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Can You Install Solar Panels Yourself and Save Money?
28 November 2023
Solar panels have become a popular choice for homeowners looking to reduce their electricity bills and minimize their carbon footprint. However, the installation cost of solar panels can be quite significant, often costing many thousands of pounds. Professional installation alone can account for around 10% of the total cost. To cut down on expenses, many people consider the option of installing solar panels themselves using DIY solar system kits. In this article, we will explore the pros and cons of DIY solar panels, provide a step-by-step guide, and highlight some of the best DIY solar panel kits available in the UK.
Pros and Cons of Installing Your Own Solar Panels
- Cost Savings: DIY solar panel kits are generally more affordable compared to professional installation costs. For instance, a 3.4kW kit can cost as little as £5,000, which is significantly lower than the average cost of a professionally installed system.
- Flexibility: Installing solar panels yourself gives you the freedom to choose the location and size of your system. You can start with a smaller off-grid kit for a garden building or narrow boat and expand it later if needed.
- Learning Experience: DIY installation allows you to gain valuable knowledge about solar panel systems, which can be useful for future maintenance and troubleshooting.
- Off-Grid Potential: DIY solar system (panels etc) are ideal for off-grid applications such as garden sheds, campervans, or houseboats. These panels are lightweight, flexible, and easy to install, providing power without the need to connect to the national grid.
- Lack of Government Support: DIY installations may not be eligible for government schemes, product warranties, or power company assistance. These benefits often require professional installation and certification.
- Certification and Paperwork: Some incentives, such as the SEG scheme, require MCS certification, which is typically obtained through professional installation. DIY installers may miss out on these incentives and warranties.
- Electrical and Roofing Expertise: Installing a full rooftop solar array can be complex and requires knowledge of electrical systems and roof work. It is important to assess your skills and capabilities before attempting a DIY installation.
While DIY system installation can save you money, it is essential to consider the potential limitations and ensure you have the necessary skills and knowledge to complete the project successfully.
DIY Panels in the UK: Legal Considerations
DIY Solar Panels Legality
In the UK, DIY panel installation is generally legal, and you usually don’t require planning permission for a large array. However, going the DIY route may mean missing out on government schemes, guarantees, and utility company support due to the lack of necessary paperwork and certification.
For example, DIY solar installations are not included in the government’s Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) offering, which provides bill reductions for excess electricity generation. This scheme only covers systems installed by certified professionals (specifically the Microgeneration Certification Scheme – MCS). MCS accreditation is normally required if you want to take advantage of any warranties, as well as for the majority of energy providers.
Going Off-Grid with a DIY Installation
The majority of professionally installed solar panel systems are on-grid, i.e. they are connected to the national grid to ensure a continuous power supply. However, DIY solar kits can be an excellent option for off-grid applications, such as garden offices, campervans, or houseboats. These off-grid panels are lightweight, flexible, and pretty easy to install. A single panel could well be sufficient to provide all the electricity you need, meaning you can avoid the hassle of connecting to the national grid.
It is important to note that while you don’t need any permission etc to install an off-grid solar panel on your garden office roof, campervan, or garden A-frame, but consulting your local council is advisable if you plan to take your house off-grid.
Steps for Installing DIY Solar Panels
Here is a step-by-step guide to installing DIY solar panels:
- Find the Best Spot
Before starting the installation, determine the ideal spot for your solar panels. If you are fixing the panels onto a sloping roof, ensure it faces south to receive ample sunlight. The angle should ideally be around 35 degrees from horizontal. If you plan to fix the panels to A-frames on a flat surface, ensure the roof is able to handle the weight. For ground-mounted systems, either mount a single pole or fix a frame securely.
- Choose the Type and How Many Panels
Calculate the number of panels you need based on your annual energy usage. Use a free online calculator to estimate your usage and determine the number of panels required to power your home, shed, or desired location. If you are new to solar power, consider starting with a smaller off-grid panel in a DIY system kit. These kits include all cables, bits and pieces, and instructions for a garden shed or campervan setup.
- Check Permits and Certifications
Ensure you comply with any necessary permits and certifications. You may have to get permission for a system that has six or more solar panels in your garden. Additionally, check with your energy company to confirm if they support DIY installations for grid-connected systems. To qualify for incentives like the SEG, you typically need an MCS certificate and an (EPC) Energy Performance Certificate rated D or higher.
- Install Any Racking or Mounting Systems
For roof mount systems, mark out the installation area and drill the holes for the bolts, caulking them as needed. Secure the system’s rails onto the bolts. When using ground-mounted systems, you can use a single or fix the frame securely. For single DIY solar panels, you can get away with attaching them to a roof rack or by using special adhesive.
- Connect the Electrics
Read the instructions provided with your chosen panels to install the electrical components. This could require that you install an inverter, a circuit breaker, and an isolation switch. For on-grid panels, an earthing wire is also required for safety in case of lightning strikes and other electrical problems. If you have any concerns during this stage, consult an electrician for assistance. Also remember that only electricians can connect any Solar System to the national grid.
- Attach the Solar Panels
Fix the solar panels to the mountings and connect these to the inverter. Verify the proper functioning of the system and start harnessing solar power.
Installing solar panels yourself can be a cost-effective and rewarding endeavour. DIY solar panel kits provide an affordable alternative to professional installation, allowing you to customize your system and potentially go off-grid. However, it is essential to consider the legal requirements, necessary certifications, and your own capabilities before embarking on a DIY solar panel installation. By following the steps outlined in this guide and selecting a reputable DIY solar panel kit, you can harness the power of the sun while saving money and reducing your carbon footprint.
Information provided by DragonsBreathSolar expert suppliers of DIY Solar Panels and Systems
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