High-end solar panels will cost between £7,000 and £8,000 for a conventional, rigid, rooftop solar panel array, while the average cost to install solar panels is around £6,800 for a three-bedroom home. Cheaper solar panels tend to be less efficient, which means they generate less solar electricity and don’t last as long as more expensive and better-quality panels. 

This article will explain what to look for in solar panels of different price ranges, and delve into the pros and cons of cheap solar panels.

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What makes a good solar panel?

A good solar panel should be efficient, made with high-quality components, be installed by a certified professional and come with a warranty. 

1. Components

Most solar panels are now made in China, including most cheap solar panel brands, which are manufactured at scale in large facilities to reduce costs. High-quality solar panels are made of high-quality components.

Solar panels, in the case of conventional rigid solar panels consists of a frame, a glass covering, a layer of encapsulated silicon solar cells, a backsheet and supporting elements, such as a junction box and inverter

The panel will normally have a configuration of 60 or 72 silicon solar cells, each of which reacts to light to generate electricity. Conventional solar panels use monocrystalline solar photovoltaic (PV) or polysilicon solar PV cells. The silicon is first heated to 1,410ºC to purify it. This results in a single crystal from which thin silicon wafers can be cut to produce multiple monocrystalline solar panel cells. In contrast, cheaper polycrystalline solar cells are made of additional remaining silicon that is then blended together. For this reason, polycrystalline solar PV cells tend to be less efficient than monocrystalline cells.

The frame is typically made of aluminium, which is lighter than steel and is ideal for locations subjected to severe weather conditions. The backsheet’s role is to protect the panel from constant mechanical and environmental stress and to provide electrical isolation, so it must be made of high-quality polymer.

Most high-quality backsheets consist of several layers of these materials and have a thickness ranging from 30 to 70 micrometers. Poor-quality backsheets can degrade, leading to loss of power and posing risks. It should be possible to replace a solar panel with a backsheet that fails before reaching its projected lifespan under its warranty. Junction boxes must incorporate a surge protector and be weather-resistant. They’ll often have a high IP rating to prevent dust or water from entering and be compatible with the elements of the solar panel system they were designed for.


Cheaper thin-film solar panels

Thin-film solar panels are an alternative to conventional rigid solar panels. They’re more flexible and can be used for building-integrated solar PV panels, including solar roof tiles and solar windows. However, this material is less efficient than conventional solar PV cells and requires more space, so it’s usually installed in large arrays by commercial businesses and other large organisations. There are three types of thin film solar cell material: amorphous (non-crystalline) silicon, cadmium telluride and copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS). Some manufacturers are also developing biohybrid solar cells made from a combination of organic and inorganic materials that emulate photosynthesis to make the generation of electricity more efficient. In some instances, the material can be covered with a layer of graphene to increase its efficiency.

2. Quality testing

High-quality solar panel systems will also be quality tested. Different countries have different standards and certification schemes, and the United Kingdom uses the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS). This scheme also covers installers, so the best solar panel installers will always be MCS-certified.

3. Installation

The installation process involves setting up scaffolding to access the roof before fitting a mount to support the solar panels and installing the panels on the mount. The solar panels must be fitted at an 18 to 36º angle for maximum efficiency, and the entire array must face a suitable direction to capture the maximum amount of sunlight (usually south or southeast). If the orientation moves steadily toward either directly west or east, the efficiency declines, with north being the most unsuitable orientation. The more southerly the location of the solar panel array, the better the generation, although solar panel arrays in northern regions, including Scotland, can still generate a significant amount of solar power.

Is it worth buying cheap solar panels?

The cheapest solar panel systems also tend to be the least efficient and generate less electricity, so investing in a high-quality solar panel system is advisable. These systems will be at least 20% efficient and usually come with a guarantee of 85% of their original efficiency after 25 years. 

A typical 3.5kW peak solar panel system will reduce your household electricity bill by £160 to £420 per year. In most circumstances, you can recoup the initial cost after seven years.

Also, you can earn money by exporting excess energy to the national grid under the government’s Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) scheme, making the initial outlay for more expensive, but higher-quality and more efficient panels, worthwhile.

Pros Installing cheap solar panels will reduce your initial outlay and break-even time. This means you’ll pay the costs back quicker. Even cheap solar panels are better than no solar panels and will reduce your household energy bills. Cheap solar panels will also still help reduce your residential carbon emissions and make your home greener.
Cons Cheap solar panels are more likely to be less efficient and are usually around 14% efficient, rather than 20% to 23% efficient. Cheap solar panels will not last as long as more expensive, better-quality solar panels. This means you’ll have to replace them sooner. Cheap solar panels may also lose efficiency at a greater rate than more expensive panels. Cheap solar panels may also be more difficult to maintain effectively because they’re low quality.

How to find the best cheap panels for your budget

There are a range of high-quality yet relatively low-cost solar panel brands to choose from. For instance, The Jinko Solar Tiger Neo 420W solar panel is rated out Best Overall solar panel. It costs around £87 per panel and includes a 25-year warranty. Other quality brands include Project Solar UK, SunPower, JA Solar and Suntech. Sunsave recently launched the UK’s first monthly subscription for solar panels, which may help people meet the initial cost.


Should you let installers choose your panels?

An installer should visit your property to inspect which type of panels would be most suitable. All reputable solar installers in the UK should be accredited by the MCS, so will have a good understanding of what makes a quality panel, and can advise on the best for your budget from a range of brands so you can make an informed decision.

Are there any ways to reduce the cost of solar panels?

The best way to reduce the cost of a solar panel system is to shop around and get a range of quotes. Smaller, regional solar panel installers will often be cheaper than larger companies. Additionally, the government’s SEG scheme, which replaced the Feed-In Tariff (FIT), requires energy companies to pay tariffs for homeowners who export excess solar power to the grid from their solar panel systems. 

Some solar panel grants might enable eligible homeowners to recoup 100& of the cost for solar panels.

Cheap solar panels FAQs