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Solar panels - generating renewable electricity

Information on Solar panels (PVs) and how you can benefit from them

What are they?

Solar panels, also known as photovoltaics (PV), absorb the suns energy and convert it into electricity for domestic use.

The installation of solar panels is one of the most efficient ways of generating renewable electricity.

How they work

Solar PV panels consists of many cells made from layers of semi-conducting materials, which in most cases is silicon. When light shines on this material, electricity is created.

Cells do not need direct sunlight to work and can even work on overcast days, however the stronger the sunshine, the more electricity is generated.


  • Reduction in electricity bills - solar energy is free, so once the initial payment for your installation has been made, electricity costs will be reduced.
  • Cutting carbon footprint - solar electricity is low carbon, renewable energy. Properties with a solar PV system typically save around a tonne of carbon per year depending on where your property is situated.
  • Low maintenance costs - solar energy systems don’t require a lot of maintenance. As long as they are cleaned once or twice a year, you can expect very little spending on maintenance and repair work.
  • Return of investment - other than reducing electricity bills, solar power can also be a great source of income. Since net metering is involved, you can earn money by selling the solar panels excess power back to the grid through the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG)

What to consider

  • Space - an average system will typically take up around 20m² roof area.
  • Geography - an unshaded South facing roof is ideal for maximum electrical output. East or West facing roofs could still be considered for installations, but North facing roofs are not recommended. A system facing East or West will generate around 15-20% less energy than once facing directly South.
  • Permission - solar PV panels are considered ‘permitted developments’ and often don’t require planning permission, however exceptions do apply in certain cases so it is best to check with Planning & Development


The average domestic solar PV system costs from £5,500 but can also be considerably higher.

The amount paid is influenced by the size of array and will be affected by any difficulty with access to the roof.

Costs are also affected by a homeowner’s choice to install either panels or tiles. Panels on top of the roof are the cheapest option, while tiles are more expensive for the equivalent system.

Scaffolding costs will also need to be taken into consideration.

Costs will vary between installers, so it is worthwhile getting quotes from at least three accredited installers.

Choosing the right contractor

In a relatively new industry with a lot of start-ups, it’s really important to check out your contractor carefully. Ask for references and ideally, ask if you can speak to the homeowner. Search for reviews or information about them online separate from their own website. Norfolk County Council has information on Trusted Traders.

Contractors must be registered with the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS). Contractors accredited with MCS certification follow certain rules and regulations governing how a Solar PV system must be installed and designed. You can find a contractor here.

It’s also important to ensure that contractors are TrustMark certified in addition to by registered with MCS.