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Free solar panels UK: Can you switch to solar for free?

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Grants and local schemes can slash the cost of a solar PV system – in some cases to nothing

Solar panels have become much more affordable in recent years, but solar is still a substantial investment, costing around £5,000 or more up front. So adverts offering you free solar panels if you meet certain criteria are guaranteed to catch the eye.

Unfortunately, these “free solar” adverts are just sneaky ways to get your details. It’s been more than a decade since companies last gave away free solar panels in the UK, back when generous government tariffs made it worth their while.

But as we explored in our article on solar panel grants, there are schemes in place to help you fund your switch to solar. For some people, grants will cover the entire cost of a solar PV system, effectively meaning free solar panels.

In this article we’ll sort the false claims from the genuine grants and other funds available to help you pay for solar panels. These schemes are available to relatively few people in the UK, however.

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If you’re considering installing solar panels on your property, you can use our free tool which puts you in touch with specialist providers for a tailored quote.

Can I get free solar panels?

It’s pretty difficult to get free solar panels in the UK, but that wasn’t always the case. Back in the noughties, the Labour government’s generous reward tariffs for excess solar electricity inspired providers to offer “free” panels in return for collecting all your tariffs (which, over the years, often added up to more than the panels cost). Customers liked the free panels, providers liked the lucrative tariffs, and the result was a boom in renewable domestic electricity.

Over the last decade, however, tariffs have diminished to minimal levels that are too low to make this business strategy work. Free solar panels from reputable providers are a thing of the past.

That doesn’t stop companies advertising “free solar panels” on Facebook and elsewhere. The ads invite you to apply for free panels if you’re on a low income or over a certain age, but when you fill in the forms you simply receive a quote that’s no lower than it would be for anyone else. Companies such as Solar Panel Funding have been censured by the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) for their claims about free panels.

However, if you’re keen to go green and would struggle to afford the rough £5,000 it costs to install panels, you do still have funding options.

Can I get a grant for solar panels?

If your home is particularly energy inefficient and you’re on benefits, then you may be eligible for a non-repayable grant for solar panels. You’ll be charged a fee for installation, but the cost of the panels is covered up to 100%.

The grant comes under the government-backed Energy Company Obligation (ECO) scheme, which aims to improve the energy efficiency of homes across the UK. The ECO4 iteration of the scheme, which runs until 2026, includes solar panels as well as insulation, heat pumps and boiler replacements.

The ECO4’s eligibility criteria are:

  • Your home has an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) of D or below;
  • Your annual household income is less than £31,000;
  • You receive at least one eligible benefit, such as child benefit, pension guarantee credit, JSA, income support, tax credits, universal credit or housing benefit;
  • You own your own home, or have your landlord’s permission to make improvements.

This is a government-backed scheme, but the government doesn’t actually run or fund it; that’s done by energy suppliers. To apply, contact an energy supplier that’s offering ECO4. This doesn’t have to be your own energy supplier. Suppliers offering ECO4 currently include:

British Gas | EDF | E.On | Octopus Energy | Ovo Energy | So Energy

The latest interaction of the scheme, ECO+, only covers insulation, not boilers or solar panels. But at the time of writing ECO4 is still running as well, and you still have two and a half years to apply before the scheme ends in 2026.

READ NEXT: All you need to know about solar panels grants

Can I get free solar panels from my local council?

Your local council may be part of one or both of two government-backed schemes that can help you pay for your solar panels: the Sustainable Warmth grant scheme and the Solar Together collective scheme.

Sustainable Warmth is run by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to improve the energy efficiency of qualifying homes. As with the ECO4 scheme, Sustainable Warmth funding is only available to those meeting certain criteria, including an EPC rating of D or lower, and either means-tested benefits or a total household income of £30,000 or less.

To apply, find your local council’s website via Gov.UK and search for Sustainable Warmth or energy upgrades.

Free solar panels solar together website

Solar Together isn’t means-tested at all, and is essentially a solar panel buying collective formed by households and local authorities. Your group registers its interest with providers of solar panels and solar storage batteries, and the providers then bid for the chance to install panels for the group. You normally end up paying between 10% and 25% less than you would pay by going direct to a provider.

To apply, go to the Solar Together website and use the dropdown menu to find your council in the list. Current participating councils include Essex, Southampton and Liverpool.

Can I get free solar panels in Scotland?

Scotland is more generous than England and Wales when it comes to government funding for sustainable energy measures. Home Energy Scotland offers grants and an interest-free loan, funded by the Scottish government, for energy-saving home improvements such as solar panels. You can now apply for domestic renewables funding of up to £1,250 that you don’t have to pay back, plus an interest-free loan up to a maximum £5,000.

READ NEXT: Best solar battery storage

Do new houses come with free solar panels?

There’s currently no requirement for builders to include solar panels on new builds in the UK, but smart developers include them and smart buyers look for them. Property is currently a buyers’ market, so prices are more negotiable than they’ve been for years. Agree a good price, and you effectively get free solar panels.

When negotiating, it may help to know that it’s much cheaper for developers to install solar panels than it is for the average household. Your panels help them achieve their carbon emission targets, and they save money on roofing by integrating panels into the roof structure. They also, of course, get trade prices.

If you’re happy in the home you’ve got but you’d like to add solar panels at a price that’s not too much higher than a developer would pay, then use our free quote-finder tool above to let the best local providers know you’re interested.

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