7 min read

How are solar panels installed?

Last updated on 08 February 2024

Wondering how solar panels end up on your roof? Learn about the full installation process in nine detailed steps.

Photo of author Melody Abeni

Written byMelody Abeni

People installing a solar panel on a roof, with a cartoon screwdriver and spanner in the foreground

🏠 A property survey is the first step of any effective installation

📃 Planning permission usually isn’t needed - unless you live in a conservation area or listed building

💷 Use an MCS-certified installer to make sure you can get SEG payments

A solar panel system works wonders once it’s up on your roof, but there are a few steps involved in getting it up there. 

From your initial survey to the final switch-on, this article will cover everything you need to know about the installation journey.

Looking to switch to solar? Click the button below to find out how much money a solar & battery system could save you.

The solar panel installation process: explained

The nine key steps of solar panel installation are as follows:

  1. Assessment, design and planning
  2. Getting the components ready
  3. Installing the solar panels
  4. Connecting to the grid
  5. Safety checks and testing
  6. Monitoring system setup
  7. Final inspection and approval
  8. System activation
  9. Ongoing maintenance

Let's take a closer look at each step of the solar panel installation process.

1. Assessment, design and planning

The first step involves a remote survey where solar professionals evaluate your roof's condition and assess whether it’s suitable for solar panels. A professional installer will always verify that your roof is structurally sound before going ahead - if they aren’t 100% confident, you’ll be advised against taking the risk.

Once the solar expert is satisfied with your roof’s structural stability, they will then use the data from the survey to design a solar panel system for your property. It's all about deciding how many solar panels to use, how many your roof can safely fit, where to put them, what type of inverter to use, what size battery to use, and how to arrange the wiring.

This will also be the point to secure essential permits and approvals from local authorities and utility companies if needed - but more on that below (see ‘Is your property suitable for solar panels?’).

2. Getting the components ready

With the blueprint in hand, your professional installer will select the most appropriate hardware for your new solar panel system, and will order the components to be delivered to your property a few days before the installation. Choosing the right equipment sets the stage for a smooth installation and efficient solar panel system.

3. Putting the panels on your roof

Once you've paid the upfront cost of solar panels (or opted for a solar subscription), it's then time for the installation day.

Before getting started, installers will visit your property to set up scaffolding so they can access your roof safely. With the scaffolding up, they’ll attach a metal mounting system to your roof, which includes specially designed brackets that will hold the solar panels without damaging your roof tiles.

After securing each solar panel to the mounting system, it's time to install the inverter - this transforms the direct current (DC) electricity converted by the solar panels into alternating current (AC) electricity that can power your appliances.

Once everything is in place, the electrical wiring is carefully installed, connecting the solar panels to the inverter and then to your home’s main electrical panel.

4. Connecting to the grid

For the vast majority of solar panel systems, the next step is to link it to the grid. With this connection, you can export any excess electricity you generate and get paid for it (through the Smart Export Guarantee or other export tariffs).

The Smart Export Guarantee is a government-backed scheme (set up to replace the old Feed-in Tariff) that forces all large energy suppliers to pay you for every excess unit of electricity your solar panel system generates and feeds back to the grid.

However, you can also find suppliers offering other export tariffs that aren’t part of the Smart Export Guarantee scheme, and are often a lot more competitive.

5. Safety checks and testing

After connecting all the wiring and components, your installer will make sure everything is running smoothly and safely by doing rigorous checks.

This test covers everything, from checking if the wires are connected properly to making sure the system works as it should. Think of it as the quality assurance checkpoint, ensuring that every element is in sync.

6. Monitoring system setup

To keep things running smoothly, this step involves setting up your monitoring system. Some solar inverters offer built-in functions that provide convenient monitoring on your smartphone or computer.

It's like having a virtual caretaker watching your solar system's performance in real time, giving you valuable insights into your energy production and helping you quickly spot any potential issues.

7. Final inspection and approval

In some parts of the UK, the local authorities or utility companies might pay you a visit to make sure your solar panel system meets safety and electrical codes before giving it the thumbs up.

8. System activation

Once all the approvals are in place, it's time to activate the system. Your solar panels are all set to convert sunlight into electricity, so you can reduce your reliance on traditional energy sources and help create a cleaner world.

9. Ongoing maintenance

The final step in going solar is making sure everything stays in tip-top shape.

Don't forget to do regular maintenance check-ups on your solar panels, including cleaning and inspecting for issues - that's the key to keeping them in good condition and ensuring they produce electricity for years.

Two installers carrying a black solar panel along some scaffolding, in front of a house's roof

Is your property suitable for solar panels?

Most homes can benefit from having solar panels installed, but if you're in a conservation area or your home is a listed building, you’ll need to get planning permission first. Otherwise, most private solar installations fall under 'permitted development' rights.

However, if the inverter you install alongside your system is larger than 3.68 kW – which may happen if you're getting a 4 kW solar panel system or bigger – your installer will need to submit a G99 application to your region's Distribution Network Operator (DNO) to be sure of grid compatibility.

In the UK, a G99 application is required before installing larger electrical generation equipment, like solar panel systems, which exceed a certain capacity. In these cases, your local DNO will need to check that your solar panels won’t cause any issues with the neighbourhood's electricity supply.

The process involves submitting detailed technical information about the proposed system to the local DNO, who will then assess whether the grid can handle the additional input from your system without compromising safety or reliability.

Is your roof suitable for solar panels?

For your roof to be suitable for solar panels, it should be in good condition and structurally sound, without major obstructions or shadows. The best roofs are pitched or sloped at a 30-40 degree angle and made of hardy materials like clay or concrete tiles. Ideally, it shouldn't be north-facing - south, east, west, or varying orientations are good for solar panels.

There's a maximum number of panels you can install on your roof without risking them getting blown away in strong winds or not meeting certification standards. But doing a thorough survey at first will help safeguard your home.

Does solar panel installation damage your roof?

When properly installed by trained professionals who know what they're doing, solar panel installation rarely causes damage to your roof. In fact, solar panels can provide an added layer of protection to your roof by shielding it from the elements.

How long does a solar panel installation take?

It usually takes about two to three days to install solar panels, but this can change depending on how big and complex the system is. For smaller and less complicated installations, it can be done in a single day.

After your remote survey, you'll have a better idea of how long the installation will take.

How long does the scaffolding stay up?

Usually, the scaffolding goes up five days before the solar installation starts and comes down around five days after it’s finished.

The extra time afterwards is just in case your solar array needs any adjustments or fixes. This way, you’re not inconvenienced with the hassle of setting the scaffolding up again if there are any issues after installation.

Will your property have power during the installation?

The installer will shut your power off for a little while during the solar panel installation, as it’s a necessary step to safely connect your new hardware to your home’s power supply - but the interruption is minimal, lasting around an hour or so.

Where are the inverter and battery installed?

Solar installers typically place the inverter and solar battery in different locations for practical and safety considerations.

Inverters need good ventilation to prevent overheating and should be easy to get to for maintenance, so you can usually find them in the garage, utility room, or on an outside wall near the main electrical panel.

Like inverters, batteries also need to be accessible for maintenance and monitoring so you can also find them in a garage, basement, or utility room. These locations protect the battery from extreme temperatures, which can impact its performance and lifespan.

Can you install solar panels yourself?

We really wouldn’t recommend installing solar panels yourself, for both practical and safety reasons.

Aside from the fact that DIY installations pose safety risks and may lead to improper functioning, it’s very unlikely that a self-installed solar panel system will get certified under the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS). And without MCS certification, you won’t be eligible for SEG payments for your surplus electricity.

When you use qualified professionals, you get a secure, efficient, and certified solar energy system for the best performance and financial benefits - and you’ll safeguard your home’s future sale value.

Solar panel installation: FAQs

How do they attach solar panels to the roof?

First, installers put in mounting brackets – the anchors that hold everything in place. They're carefully aligned and secured to your roof's rafters for a strong grip. After this, the solar panels are attached to these brackets using a rail system.

This setup allows the panels to sit securely on your roof and withstand things like strong winds or heavy rain. It's all done with care to minimise the risk of damage to your roof and to make sure the panels stay put for years to come.

How do solar panels get fitted?

Fitting solar panels starts with a detailed assessment, design, and planning phase. Next, installers get all the components ready, including setting up scaffolding for safety. Then comes the main part: installing the solar panels themselves and connecting your system to the grid.

Safety checks and testing are essential to ensure everything is functioning well. Installers will also set up a monitoring system so you can keep an eye on how much energy you're producing.

At the end there's a final inspection and approval, followed by system activation.

How are solar panels connected to the house?

First, the panels on your roof capture daylight and convert it into DC (direct current) electricity. This electricity is still in a form your house can't use, so it goes through an inverter that transforms it into the AC (alternating current) electricity we use at home.

This usable electricity is sent through your home's electrical panel, powering your lights, air fryer, TV – you name it. Any extra power can either be stored in a solar battery for later use or sent back to the grid for extra cash.

Does solar panel installation include bird protection?

Many providers consider bird protection measures as an additional service usually comes at an extra cost. Some installers might give you basic bird deterrents like mesh or spikes, but a more comprehensive solution could start adding up.

Most good installers will give you the option to add bird protection to your solar panel system before installation.

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