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Solar panels essentials

What are Solar Panels?

By Sarah Ingrams

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What are Solar Panels?

You can use the sun to generate electricity and hot water for your home with solar panels. Find out the difference between solar electricity and solar hot water. 

Wondering if it's worth installing solar panels or solar water heating in your home? Use our advice to find out what you need to know about solar energy - from how much it costs to install to how much it could save you on your energy bills and which type is best for your home.

Types of solar panels

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

Both consist of panels on your roof. Although they might look similar, solar water heating and solar PV are quite different. Use our tool to find out the key differences between the two systems.

Solar PV (also called solar electricity) 

Solar PV panels use the energy from the sun to produce electricity, which you can then use in your home and/or export to the national grid. Solar PV is an expensive technology (between £5,000 and £8,000 for an average system).

Solar water heating (also called solar thermal or solar heating) 

Solar water heating uses energy from the sun to heat water. It's 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 scheme called the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). This financially rewards those who use renewable energy to heat their homes. 

Before you install solar PV or solar water heating

You should ensure that your home is as energy efficient as it can be before considering installing solar panels. Energy-efficiency measures you can take include insulation (for your loft, floors and walls), draught-proofing your home, fitting double glazing, replacing your old boiler with an efficient and reliable Best Buy boiler, and buying energy-saving light bulbs.

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 watch videos of our undercover investigation into the kinds of tactics salespeople use, plus read advice on how to buy panels:

Finding the best solar panel installer

You can use Which? Trusted Traders to find a trustworthy local solar panel installer

Solar panels and energy storage systems

If you’re interested to install a home battery as part of a new solar PV system, or add one to an existing system, check our advice on solar panels and energy storage systems to find out the pros, cons and key differences between big brands’ models.