Your guide to installing solar panels

Harness the power of the sun for electricity and hot water in your short-term rental with lower bills & faster payback

In this article we will show you how you can use the heat of the sun to produce electricity as well as hot water. This is an area where technology has improved rapidly. As a result, installation costs as well as payback times have reduced substantially.


1. What are solar panels used for?

The chances are you will have seen solar panels on roofs wherever you are based in the world. The increase in demand has been the result of a number of factors including the war between Russia and Ukraine. This created dramatic increases in energy prices with many people still working from home (and many still doing so). The sun provides a reliable source of energy, which is low-carbon and free! You just need to install the right technology to harness it.

In fact, there are two types of solar panels. When you see lots of solar panels on a roof, they are likely to be for electricity (usually called photovoltaic or PV for short). The other use is for hot water production.

In the following sections, we will explain how both types of panel work. In addition, we will give you some advice about installing solar panels if your properties are single units or you own the whole block.


DID YOU KNOW? – Having solar panels installed can get you up to 5.50% on the Sustonica criteria! Check out our standard.

Why is it part of the criteria?  Using solar panels reduces the need for non-renewable energy sources such as coal, oil, and natural gas. This, in turn, leads to a decrease in the emission of greenhouse gases and air pollutants, helping to mitigate the impact of human activity on the environment and combat climate change.


2. The advantages of installing solar panels

Many householders and businesses have recognised the benefits of installing solar panels. This has resulted in increases in the energy generated by solar across the world.

Europe: EU solar reached record highs of 56 GW in 2023, making it the third year of annual growth rates of at least 40%. Germany is top of the solar list, followed by Spain, Italy, Poland and the Netherlands. This translates into almost 17 million more European homes being powered by solar in 2023, producing 55.9 GW of new solar capacity across the EU27. This almost reaches the International Energy Agency’s recommendation of 60 GW to compensate for the phase-out of Russian gas.

US: The picture here is even better with 238,121 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of electricity from solar in 2023 — more than eight times the amount generated a decade earlier in 2014. This was enough to power 22 million average American homes.

UK: As in other regions, solar capacity has increased substantially in recent years and now stands at 15.8GW across nearly 1.5 million installations. New planning rules should boost this even further.

The advantages of installing solar panels are not difficult to understand:

  • Energy from the sun is free!
  • It is also renewable and non-polluting unlike fossil fuels
  • Substantially lower carbon emissions
  • Less reliance on the electricity grid
  • Less exposure to future energy price increases
  • EV chargers powered by solar makes running an electric car even cheaper and provides more potential revenue for property managers


3. Guide to installing photovoltaic panels

Of course, we would recommend that you contact a professional solar installer in your area. However, there are a number of key factors for you to consider.

Not surprisingly, the main place to start is your roof. It needs to have enough space to accommodate the number of solar panels you need. In addition, you will need to check that it gets enough sunlight. As such, for optimum output it will be unshaded and south-facing. However, the hours of sunlight are less important than you may think.  Solar panels do not need direct sunlight to work, meaning they are effective in countries like northern Europe on cloudy days and during the winter season. For example, in the UK, solar panels can produce enough energy to power 33-51% of a home during the winter.

After assessing your roof, the next element to consider is the type of solar panel to choose. If you have the budget, it is always advisable to go for the best quality panel which will be monocrystalline made from silicone. This type of panel has high outputs, performs better in low light levels and has a lifespan of around 25-30 years. A cheaper option is polycrystalline which is less efficient and does not perform as well in extreme heat.

When sun shines on a solar panel, energy from the sun is absorbed by individual PV cells in the panel. These cells produce an electrical charge which in turn creates a direct current of electricity. In order to use this in a property, the direct current (DC) needs to be converted into alternating current (AC) to power appliances. This is where you need a piece of equipment called an inverter. The inverter is like the brains of the whole system and the one you choose will determine the efficiency of your installation. The most common inverters are string versions which connect all your panels. However, if there is a problem with one panel, it could impact on the rest. Micro-inverters are more expensive but they ‘separate’ the panels and incorporate a power monitoring system.

Finally, the last consideration is whether you want to incorporate batteries when installing solar panels. Undoubtedly, this will add significant cost but it will mean that you are using all the energy you are producing, particularly at night.


4. Guide to solar panels for hot water

When you think of solar panels, you are probably thinking of PV panels for electricity as described above. However, they can also provide hot water. There are two main types: solar thermal and thermodynamic panels.

The most common and cheapest option is solar thermal panels which, instead of cells like PV panels, have pipes to heat up water. They are installed on the roof and the heated water is transferred to a tank for domestic hot water use.

Thermodynamic panels are more expensive and extract heat from the air, a bit like a heat pump. In fact, heat pumps can also be combined with solar thermal panels to heat hot water. They take the water heated on the roof and transfer it into a central coil within the heat pump cylinder which heats the water.

In summary, installing solar panels for hot water is much less costly than installing a PV system and can often be a good place to start.


5. Payback times

Without a doubt, there is a key question you will ask about installing solar panels. How long will it take to get back my investment?

Of course, this will depend whether you are the property owner or just responsible for managing it. If you are the owner of a single unit or a whole building, you should have past electricity bills. And gas too if that is the way you heat your hot water. In this way, you can do some rough calculations on what you could save if you were to transition away from fossil fuels. Certainly, you will need to make an educated guess about future energy prices or you could base it on historical data. Obviously, when you are refurbishing a property or building from scratch, it will be more cost-effective to install solar panels at that time. If you talk to a professional installer, they should be able to give you an idea of payback times.

In the United States, for example, payback time is typically 6-10 years and in the UK it is typically around 10 years. However, there are many unknown variables, such as future fossil fuel prices, feed-in tariffs and falling costs of installing solar panels due to increasing demand.

Furthermore, there are some other factors to take into account. Such as, any grants or tax incentives which are available in your region as well as whether you are going to fit batteries for electricity storage. In addition, in many countries you can sell any excess power back to the national grid.

Another consideration is that installing solar panels usually leads to low ongoing maintenance costs. Encouragingly, the lifetime of a solar installation is around 25-30 years with some of the more recent cutting-edge PV panels lasting up to 50 years.

Finally, a less obvious issue to bear in mind is property value. Currently, there is not much data available to show the increased value of property with green technology. However, there seems to be growing evidence that properties which are energy efficient and cheap to run will command higher values than properties running on fossil fuels. In part, this is being driven by the need to reduce carbon emissions on a national level with legislation being introduced for new builds to be run on renewable energy.


6. Other ways to save energy

Undoubtedly, installing solar panels is a long-term investment. Of course, there are other energy-saving initiatives you could be incorporating too. This will reduce your energy costs in the short-term and your carbon emissions. Furthermore, you can look at  combining technology. As an example,  heat pumps are even more efficient when powered by photovoltaic panels. Or you could think about installing solar panels on a small carport roof to facilitate EV charging.


Installing solar panels is the smart way to transition away from fossil fuels. Renewable energy is the sensible choice for the future of our planet. Solar technology plays a key role in this.



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