Power up: Installing solar panels on a shed roof – is it worth it?

Our heating and energy expert shares his insight and explores the options.

If your shed is used to store bikes and garden furniture, it may not be your top priority to install a power supply to it. However, if you are a keen DIYer and have a prized power tool or two, or want to upgrade your shed to a small garden office, an electricity supply could be crucial.  

But, when it comes to introducing a power supply, you may be wondering whether it’s possible to fit solar panels to your shed roof. 

The quick answer is yes, it is possible – and there are a couple of solar options to choose from. The one you select will depend on the size of your shed, how much electricity you need and your budget. Our heating and energy expert explains the pros and cons of installing solar panel systems on your shed roof, allowing you to decide whether you can benefit from a renewable energy supply. 

solar panels on garden shed buildingCredit: Shutterstock / David McGlynn

Are solar panels suitable for a shed roof?

Technically, solar panels can go on a shed roof, but be mindful of weight and space

Can I put solar panels on my shed roof? In a word, yes. But that “yes” comes with some “ifs” and “buts” attached. 

Solar Photovoltaic (PV) panels that generate electricity can effectively be installed on the roof of any structure that is robust enough to take their weight. But while a shed may seem like the obvious place to install solar panels, let’s remember that a typical garden shed is simply nailed together and often modest in size. What solar system you install on the roof will be determined by how sturdy and large the structure is. What you want to use the solar energy for will also influence your decision. 


Wind lift 

It’s important to consider wind lift – you don’t want the panels flying off on a windy day. Air will flow through the gap between the solar panels and the roof it’s attached to, and wind will cause some uplift. This is why the hooks that attach the panels to the roof need to be fixed to a sturdy structure to avoid them ripping away.

What do you want to generate energy for?

Small power tools vs workshop style setup: what you use your shed for will determine the system you install

When planning for solar PV panels on a shed roof, work out what you expect to use the energy for first. This will determine what type of solar panel system you’ll need. If you want to power electricity and small tools then a DIY solar panel kit, which can be moved and changed, would be a good solution.  

If you have more of a workshop setup, with multiple power tools that you’ll be using for longer time periods, as well as powering lighting and a computer, then opt for a PV panel system – like one you’d have installed on the roof of your home. This is a long-term home-style system that is fully installed and connected back to the home. 

A DIY solar panel kit

A kit is versatile and cheaper with less upheaval

small garden shed with solar panel kitCredit: Shutterstock / CL Shebley
A small solar panel kit can be ideal for a temporary shed structure if you need to power low voltage tools

A small shed that’s used for storing tools and general pottering may benefit from a DIY solar PV system, such as those used for camping or caravans. Although not as robust, and without as much oomph, they can be a lot less expensive and do not need formal installation, as they are not connected back to the grid. That means you won’t need to dig up the garden to run cables from the house to the shed either.  

Solar DIY kits can be picked up pretty easily online – a 20W lighting system could cost around £150. This type of system would typically have a solar panel and battery and four 5W bulbs. The panel would be able to charge the battery in around four to five hours in good sunlight and supply around six hours of light. Battery systems can indeed be used to power the system with no connection to a mains supply. 

Wiring circuits – leave it to the professionals 

Electrics and DIY is always something that should only be done if you have manufacturers instructions. Do not wire up your own circuits unless you are competent to do so. Even low voltage systems can cause issues such as fire risks.

If you are adding a few DIY panels and trickle charging a battery (which allows a very small amount of energy to flow over a very long period) and using a small inverter to run lowpower lighting and small appliances, then there is no real need to be connected to the main electric grid. This is a good solution if you don’t need a great deal of power and the shed is a long way down the garden and you’re keen to avoid running mains cables down to it.  

What is an inverter? 

An inverter is the device that coverts the direct current (DC) that the panels generate, into a 230v alternating current (AC) – as used in a home electrical system.

A solar PV system for a shed workshop or office

A domestic system would be needed for high electricity demand

solar panels on a garden buildingCredit: Shutterstock / David McGlynn
A garden building can carry solar panels more akin to a domestic roof array

A larger shed, perhaps a workshop, gym or garden office, would have heavierduty electricity requirements such as better lighting, power tools and machinery, or even a heating system. It would therefore require a proper mains electric supply.  


How would this work? 

Let’s breakdown the key measurements of a PV system. A 400W PV panel (as used on domestic home PV systems) is around 1m (3.3ft) wide by around 1.8m (5.9ft) long and weighs an average 20kg (40lb).   

A 10-panel installation – a typical installation size for an average home – would weigh around 200kg (440lb), plus the weight of the metal roof hooks that fix the panels to the roof securely. It’s a hefty weight to expect a garden shed roof to be able to hold, and therefore the structure of the shed would need to be reinforced to handle the stresses. 

Realistically, you’d only choose to have a 10-panel array on a shed roof if you were going to power your house with the renewable energy generated. This would mean a grid connected system with underground cables running from the house to the shed. For this setup you’d also be looking at having a proper workshop or garden room structure that could take this weight, rather than a shed. 

As such, it would then make sense to install as many PV panels on the roof as you can (up to 10 panels) and then install the inverter in the garden building. When the electric generation is not being used in the shed it can then go back to the home consumer board through the connecting supply wire and be used in the home. 

This kind of solar panel system might be worthwhile if the roof of your home isn’t suitable for solar panels – it faces north or the pitch isn’t suitable for the 10 panels you’d need, for example.  

But it will mean having your garden dug up to run the electricity cables. You’d need to pay a qualified electrician to do this work and wire it up. Costs very much depend on how long the job takes, but an electrician could cost around £300 to £500 per day. 

The size of the shed you’d need for a PV system 

Typically, a 10-panel array would be around 11m (36ft) long by around 4m (13ft) wide. This means the shed you’d need to put up would fall outside permitted development – it must be no more than 3m x 5m (9.8ft x 16ft) to avoid planning permission.

Where should you place solar panels on a shed roof?

Orientation can have an impact on how much energy you generate

solar panel on lean to shedCredit: Shutterstock / beanimages

A 10panel array would realistically be around 11x4m (36x13ft). Therefore it’s best to plan the shed with a mono-pitch roof (a lean-to style, with one sloping roof) so that you are using the full roof area.

Roof orientation 

Whether you opt for a solar PV system or a DIY kit, the best place to position your shed to get optimum sunlight is south facing. It should be pitched at around 30 degrees for optimum generation. If it faces east or west, then you lose around 20% of the potential power generation. However, it’s fine to have panels on both the east and west pitch if the shed is orientated this way, but this does sometimes need special wiring and inverter design to ensure optimum generation across the day.   

The PV panels can be placed in portrait or landscape orientation. It’s worth planning what size shed (or garden room) you would like and then checking what will fit. Different panels from different manufacturers have different dimensions and outputs. Ideally, it’s best to leave a margin of at least 30cm (1ft) around the edge, but you can also fit right to the edge and install a rim to avoid wind lift. 

Temporary shed vs permanent garden building

A shed is often a temporary structure so a solar kit is the ideal install option. It means you can take it down easily if your shed needs replacing or if you move house and want to take the kit with you.

Installing a full PV system on a permanent garden building can be a great solution, especially when the main home has a complicated roof or great architectural merit. Garden rooms can often be orientated in a more optimal direction and can also be positioned away from potential shading. This may not be the obvious firstchoice solution but can often turn out to be the most beneficial. 


Written by David Hilton he/him