As specialists in home renovations and new builds, we at Dependon Ltd have been observing the growing popularity of solar panels. These devices can provide substantial savings for homeowners and support carbon neutrality. With the continued rise in energy bills, more and more UK homeowners are exploring methods to cut costs while making environmentally conscious choices. Solar panels have become a sought-after option.
As per recent data from MCS, a renewable industry-led quality assurance scheme, about 1.2 million UK homes have equipped themselves with solar panels, and this number is steadily increasing.
Nevertheless, while many are considering renewable energy options, it's crucial to understand that not all homes are suitable for this low-carbon technology. Our team at Dependon Ltd consulted with solar panel experts to bring you key information that every homeowner should consider before deciding to transition to solar energy.
Is your roof big enough for solar panels?
The space required for solar panels is contingent on the desired system size and power output, says Ben Price, co-founder of Heatable. The number of solar panels required for a typical UK home depends on the home's energy demands and the size and orientation of the roof. A single solar panel in the UK is typically around 1.6 to 2 square metres in size and has a power output of 250 to 400 watts.
For instance, a typical 3-4 kW solar panel system in the UK might need about 20-25 square metres of roof space, whereas a 4-5 kW system could require around 30-35 square metres. However, Price warns that the roof's shape and features, like dormer windows, can impact the installation process.
Price emphasises, "These are just estimates, as there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach due to varying factors across different solar panel system installation scenarios." He adds, “If the roof doesn't have enough space to meet the desired power output, homeowners can consider other locations including ground-mounted solar, sides of buildings, or shed and garage roofs.”
Kris Tolbod, a director at Dependon Ltd, stresses the importance of the roof's structural integrity.
“A stable platform is crucial for any installation. When was the roof last inspected for leaks? Can it withstand the pressure?" he asks. "Roof obstacles like dormer windows can pose problems, but multiple systems can be installed across a roof to suit layouts as needed."
Planning permission may be required for solar panels if they're not being installed on the roof.
What if your tiles are made of clay?
According to Kris, clay tiles are not necessarily a barrier to solar panel installation, but they do introduce additional considerations.
"Some clay roofs are only designed to bear the weight of the tiles, so a structural assessment is necessary to determine if the roof can support the weight of the panels," he says.
He also points out that clay tiles tend to be more fragile than others, requiring adaptations in mounting equipment and procedures. Homeowners are advised to consult with a solar company experienced in dealing with tile roofs.
Solar panels can also be installed on ground mounts or on the sides of buildings
What if your roof doesn't face south?
A south-facing roof is ideal for solar panels, but east and west-facing roofs can also generate a considerable amount of energy.
Kris explains, “If the roof doesn't face south, it's not the end of the world. Panel optimisers can be installed to maximise peak periods. Shading from trees and other obstacles is a significant factor, so conduct a pre-site survey using a solar PV fisheye lens to factor all shading into the design criteria.”
Kris also suggests that
heavy shade-casting trees may need to be pruned or removed.
"There are several strategies to maximise the electricity generation of a solar panel system installed on an east or west-facing roof, as well as creating a system optimised for low light conditions,” Price adds.
For instance, a solar tracking system, which adjusts the solar panels to face the sun throughout the day, can boost the system's energy production.
What if your property is a listed building or in a conservation area?
For listed buildings or those within a conservation area, additional rules and restrictions apply.
Unlike a standard solar installation, it's not considered "permitted development", so applying for planning permission is a must.
Even if planning permission is granted, additional rules may apply, which could limit the location and design of the solar installation.
Often, restrictions stipulate that the panels must not be visible from nearby roads and must not detract from the building's appearance.
What if there's no space for an inverter?
The solar inverter, which converts the electricity generated from your panels from a direct current (DC) to an alternating current (AC), plays a crucial role.
Usually, inverters are installed in the garage or utility room because they require around 60 cm² of clearance for ventilation openings, but this can vary.
"For those struggling to find sufficient space for an inverter, one solution is to use a microinverter or power optimiser system, which converts DC to AC power at the solar panel itself," Kris explains. "This allows for greater flexibility in terms of installation location and orientation.”
Kris also mentions that new fire regulations are soon to be introduced, banning batteries and inverters from loft and stairwell spaces, so it's worth keeping an eye on these developments.