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Cheap solar panels: Are they worth it?

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Discover cheap solar panels in the UK and learn about the factors influencing prices

Solar panels can save you money on energy bills and reduce your household’s carbon footprint; so it’s no surprise that, with more than 17,000 new UK homes installing solar panels every month in 2023, they’re an increasingly popular choice for UK homeowners.  

However, solar panels are still an investment, and the average cost of a 4kW solar system (with a battery) capable of powering a three-bedroom semi-detached house is £9,000 in the UK. Fortunately, there’s a wide range of cheap solar panels on offer, which strike a good balance between efficiency and value.In this guide, we’ll cover what affects solar panel cost, where you can buy cheap solar panels, and what solar incentives you can access to keep costs low, such as solar panel grants. We’ll also help you decide whether cheap solar panels are right for your home in 2024 – or if you’ll be better off paying more for a more premium solar solution.

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What factors affect solar panel cost?

The cost of solar panels has long been a deciding factor for homeowners going ahead with installation. But what separates cheap solar panels from their more effective counterparts? In other words, what factors affect the price of solar panels in the UK – and why? These include: 

  • Panel type
  • Efficiency
  • Installation costs
  • Warranty

Panel type

There are different types of solar panels, with the main ones being monocrystalline and polycrystalline. Monocrystalline panels are more efficient (meaning they convert more of the sun’s light into useable electricity, and you therefore need fewer of them than you would less-efficient panels), and also operate well at high temperatures. Because of this, and due to the more stringent manufacturing requirements involved, monocrystalline panels are more expensive than their polycrystalline counterparts.

Efficiency

The panel’s efficiency dictates how much energy your panels can generate. It’s expressed as a percentage figure (monocrystalline panels are, for example, around 15 to 20 per cent efficient) and generally correlates with cost. So, the higher your solar system’s efficiency, the more costly it will typically be.  

Installation costs

Installing solar panels is a technical task. And, while there are some DIY options, we recommend hiring a solar panel installer certified under the Microgeneration Certification Scheme. This comes with big benefits – only MCS-installed solar systems are eligible to sell excess electricity back to the grid, for example – but it also costs money.

The price of panel installation will depend on factors such as where your home’s located, how large your proposed solar system is, and how many installers you require. It’ll also depend on who you select to install your panels – so explore our guides to the UK’s best national solar panel installers, as well as the top regional solar panel installers, to make that decision a simple one.

Warranty

Solar panels have an average lifespan of 25 years, and it takes an average of seven years for homeowners to break even. 

What you don’t want is for your solar panels to give up the ghost before their estimated lifespan – or worse, fail before they’ve paid back your initial investment – so look for a either a life-time guarantee or a warranty that covers you for 25 years. However, longer warranties will drive up your costs.

Cheap solar panels tend to only come with an average of 12 years’ warranty, with the lowest offering just five years – something you’ll need to weigh up when deciding how much to spend.

What are the different types of solar panels?

There are three main types of solar panels – monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film – and each comes with different levels of panel efficiency. 

Monocrystalline panels

Monocrystalline panels are the oldest type of solar panel and, as the name suggests, are made from single-crystal silicon solar cells. To create them, manufacturers form bars of pure silicon, then cut them into pieces: smoothening and rounding the edges to help the cells produce more electricity.

Owing to their pure silicon material, monocrystalline solar panels are the most expensive – but also the most efficient – type of solar panel. With an average efficiency rating of 20 per cent or more, they tend to have a higher power output than other panel types, and retain this high performance even at hotter temperatures.  

Polycrystalline panels

Polycrystalline panels are less efficient than the monocrystalline variety, but with a key advantage – they’re more affordable.

Polycrystalline panels are made by melting many fragments of silicon crystal together. They have a lower efficiency rate (between 14 and 17 per cent) and a lower lifespan (due to electrons having less space to move around, which results in less energy being generated), but are an excellent choice among the cheap solar panels on the market in the UK. 

Plus, the process of making polycrystalline panels is better for the environment since it’s less wasteful; it’s also quicker and cheaper.

Thin-film solar panels

Thin-film solar panels are thin, hence the name, and flexible. They’re manufactured by layering multiple products, such as silicon, cadmium telluride, and copper indium gallium selenide, on top of each other. 

Thin-film solar panels use less silicon than monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels, and also have a non-crystalline, ‘amorphous’ structure. These factors combine to make thin-film solar panels more affordable than their traditional crystalline-based counterparts; and, as such, they’re one of the cheapest solar panels on the market.

The one major flaw of thin-film solar panels is their efficiency, which is only between 7 and 18 per cent – this is less than what you’ll get with a monocrystalline or polycrystalline solar system.

David H icon

What shouldn’t you compromise on when looking for cheap solar panels? – David Hilton, Solar panels expert

Look for robust construction, good warranty period, output guarantees and local support. Very small amounts of spare area not covered by solar cells indicates better panels. The solar cells are cut from round ingots and the more they are trimmed the squarer they will be and the more area of the panel will be covered but also the more waste there will be so inevitably the cost of the panels will be more too.

 

There are some panels that have the solar cells wedged between two layers of glass, rather than a foil backing on a single sheet of glass. These usually have better guarantees, as well as better output guarantees over their lifetime. The roof hooks must also be robust. If you can flex the roof hook at all in your hands, then they are probably not the best.

Benefits of cheap solar panels

Cheap solar panels saving money
The main benefit of cheap solar panels is saving money on your energy bills (Adobe)

Solar panels are a worthwhile home improvement, and domestic installations continue to rise in the UK. In December 2023 alone, nearly 16,000 solar systems were installed in the UK. So why are cheap solar panels so popular?

Cheap solar panels save you money on your purchase

With the cost of living crisis ongoing, and the price of energy staying high, solar panels can shave hundreds of pounds – as much as £545 per year, in fact – off your energy bills. 

Why cheap solar panels, then? Well, installing cheaper solar panels will reduce your initial installation cost and, as a result, your break-even time, too. This means you’ll pay back the cost of your solar system even quicker; by signing up for a Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) tariff, you can also earn more money back by selling any excess electricity your solar panels produce back to the National Grid for a profit. 

Cheap solar panels reduce your home’s carbon footprint

You don’t need to be a climate activist to appreciate solar panels’ low carbon emissions. In the UK, a domestic solar array has the potential to save around 1 tonne of carbon per year, depending on where you live.

Cheap solar panels make you more resilient – and less reliant on the grid

Cheap solar panels don’t just help you cut costs – they help you cut down your reliance on the National Grid to power your home, too. By providing a personal, private power supply for your household, you’ll be able to keep the lights on – even in case of power cut. You’ll also be less at the mercy of your electricity supplier’s peak rates, since you’ll be able to generate (and, if you combine your panels with a solar battery, store) your own source of electricity.

What are the drawbacks of cheap solar panels?

With some cheap solar panels, the adage “you get what you pay for” certainly rings true – and the solar systems at the lowest end of the price spectrum won’t always be the best for your home.

Cheap solar panels tend to be less efficient

Although cheap solar panels will help keep initial system costs low, you’ll want to avoid sacrificing panel efficiency.

Ideally, your panel’s efficiency should be around 20 per cent. However, the cheapest solar panels won’t offer anywhere near this. They’re more likely to have an efficiency of around 14 per cent or lower.

Cheap solar panels require more space

Because cheap solar panels are, as a general rule, less efficient than more expensive varieties, you’ll require more of them to generate the same amount of power as a more efficient, similarly sized solar system would.

This, as a result, means you’ll need more space to install those cheap solar panels – be it on your roof or, in the case of ground-mounted solar panels, on your home’s garden or adjoining land. Given that whether you’ll need to apply for planning permission for your solar panels depends largely on the size of your system, these extra panels might end up causing you more issues (and more money) than the savings you’ll see by going cheap.

You’ll make less money from them; but you will still be better off than without them, with a constant supply of renewable energy, reduced bills and a reduced carbon footprint.

Cheap solar panels take longer to pay back

If cheap solar panels do dramatically cut down your initial outlay, that comes with a sacrifice – they’ll save you less money ongoing.

The inefficiency of cheap solar panels compared to their more expensive counterparts means, quite simply, that they won’t generate as much electricity. This means you’ll have less surplus to sell back to the grid for a top-up; it also means that, because you’ll be relying more on the grid to supplement your cheap solar panels’ relatively paltry output than you would with more efficient solar panels, they won’t save you as much on your energy bills.

Finding the cheapest solar panels in the UK

We’ve compiled a list of some of the top solar panel manufacturers in the UK: looking at price, efficiency, and warranty to help you find not only the cheapest solar panels – but the best solar panels, too.

Solar companyPrice rangeCheap solar panels
Amerisolar£92 to £188
Project SolarPOA – the company creates bespoke systems and is one of the more expensive brandsX
SunPower£306 to £514X
JA Solar£174 to £369X
Suntech£116 to £193
Jinko£139 to £177
Longi Solar£139 to £246

It’s a good idea to gather quotes from multiple solar companies; this way you can compare and make an informed decision. By researching solar companies and talking to their customer personnel, you’ll understand if they’re a good fit with reliable customer service and an easy installation process. 

What cheap solar panel grants are available in the UK?

The UK government is promoting domestic renewable energy, and is offering  incentives for eligible homes. The goal? To ensure that 30 per cent of UK homeowners have access to renewable energy by 2030. Explore the table below to browse what government grants and other help is available for UK homeowners in 2024.

Solar incentiveRun timePotential savings
Energy Company Obligation (ECO4)April 2022 to March 2026Partially or fully free solar panels
Smart Export Guarantee (SEG)From 1 January 2020 (indefinite)1p – 24p per kWh of excess electricity produced by solar panels
0% VATApril 2022 to March 2027Savings dependent on solar panels cost

Considerations for quality and reliability

When it comes to questions around quality and reliability, there are three important things to consider before you select a cheap solar panel: the product, the supplier, and the installation.

On the first point, your solar system’s warranty matters. It’s what you’ll turn to should one or more or panels start to fail: so the longer, the better. Frustratingly, cheaper solar panels tend to come with shorter warranties: so be sure to shop around for affordably options that still offer a decent warranty – ideally, at least 10 to 15 years.

On the second point – the supplier – we suggest taking to reviews on customer-review websites such as Trustpilot. Though (again frustratingly) customer reviews are lacking for many cheap solar panel brands.

Thirdly, it might be tempting to try and cut costs on installation – but don’t. It’s crucial your solar panels are installed by an installer registered with the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS), not because it’s a legal requirement – it isn’t – but simply because you’re guaranteed a higher level of quality, competence, safety, efficiency, and professionalism.

Plus, if you want the value of your cheap solar panels to go further by selling your surplus power to the grid through the SEG, your panels must be installed by an MCS installer – which is reason alone to use one!

Be wary of sales tactics – some installers may offer discounts or limited-time offers in order to encourage a quick decision. This is a lifetime investment, so move at your own pace

David H icon

Is it generally okay to let your solar installer pick the best panel for you or should you get involved in the process? – David Hilton, Solar panels expert

If you trust your installer, or have recommendations from others who have had solar systems installed, then it should be fine to let them choose the panels for you. After all, they’ll know the market, and will be able to advise you on the best value for money, as well as which panel manufacturers offer the highest-quality customer service. 

 

If you don’t have a specific n installer in mind, research the best panels and then ask the manufacturer to let you know of approved installers in your area.

Installation and maintenance for cheap solar panels

Cheap solar panel installation
The installation process for cheap solar panels is simple but can take a while (Adobe)

If you’re new to solar, and aren’t privy to the installation process or what maintenance is required afterwards, don’t panic – it’s minimal. 

Installing your cheap solar panels

Typically, installing your cheap solar panels will follow this process: 

  1. Set up scaffolding: scaffolding is erected to ensure your installer’s safety when they’re on the roof.
  2. Install solar panel mounts: a solar panel mounting system is set up, which will support the base of the solar panels. The structure is tilted, usually between 30 and 35 degrees, to maximise sunlight exposure.
  3. Install the solar panels: the panels are installed on the mounting structure, and secured withbolts and nuts so they stay in their tilted position. 
  4. Wire the panels: the panels are wired using MC4 connectors. (During this process, your household’s electricity supply is shut off to ensure safety.)
  5. Install the inverter: the inverter is what converts your solar energy into usable electricity. This can be installed inside or outside your home but must be kept out of direct sunlight. 
  6. Connect the inverter to the consumer unit: to generate electricity, the inverter must be connected to the consumer unit, which controls the flow of electricity into your home. A generation meter is also connected to monitor the performance and measure the amount of electricity being generated.
  7. Test: once all of the above is safely completed, the system is turned on, and your installer will check that everything is working as it should.

Maintenance tips

Solar panels are designed to be low maintenance and, thanks to their tilted position, most rain and debris naturally falls off. 

Ways to maintain your solar panels: 

  1. Get them serviced once every five to 10 years.
  2. Regularly check for any issues. If you notice any sudden drop in output, it’s time for a service.  
  3. Clean your solar panels once per year. For safety reasons, do not climb onto your roof; instead, use a hose at ground level with low water pressure. If you can’t safely reach your panels from the ground, we suggest hiring a professional for regular cleaning.

Summary

Once upon a time, solar panels were viewed as financially ‘out of reach’ for many homeowners. Now, however – with the UK’s move towards powering almost a third of the country’s homes through renewable energy – this is changing at pace. The UK’s zero VAT incentive cuts some costs and, if you’re eligible for the ECO4 scheme, you could either benefit from a reduced system cost – or a completely free one. 

Don’t fret if you’re not eligible, though – there are plenty of cheap solar panels on the market that will be sufficient enough to power your household. Plus, you’ll be able to start earning money back from your solar array as soon as you opt into the SEG scheme and start selling solar back to the National Grid.

Frequently asked questions about cheap solar panels in the UK

Cheap solar panels are similar to premium ones, with the main difference being their efficiency and warranty length. Cheaper solar panels will have an average of 14 per cent efficiency, whereas premium panels will average 20 per cent – meaning cheaper panels will generate less electricity than more expensive panels. Cheaper panels will also tend to have a shorter warranty, and use low-cost materials in the manufacturing process.

The issue with cheap solar panels isn’t so much their reliability, but rather their longevity and power output. Cheap solar panels have a shorter lifespan than premium panels and won’t have the ability to produce anywhere near as much electricity as their less affordable counterparts; you should consider this carefully before making any buying decisions. As long as you find a reputable brand with a decent warranty and good customer reviews, though, cheap solar panels should be reliable enough.

Finding cheap solar panels requires a lot of research. You’ll need to compare a wide range of brands, focusing on price, efficiency and power output.

We’ve listed several solar brands in this article, and some of the cheapest ones include Amerisolar, Suntech, Jinko and Longi Solar. There are also government incentives and schemes available, such as the ECO4, SEG, and zero per cent VAT, that you should use to lower your system’s cost.

Yes, there are some government schemes available for solar panel installation. You might be eligible for the ECO4 scheme, which can help homeowners on eligible benefits install panels for free or at a reduced cost. The government has also made solar panels more affordable through the zero per cent VAT scheme, which is available until 2027.

Before purchasing cheap solar panels, you should consider the panel efficiency, as this will affect your system’s power output. Take note of your panel’s warranty, too: solar panels have an average lifespan of 25 years, so you’ll want this reflected in your coverage.. Before purchasing cheap solar panels, you should also make sure your panels will be installed by an MCS-accredited installer – otherwise, you won’t be able to sell any of the electricity your cheap solar panels generate back to the grid.

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The data used to power this calculator is sourced from various solar companies and industry bodies, including the UK government, the Energy Saving Trust and Ofgem. Please note that costs are estimated and based on a UK average, and should not be taken as the exact price you would pay. If you’d like to get an accurate quote for solar panels, then you can use this form to get an estimate from one of our trusted partners.

Rob Binns

Writer

Rob is an experienced writer and editor, with a wide range of experience in many topics, including renewable energy and appliances, home security, and business software. He has written for Eco Experts, Home Business, Expert Market, Payments Journal, and Yahoo! Finance. . 

Rob has a passion for smart home technology, online privacy, as well as the environment and renewables, which leads him to the Independent Advisor where he writes about related topics, including cyber security, VPNs, and solar power.