Five things people get wrong about solar – we debunk the myths

Holding back from installing solar panels? We reveal the truth behind the fiction.

Are you keen to swap to solar energy, to reduce your carbon footprint or to make a long-term saving, but feel unsure you’ll get a regular power supply? This is just one of the many fears that is holding people back from making the change.  

Research commissioned by solar panel installer, Project Solar UK, has revealed that the British public’s understanding of solar energy has barely altered since its previous study in 2021. The findings reveal a lack of awareness of solar energy, which has only increased marginally over the past two years. 

Here, we dispel the myths about solar panels and give you the information you need to decide what is right for you.  

Solar panels on roof of mews buildingCredit: Project Solar UK
More education is needed to overcome the misconceptions about solar panels 

So, what myths about solar panels prevent domestic users from swapping to this sustainable energy source? 

Advertisement

Myth 1. Solar panels don’t work on cloudy days

They do work, but they may be less efficient

According to Project Solar’s report, almost 21% of respondents believed solar panels can’t function at all on cloudy days. The company found this misconception to be the most concerning among its findings. “There is a lot of misunderstanding about the way solar panels work, and people tend to think you need to live in a region with strong sunlight every day for the panels to work,” a spokesperson said. “This is not the case, as typical daylight found across the country is enough to generate energy year round.” 

Even on a cloudy day solar panels will generate electricity, but they won’t be as efficient. There’s a general consensus that they will typically generate 10-25% of their usual output.

Solar panels on a roof on a very overcast dayCredit: Shutterstock/AHatmaker
You don’t need to live in an area of constant sunshine to benefit from solar panels

But how do they generate any output if it’s cloudy? Brian Horne, technical knowledge lead at Energy Saving Trust explains: “Solar PV panels generate electricity using the photons we call light. Your solar panels will generate the most electricity when in direct sunlight, but even on cloudy days there will still be enough photons available for them to continue to generate electricity.

“Rainy days can also be useful as the rain helps clean the solar panels, removing dust and helping the panels continue to work efficiently.”

Myth 2. Solar energy cannot be stored

A battery will store energy for you to consume later

There is also concern that solar energy cannot be stored, so you’ll need to rely on the grid for a backup supply. However, having a battery as part of your domestic solar panels set up will allow you to rely on stored energy when needed. So, on sunnier days, when energy generation is at its peak, you can capture the heat and store it. According to the Energy Saving Trust: “Installing a battery will save you money on your electricity bills, as you will rely less on electricity from the grid.” 

Alternatively, when you produce more energy than you need, you can export it to the National Grid for someone else to use. This incentive is part of the Government’s Smart Export Guarantee scheme, which pays households with solar panels in England, Wales and Scotland for selling their surplus supply back to the grid.  

Joanna O’Loan, knowledge manager at the Energy Saving Trust, says it’s worth looking out for alternative tariffs, and advises: “Many energy companies also offer non-SEG export tariffs, which are often more generous than their SEG tariff but may also have other conditions – for example, they might require you to have purchased the solar panels from the company, or require you to purchase your supplied electricity from the same company. When researching what offer is best for you, remember to read all terms and conditions.” 

Myth 3. Solar panels cost a fortune

They can reap the rewards over the long term

There’s no denying that solar panels aren’t cheap to install, but they are becoming more affordable, and the price you pay for your solar panel installation will depend on the size of your house, the installer you choose and where you live in the country. The Energy Saving Trust states that a typical solar setup will cost £7,000. But once installed, you’ll reap the cost saving and environmental benefits of producing your own energy, while also having the opportunity to sell excess energy to the grid (as mentioned above). 

However, there is some help in the form of grants. The Federation of Master Builders has more information on its website about what is available.  

An added bonus is that solar panels in Great Britain are exempt from VAT until March 31, 2027. However, do bear in mind that solar batteries are only exempt if bought with solar panels and installed by the same supplier.   

Youre probably keen to know, how long will it take to get your money back? OLoan says: Payback times for installing solar panels will vary depending on the export tariff you sign up to, future energy prices and how much solar-generated electricity you can use in the home. If youre able to use your appliances in the daytime when your solar panels are generating electricity, you should see payback quicker.  

Based on typical installation costs and todays energy prices, a typical three-bedroom home in London with solar panels and a Smart Export Guarantee tariff could expect to recoup the costs of installing solar panels between 12 and 20 years.” 

Advertisement

Myth 4. Panels can only be added to a roof

Solar panels can be installed on the ground

It’s a familiar sight to see solar panels on rooftops, and apart from solar farms, we don’t often get to see them installed as ground arrays. However, if you’d prefer not to have the panels on your rooftop and you have plenty of outside space, a ground array is an option.  

Solar panels in a ground array installed in a large gardenCredit: Shutterstock/Michael G McKinne
If you have a garden and it is large enough, solar panels can be installed in a ground array

And according to the Eco Experts: “Ground-mounted solar panels can be more efficient than roof-mounted solar panels, as it’s easier to achieve the best angle and direction when no roof is in the way.” There’s also the added advantage of moving your panels into sunnier positions to optimise their yield. 

However, unlike most roof-mounted installations, there may be more restrictions with trees or buildings blocking sunlight.  

Myth 5. Solar panels require planning permission

It’s unlikely that solar panels will require planning permission

You won’t usually need planning permission to install solar panels, as they come under what is known as ‘permitted development’. However, under some circumstances, if you live in a listed building, conservation area or national park, some restrictions will apply. 

Whatever your circumstances, it’s always best to check with your local planning office before going ahead with an installation.  

What are permitted development rights?

As a homeowner you can make certain alterations to your home through permitted development rights without applying for planning permission. 

We could all benefit from understanding more about solar power

An education programme is needed

Simon Peat, CEO of Project Solar UK, who commissioned both reports, says: There is a lot of work to do to help people understand that we can all take advantage of the suns energy to help heat and light our homes and run our appliances. 

The company believes a detailed education campaign will be required to raise awareness of how solar energy works if we are to tackle climate change, reduce greenhouse gases and understand the benefits of having solar panels installed to create the energy required to run our homes. 

However, despite the call to educate the public, MCS (the standards body for low-carbon energy), reported that more than 20,000 solar installations took part in the first half of 2023 – the highest monthly figures to date. 

Gareth Simkins, senior communications advisor at trade organisation Solar Energy UK, echoes this positive outlook: “Solar remains the most popular form of energy generation, according to the Government’s Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) Public Attitudes Tracker.” The details are highlighted in the section titled ‘Support for different types of renewables’, with 88% of respondents in favour of solar energy. 

Advertisement
Camilla Sharman

Written by Camilla Sharman she/her

Published:

With her 30 years of experience, Camilla Sharman has covered a wide range of sectors within the business and consumer industries both as a feature, content, and freelance writer.  As a business journalist, Camilla has researched articles for many different sectors from the jewellery industry to finance and tech, charities, and the arts. Whatever she’s covered, she enjoys delving deep and learning the ins and out of different topics, then conveying her research within engaging content that informs the reader.