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Solar panels aren’t just a major investment into the future of your home – they’re also a significant structural addition. With rising energy costs hitting homeowners hard, many are considering taking the plunge and getting a solar panel system installed. But given their size, it’s worth knowing how to install solar panels and what is required before making these changes to your roof.
Because every home is different, your best bet is to speak to a local installer, who can tell how solar panels are installed on your specific roof. The installer will note your roof’s elevation, orientation (south-facing is best) and any problematic shade, such as a nearby tree, that could limit your panel’s effectiveness. They can also note the general condition of your roof, and advise whether your tiles can support the weight of the panel and rail system.
There is a lot of thought and research that needs to go into the installation process before anyone puts up the scaffolding and picks up a drill. In this guide we’ll explain how to install solar panels from the pre-installation research to step-by-step what the roofers and electrician will do to get your system active.
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Are solar panels right for my home?
Before you install anything on your roof, you need to ascertain whether a solar panel system will work for your home. Spend some time researching how solar panels work and gain an understanding of what they do and don’t do. We won’t get into all of that detail here, but make sure to check out our in-depth guide on how solar panels work.
Find an MCS-accredited installer
The next step in your solar journey is to find an accredited installer. As prices have fallen and solar panels have gained in popularity, many firms are now offering installation. You will want to find an installer who is MCS certified.
The MCS, or Microgeneration Certificate Scheme, is a scheme (now independent of the government as of 2018) that quality-assures both products and installers of renewable technology. The scheme has certified more than 2,000 installers in the UK and is designed to ensure consistent quality and consumer confidence. MCS accreditation isn’t legal or mandatory, but when you choose an MCS-certified installer you know you are working with someone who has the experience and competence to do the job. There are also financial considerations, which you’ll discover in the sections below on selling your surplus energy back to the National Grid.
Speak to a few installers and get a few quotes from each of them. Have them talk you through your options and explain what they think your solar panel array will produce. Off the back of these conversations, you’ll know if a solar panel system will work for your family.
Can I join the UK Feed-In Tariff scheme?
Unfortunately, the popular Feed-In Tariff (FIT) scheme is now closed to new entrants. Up until 2019, every home solar panel system in the UK had the option to connect to the National Grid and feed in any excess energy generated.
Under the scheme, the government pays owners of an eligible home solar panel system a fixed amount of money for each kWh of electricity their system generated. This is called the Generation Tariff.
On top of the Generation Tariff, homeowners also receive a stipend for every kilowatt or surplus electricity they feed back into the National Grid. For many homeowners, it made the return on investment quite lucrative.
Sadly, the Feed-In Tariff scheme was closed in 2019. People who registered solar panel systems before its closure are unaffected and still receive the stipends, but no one else is being admitted to the scheme.
There are, however, other options for those who still want to connect their solar panel systems to the National Grid and earn money on the electricity they generate.
Selling electricity to the grid under Smart Export Guarantee
In 2020, the UK government launched a new scheme called the Smart Export Guarantee, which replaced the Feed-In Tariff scheme. The SEG allows owners of residential solar panel systems to sell their surplus electricity back to the National Grid.
The SEG scheme requires electricity suppliers who are registered with the scheme to pay small-scale generators of low-carbon electricity for any energy that they export back to the National Grid. This scheme is open to owners of solar panel systems, as well as anyone producing energy via wind, hydro, micro combined heat and power or anaerobic digestion methods up to a capacity of 5MW (or 50kW for micro combined heat and power).
The electricity suppliers must provide the home energy generators a rate above zero and a contract, so it’s a good idea to shop around and see where you can get the best rate.
Overall, the SEG scheme isn’t as generous as the original Feed-In Tariff, but it’s still a good way to earn some money back on your investment.
However, if your household consumes a high amount of electricity, you might want to consider investing in a battery to store your surplus electricity for use at night. With energy costs being what they are now, you might save more money storing and using that surplus energy than you’d make by feeding it back to the grid.
How do I connect my solar panels to the grid?
Your MCS-accredited installer will do all of this for you. Your installer will connect your solar panels to the grid by providing your District Network Operator, or DNO, all of the information about your system within 28 days prior to your installation. The DNO will review the information, and in most cases issue a certificate granting you permission to connect your solar panel system to the grid.
If your system’s output is less than 3.68kW, it gets a rubber stamp approval. Your installer only needs to let the DNO know the details of your system and the DNO will connect it to the grid.
If your system produces more than 3.68kW of energy, the DNO needs to investigate if your local grid can handle the extra energy from your solar panel system. Most of the time everything checks out and it’s approved very quickly. On rare occasions, a local grid might need some structural improvements to accommodate your electricity, and you would be responsible for these costs.
If you are receiving the Feed-In Tariff payments, you will need to provide your Feed-In Tariff supplier with an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC). This outlines the energy efficiency rating of your home (eg its band rating from A to G). In order to have qualified for the Feed-In Tariff your home needs to have at least a D rating.
Under the Smart Export Guarantee, each energy supplier may have different requirements for certifying installations with the grid. Your installer will be able to advise on what’s required for you. That said, to qualify for the SEG you need to prove that your solar installer is MCS-certified.
If you have an MCS certificate you can show, that will qualify. If not, your installation and installer must have EN 45011 or EN ISO/IEC 17065:2012 accreditation.
Do I need planning permission for solar panels?
Most home solar panel installations do not require planning permission. Whether you do will come down to the size of your system and where you live.
If you live in a listed building or conservation area, for instance, you will likely need to seek planning permission before you install solar panels.
Your local authority will have its own rules on the size of solar panel systems that are allowed. You can find your local planning authority’s rules here.
It is important to note, though: while you most likely do not need planning permission for your solar panel installation, you do need to let your home insurance company know. Solar panels are a structural addition to your roof, and it could affect your policy.
Step-by-step how to install solar panels
When all of your planning and certification are complete, your installer will give you a date for when your solar panels are installed. Things happen in a very specific sequence of events on the big day, and it’s good to know in advance step-by-step how solar panels are installed so that you can oversee the process and ensure it’s all going to plan. Below is the sequence of events your installation team should follow.
1. Erect scaffolding
A day or two before the installation, a team will arrive to erect scaffolding around your house. This is to give the roofing team safe access to your roof and is a requirement for any solar panel installation. At the quote stage, make sure you check that the cost of scaffolding is included in the price. Sometimes firms will leave it out to make a quote cheaper and you’ll get hit with the cost later.
2. Roofing team arrives – check you have the right panels
Once the scaffolding is up, your roofing team will arrive. They will bring all of the equipment they need to do the job, and they will also have your solar panels and all the fittings. Before anything is installed, double-check that the panels they have are the ones you ordered. Solar panels all largely look alike, but on the back should be a sticker with details of the make, model and output.
3. Attach the anchors
The anchors are brackets that hold the rails on which your solar panels are mounted. To do this, the roofers will remove a roofing tile for each anchor so they can screw the anchor bracket into the rafters of your roof. The roofing tile then slots back in as normal, resting on top of the long arm of the anchor. A small bit with two holes is all that protrudes from under the tile, and this is where the rail sits.
4. Attach the solar panel rails
The frame for your solar panel system is comprised of lightweight aluminium rails that are cut to shape on-site by your roofers to fit the size of your roof. These are secured to each anchor bracket with two bolts and run vertically and horizontally across your roof to form the frame on which your solar panels will sit.
5. Install the solar panels
Now is the exciting part. Your roofing team will bring the solar panels up one by one and mount them to the frame. Each panel connects to the frame via a clamp, which the roofer can securely tighten once they are all in place and positioned in the best angle for your roof.
6. Setting up the electrics
Your solar panels are now installed, and the roofing team will leave. Your panels will come pre-wired, and you will be able to see this black cable on the back. But you will need a certified electrician to come connect your solar panels to your inverter. The electrician will typically install your inverter in the loft, and this connects to your solar panels. The inverter serves to cover the direct current (DC) electricity generated by your solar panels into usable alternating current (AC) electricity that is fed into your home for use by all of your electronics and appliances.
Solar panels FAQs
The most frequently-asked questions about how to install solar panels.
Can solar panels damage my roof?
If done properly by an MCS-certified roofer who knows how to install solar panels, there will be no damage to your roof. Tiles need to be briefly removed to fit the anchor brackets, but the tiles can be put back into place. The anchors are designed to sit comfortably between your roof tiles. They can also accommodate all the different types of roof tiles. Apart from some drill holes in your rafters, there are no invasive procedures involved in the installation process.
Can you install solar panels on your roof yourself?
It is possible to install solar panels on your roof yourself, but not recommended unless you have specialist skills that enable you to carry out the work safely. You will need an electrician’s experience or knowledge of how home electrics work. You will also need roofing experience, not to mention all of the tools of each trade.
More on solar panels
Read our guide to the best solar panels in the UK in 2022 or find our more about how solar panels work. You can also find out if the economics add up for you in our guide which asks: are solar panels worth it?