Category - Solar
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Paul Holdsworth, Engineer

3 Jul : Updated 4 Apr ● 9 min read

Natural gas vs solar energy: Which fuel type is right for your home?

When it comes to knowing what fuel type is right for your home, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with the range of options available. Would you be better choosing a natural gas boiler, or should you decide to switch to a solar-powered central heating system?

Here at BOXT, we know how tricky it is to know what’s best, which is why our team of experts is on hand to help. In this guide, we’ll break down everything you need to know about natural gas and solar power as two of the potential energy sources for your home. 

We’ll walk you through the pros and cons of each option to help you make an informed decision about which one is going to be the most suitable for you.

What is natural gas?

Natural gas is one of the most abundant fuel types in the world. Mostly methane, it is formed deep underground over millions of years when decomposing plant and animal matter are subjected to intense heat and pressure. 

It is extracted from these deposits by drilling wells directly to where the gas is trapped. If the gas is deep underground beneath the ocean (like in the North Sea, for example), gas platforms are built to enable gas companies to work at drill sites safely.

Once it has been extracted from these natural deposits, the gas is then carried to refineries via pipelines. Here, the gas is purified for commercial use by separating it into its constituent elements; methane, propane and butane. After it has been separated, the natural gases are stored in tanks before being pumped around the country’s main distribution network and into our homes.

Fun fact: It’s a common misconception that natural gas smells bad! People often think that gas has a sulphurous odour, but this isn’t actually true. Natural gas has no scent at all, so gas companies add the unpleasant eggy smell during the refining process so that we can instantly detect if there has been a gas leak.

Why use a natural gas boiler?

Although natural gas isn't classed as a renewable source of energy, it is still much less harmful to the environment than other fossil fuels; oil and coal, specifically. To put things into perspective, natural gas emits 30% less CO2 than oil and 45% less CO2 than coal. 

The benefits of gas boilers don’t end here, though. Gas boilers are also one of the most efficient home heating systems available. When installed correctly, gas-powered boilers typically offer an efficiency rating of 95% compared with the 87% offered by oil boilers. Generating more heat per unit of energy used means that gas boilers can, in some cases, reduce the overall cost of your heating bills; something that most of us are looking to do as prices seem to be climbing ever higher.

A third plus point for gas boilers is the fact that they are one of the easiest systems to maintain. Since they are the most widely used central heating system in the UK, the majority of engineers are familiar with how they operate and (more importantly, perhaps) how to fix them! 

As long as you make sure that your engineer is on the Gas Safe register and has all the necessary credentials to prove they know how to carry out repairs on gas boilers safely, keeping on top of any maintenance as per your boiler’s warranty shouldn’t be a problem.

The main advantages of natural gas

  • It is readily available and accessible, being the most widely-used fuel type in the UK.
  • It is the cleanest burning hydrocarbon (producing around 50% of the CO2 and 10% of the air pollutants produced by coal when burned to generate electricity).
  • Gas boilers are easy to repair and maintain, with Gas Safe registered engineers having the qualifications needed to carry out any checks safely.

Are there any disadvantages of natural gas as a fuel type?

So, whilst there are definitely benefits of gas boilers, are there any drawbacks? Let’s take a look.

  • Installing gas boilers can be more expensive than electric alternatives, as additional pipework will need to be fitted and connected up to the mains gas supply.
  • Natural gas is highly flammable, so must be managed carefully and only by Gas Safe registered engineers. 
  • Gas is a non-renewable source of energy, meaning there are more environmentally friendly alternatives out there (although these aren’t all commercially available just yet).

What is solar energy?

Solar energy is generated by the sun. When protons from hydrogen atoms collide in the sun's core, they create helium atoms. We call this nuclear fusion - a vital element for life on Earth.

As humans, we can find a way to generate electricity and heat using solar energy via solar panels, which can be placed on rooftops or found on dedicated areas of land known as 'solar farms'.

These solar panels have cells made from semiconducting material (i.e. silicon). When the sun shines on this material, electricity is generated. Solar panels can work regardless of clouds blocking the sun, although the stronger the ray of light, the more electricity you'll receive.

The average system consists of 10 panels which can be enough to generate a direct current (DC) of electricity. However, households tend to use an alternating current (AC) for their appliances so an inverter is installed to convert the DC to AC.

Why use solar energy?

Solar energy is a renewable power source that doesn't negatively impact the environment. As it reduces greenhouse gas emissions, solar energy can improve air quality and slow down the use of water when producing energy.

Using this method, you'll also be able to save on electricity bills and not rely so much on other energy companies. Even using something small and simple like solar lights for your garden can help reduce energy costs.

Other reasons to use solar energy include:

  • Low maintenance costs
  • Adds value to your home
  • Generates electricity in any climate

What are the disadvantages of solar energy?

Although solar energy may seem the dream alternative for powering your home, there are a few things you may need to consider before purchasing some panels:

  • Solar panel technologies requires a significant upfront investment  to buy and install.
  • You might consider installing an electric boiler or air/ground source heat pump; you can’t heat your home with solar panels alone and you may still require heating provision from a fossil fuel burning appliance
  • It’s very difficult to go completely off-grid and solely use solar energy to heat your home. The average home uses around 427 watts per hour where most residential solar panels produce between 250 and 400 watts per hour. You would need a backup or secondary heating system to ensure your home could be properly heated.
  • Panels don't work on every roof; you’ll need to do your research before installing to make sure yours is suitable.
  • Solar panels do require direct sunlight to operate effectively, meaning no electricity can be generated at nighttime. This is especially important for customers in places such as England, Scotland and Wales that, let's face it, aren't exactly world-famous for their sunny weather!

Which is right for your home - natural gas or solar energy?

After going through some of the pros and cons of natural gas and solar energy, which one is the right choice for you? 

Here are a few factors you should consider before purchasing either:

The size of your home

Before deciding which system is right for you, you’ll first need to calculate the hot water and central heating requirements of your home. 

With solar, the more panels you have, the more electricity you can harvest. However, bigger properties, without supplementary heating, require a lot more electricity than smaller homes. But, alternatively, smaller homes might not have enough space for lots of panels. If you are committed to installing solar panels, it is possible that they can heat your home just as well as conventional gas, oil or electric boilers, but you’ll need to calculate how much electricity you’ll need your panels to generate in order for your home to function.

Gas boilers, on the other hand, can come in various sizes and can generate enough heat for large and small properties. If you want to play it safe, natural gas is always a reliable source.

Read our guide for more information on choosing the right size boiler for your home.


The most common 4 kW solar panel system can cost around £6,400, covering 29 square metres. As well as solar panels, you would also need to install an electric boiler which can cost anywhere from £900 to £4,500 (depending on the size of your home and how much hot water you anticipate you’ll be using). 

In comparison, gas boilers can cost around £2,500 to buy and install. Although gas boilers may be cheaper, it’s also important to consider the long-term operational costs. Since solar panels  generate electricity from the sun, this can reduce the cost of your electricity bills. The government has also been introducing new incentives and tariffs for those who wish to use solar panels as a way to combat climate change and save money.

Gas boilers may be more reliable but the prices can fluctuate since you’re relying on energy companies instead of sourcing energy yourself. Overall, while the initial investment of solar panels may  be higher than gas boilers, you could end up saving a lot more money in the long run. 


For old homes, solar panels will require a whole new system so the electricity can run around the house. Installers will also need to access  your roof safely and  ensure they don't  drop the panels. This can make installing solar energy quite tricky and it’s likely that access equipment such as scaffolding would be needed to assist installations. However, new builds are becoming more and more eco-friendly, so installing solar panels for these properties might be a lot more straightforward. 

With natural gas being the most widely-used fuel type in the UK, the majority of homes are already equipped with the pipework and infrastructure needed to support gas-powered heating systems. This can make the process of installing gas boilers relatively easy for Gas Safe engineers who are experts at getting everything set up and working properly in your home. 

Install your heating system with BOXT

If you’re looking to install a brand-new heating system, look no further than BOXT. As one of the leading suppliers of boilers and central heating, we can provide the best advice and guidance for heating your home. From compact combi boilers to solar panels, BOXT has got you covered!

Find the best boiler for your home using our online Find a Boiler tool.


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