One of the main concerns that people have with the idea of a solar panel installation is the cost.
With the average 4kW system being priced at an approximate total of £6,600 to £9,000, you might be wondering whether a solar array would even pay for itself with time (by lowering your energy bills).
Ultimately, the ability of a solar system to pay for itself with time would depend on a wide range of factors including how well-maintained it is and your current heating bills.
However, another key factor is where you live as different regions in the UK come with more hours of sunlight than other locations.
So, where in the UK is best to set up a solar array from a financial perspective?
Facts That Can Affect the Suitability of a Solar Array
Before we get into the sunlight hours by region in the UK, it’s important to consider additional factors that could limit the financial sense of installing a solar system on your property.
Along with your location, how financially sensible a solar array would be would depend on factors such as the following:
- Size of your household
- The energy consumption of your property and what fraction of that energy you want to be met by solar panels
- Your budget for purchasing solar panels
- Your current energy bills
- The direction your roof faces (assuming you want a roof-mounted system)
- Whether or not the proposed location for a solar panel setup is free of sunlight obscuring sources (e.g., nearby trees)
- How much room do you have to install solar panels?
No matter where you live in the UK, the direction that your roof faces will play a major role in determining how much sunlight your solar array has access to. A south-facing roof is ideal, while east- and west-facing roofs are acceptable.
However, installing a solar system on a north-facing roof is probably not worthwhile. It’s also important to ensure you set up solar panels on a roof that is not heavily obscured by nearby trees or buildings.
For those without a suitable roof space to install solar panels (or perhaps you’d just rather not go with a roof-based system), you may wish to opt for a ground-mounted solar array instead. If you’ve any doubts as to what type of solar array setup to go with for your home, it’s best to consult with an MCS-certified installer. An MCS-certified installer would be needed to install the panels for you after all.
Sunlight Hours by Region
The financial benefits of solar panels can vary depending on where you live. When we say financial benefits, this may simply mean the extent to which such a solar array would reduce your energy bills based on how much solar energy they can harness. However, if you end up selling energy back to the grid, more sunlight hours could literally make you more money.
Here are the average daily sunshine hours for various parts of the UK:
- South East of England – 4.5 hours
- London – 4.3 hours
- East of England – 4.3 hours
- Wales – 3.8 hours
- West Scotland – 3.4 hours
- East Scotland – 3.4 hours
- North East England – 3.8 hours
- South West England – 4.3 hours
- Northern Ireland – 3.4 hours
- East Midlands – 4.1 hours
- West Midlands – 4.0 hours
- North Scotland – 2.9 hours
- Yorkshire & The Humber – 3.8 hours
- North West England – 3.7 hours
As you can see, sunshine hours can differ significantly across the UK and the difference in average daily sunshine hours for various parts of the UK quickly adds up over the course of a year. Therefore, you’ll want to spend a good bit of time determining whether or not it makes financial sense to have a solar array installed on your property.
As a general rule of thumb, the more south you go, the more solar energy you can expect to harness. However, this isn’t always the case. For example, while staying at the same latitude, if you travel from certain parts of Northern Wales to the far east of England, the photovoltaic potential is relatively greater along this section of the English coast than the equivalent northerly point of Wales.
Nonetheless, with the rule of thumb still generally applying, the difference in expected solar generation for a PV system between the southwest of England and the Shetland Islands off the coast of Scotland is 30%, with the English southwest enjoying more bountiful solar energy throughout the year.
Cost of Installing Solar Panels
How much it would cost to have a solar array installed, to begin with will depend on the type of system you opt for (i.e., roof-based or ground-mounted), the size of the solar system, the material used and the cost of labour in your region.
The price of labour differs from region to region with costs generally being higher in the southeast of England, whereas prices tend to be below the UK average in regions such as northern England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The supply cost of a single 250-watt solar panel would likely land somewhere between £200 and £500, with costs differing from brand to brand.
Here are the average costs of having solar panels installed depending on the size of the system/number of panels being fitted: *
- 3kW solar system with 12 panels – £5,600 to £7,000
- 4kW solar system with 16 panels – £6,600 to £9,000
- 5kW solar system with 20 panels – £9,200 to £11,000
- 6kW solar system with 24 panels – £9,200 to £13,000
*The price figures featured are total costs, consisting of both the price of labour and the estimated standalone costs of solar panels. As touched on, the price of solar panels can differ significantly depending on the brand. The same applies to the quality and even the material used.
How Do I Know If Solar Panels Are Worth It in My Case?
It won’t always be easy to say with overwhelming confidence whether a solar panel array would be financially sensible or not in any given case.
For one, you should consider how much a solar array would cost and by how much it would reduce your annual energy bills.
On average, a solar array may save somewhere between £150 and £450. If you can get a sense of the expected annual savings that the proposed solar system would offer, you’d be able to roughly calculate when solar panels might pay off.
However, obviously, you’d want to adjust this calculation based on where you live. If you live in say the southeast of England, you can expect your calculation to be an underestimate of how soon a solar array setup could pay off. On the other hand, if you live in say Northern Ireland or the north of Scotland, your calculation would be an overestimate.
With some research and consideration, you should get a sense of how financially sensible your proposed solar system would be. If in doubt, it’s best to consult an MCS-certified installer as they could help you determine whether or not a solar array would be worth it in your case and to what extent.
Don’t forget to keep an open mind about different options too. If, for example, your back roof is north facing, it’s worth considering having panels installed at the front of your home. Also, if you have an open space that is suitable, you may want to consider a ground-mounted setup.
Q: What are the very best spots in the UK for installing solar panels?
A: Generally speaking, the southeast of England is the best location in the UK to install solar panels. However, some specific spots in the country stand out more than others.
From a financial perspective, according to a study from the website Make My House Green, Brighton is the best place in the country to set up a solar array with Dorchester narrowly finishing behind in second place.
The other parts of the UK to land a top ten spot in the study in order from 3rd to 10th were Portsmouth, Bournemouth, Plymouth, Canterbury, Southampton, Colchester, Southall and Ipswich.
On the contrary, out of the 121 locations featured in the study, Inverness was the least favourable location to install solar panels in terms of financial value.
Q: I live in the very north of the UK. Is there any point even considering solar panels?
A: While the more north you go in the UK, the less solar energy you’ll generally have access to (again this rule of thumb is not an absolute rule), that doesn’t mean you should dismiss the idea right off the bat.
If you live in say the north of Scotland or Northern Ireland, there are many scenarios where a solar installation may still be worth the investment.
For example, if you live in the north of the UK but have a south-facing roof with no trees or buildings around to obscure sunlight, there’s still a good chance that a solar array could make financial sense, even if it may not be ideal. Of course, though, if you can make a return on investment over time, it would still result in you making a return on your investment.