

3. There are certain installation requirements

1. There's a fairly high upfront cost

The initial cost of installing solar panels can be quite high. This includes the cost of the panels, installation, and any additional equipment such as batteries or inverters. For instance, a typical 3kWp solar panel system plus 5kWh battery costs around £11,000 (including scaffolding and labour costs).

However, this is where Sunsave comes in – we offer the UK’s first solar subscription, so you can have panels installed at no upfront cost, and start saving on your electricity bills from day one. 

It's also worth noting that solar panel costs used to be much, much higher, as the chart below illustrates (based on data from the International Renewable Energy Agency, 2023).

Falling solar panel costs over time

2. They work less well in the winter

Solar panels only produce electricity when there is daylight, which means they are not producing any during the night. However, by adding a solar battery to a solar panel system, you can store up any electricity that you weren’t there to use in the daytime, and then make use of it in the evenings.

Solar panels also produce less electricity in the winter months due to shorter days, lower sun, and cloudier weather. This means you will still need to draw electricity from the grid at certain times of the year. Despite their lower production in wintry weather, in most cases solar panels still provide a hefty reduction in annual electricity bills due to their strong summer output (and the ability to sell excess to the grid).

3. There are firm installation requirements

The number one requirement for solar panels is that you must be a homeowner. If you’re renting accommodation, you’ll be extremely unlikely to have the authority to set up solar panels on your roof. And given the main benefits of solar panels are enjoyed by a property’s residents, it’s rare that landlords are interested in switching to solar.

Fortunately, solar panels are classed as a ‘permitted development’ in the UK (meaning you usually don’t need planning approval before going ahead with an installation), but there are still a few requirements to think about. 

Firstly, solar panels require a significant amount of space to be installed (typically at least 2m² per panel), which can be a challenge for homeowners with limited roof space. Solar panels are also pretty heavy (usually around 15-30kg per panel), meaning flat roofs and shed roofs are often not tough enough to withstand them. 

It’s also a bit trickier to get solar panels if you live in a conservation area or a listed building. Approval is certainly still possible in most cases, but there’s more bureaucracy to navigate.

Summary

In conclusion, the pros tend to outweigh the cons when it comes to getting solar panels. As we navigate the challenges posed by climate change and dwindling fossil fuel resources, embracing solar energy is a responsible and forward-thinking choice.

Alongside the environmental benefits are the economic advantages, with solar panels helping to lower energy bills and enabling you to make money via the Smart Export Guarantee.

The only challenges posed by solar panels are whether your roof is suitable for installation in the first place, and if it is, whether you can ultimately afford the high upfront costs.

To find out how much money a solar & battery system could save you, click the button below and answer a few quick questions.

Solar panel pros & cons: FAQs

What is a negative of using solar panels?

While solar panels have numerous benefits, there are also some potential drawbacks including high upfront costs, intermittent energy production, and installation requirements such as space and what weight your roof can carry.

How long do solar panels last?

The lifespan of solar panels can vary depending on the type of panel and the conditions in which they are used. However, on average, solar panels are designed to last for about 25 to 30 years. Many manufacturers provide warranties for this duration.

Are solar panels worth it?

The question of whether solar panels are worth it depends on various factors, including your energy consumption, the cost of solar installation, and the location of your property.

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Sunsave Group Limited (company number: 13741813) and its affiliates, Sunsave UK Limited (company number: 13941186) and Sunsave Energy Limited (company number: 13952135), together trading as “Sunsave”, provide renewable energy systems and finance and are registered at 23 Ansdell Terrace, London, W8 5BY. Sunsave Energy Limited (FRN: 979494) is a lender authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Sunsave UK Limited (FRN: 977566) acts as a credit broker and can introduce you to a panel of lenders for the purpose of arranging finance. Sunsave UK Limited is an appointed representative of Product Partnerships Limited (FRN: 626349) which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and registered at Suite D2 Josephs Well, Hanover Walk, Leeds, LS3 1AB.