How to buy solar panels What are solar panels?

Solar panel on roof

Solar panels installed on a roof

Solar panels take advantage of a powerful yet free energy source - the sun. In a single hour, the sun transmits more energy to the earth's surface than the world uses in a year. 

Our guide outlines how you can use solar panels to make use of this free source of energy to generate electricity and hot water for your home and shows you what the difference is between solar panels for electricity and solar panels for hot water.

Types of solar panels

The two main types of active solar panel systems are solar water heating and photovoltaic (PV) solar panels.

While they might look similar, and both consist of panels on your roof, solar water heating and solar PV are quite different. 

Solar PV or solar electricity uses the energy from the sun to produce electricity, which you can then use in your home and/or export onto the grid. Solar PV is an expensive technology (about £7,000 for an average system), but financial support is currently available under the government's Feed-in Tariff (FIT) scheme, which provides cash payments to households that produce their own electricity at home using renewable technology. The Government is proposing to cut the amount of feed-in-tariff for small domestic solar PV installations by 87% from 1 January 2016. So if you are considering getting solar PV panels, we recommend you get them now.

Click to find out more about photovoltaic (PV) solar panels.

Solar water heating, also referred to as solar thermal or solar heating, uses energy from the sun to heat up water. It is mostly used to heat up your domestic hot water system. Solar water heating costs between £3,000 and £5,000, and is eligible for a financial incentive called the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), which financially rewards those who use renewable energy to heat their homes. 

To learn more, see our guide to solar water heating.

Before you install solar panels

You should ensure that your home is as energy-efficient as it can be before considering installing solar panels. 

Energy-efficiency measures include:

Buying and installing solar panels 

We have found evidence of solar panel salespeople mis-selling. To make sure you don't get caught out, you can see videos of our undercover investigation into the kinds of tactics salespeople use, plus read advice on how to buy panels, by clicking the links below:

Finding a solar panel installer

If you're a Which? member, you can use our member recommendation service, Which? Local, to find a solar panel installer in your area

Not yet a Which? member? You can take out a trial subscription to Which? for a £1 and get access to all of our online reviews.

More on this...

  • Find out whether you qualify for a free boiler
  • From Nest to Hive to Evohome, learn more about smart themostats
  • Can you save money with a cosy wood-burning stove?