Find out why more and more people are turning to solar panels to reduce their bills and help the environment.
Solar panels help put one of the most powerful and free resources of nature – solar energy into use. Solar panels are also known as photovoltaics or solar PV. Solar panels convert solar energy into electricity through semiconductor technology.
If you’re considering switching to renewable energy, this guide covers the cost, savings, mechanics and just about everything else you need to know about solar panels.
What’s In This Guide to Solar Panels?
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How Solar Panels Work
The sun is the greatest power source, arguably for all life on planet earth and all a solar panel does is collect the solar radiation and convert it into usable electricity.
The solar panels that are fitted to a roof are orientated toward the sun to maximise the amount of energy they can produce. The panels themselves are made up of many more photo-voltaic cells arranged in a grid system. These cells work like semi-conductors to absorb and convert the sun’s energy.
In lots of countries around Europe, the extra energy that your solar system generates can be sold back into the national grid in whats called a grid connected system. But unfortunately, that’s not an option here in the UK just at the moment. And as of this year, there are no plans to introduce it either so we are stuck with standalone solar systems. You can save the energy to a solar battery system for later use though.
Stand Alone Or Grid Connected PV Systems
PV systems come in two types: a stand-alone system and grid-connected. The difference between them is that with stand-alone PV system the energy is produced for personal use while with a grid-connected PV system the extra electricity can be sold back to the grid.
Whilst there is a pilot scheme for micro-generation power buy back, it hasn’t been rolled out nationwide. Full details can be found here.
Do Solar PV Panels Need Direct Sunlight?
Despite what many think, the answer is yes. Modern solar panels can generate a fair amount of power from diffused sunlight on a cloudy day. For optimal operation sunny days are obviously better though.
Most modern solar panels come with concentrators that use lenses and mirrors to extract the most from light that hits the solar cells. Even on overcast days, solar pv panels will still be about 40% effective.
Solar Panels: The Savings
So let’s get down to brass tacks. How much will it save you per year and how much will it cost? Most British homes opt for a 4kW solar system as this covers about 80% of the average home’s yearly power bill.
With a well installed and optimised system and the usual British weather, above is an overview of how PV solar panels will perform over the course of a year.
Solar PV Panels: The Costs
A solar system with 6sq meters of panels, for a house 4 or 5 people, will cost between £5,000 and £7,000 depending on the installer.
Solar PV Panels: A Great Choice In the UK
Like with any system, there are pros and cons to solar panels. Solar panels rely entirely on the sun to generate electricity, a renewable source of energy.
Solar PV: The Advantages
In a list below you will find the principal advantages of this type of renewable energy.
Installing a solar system won’t mean no electricity bill but it will mean a significantly cheaper one going forward. You can expect to see a bill reduction of between 25 and 40 percent, this depends on a range of different factors including which direction your house is facing, current usage etc, but this is about the average.
Solar energy is ‘green’ which means it doesn’t produce any carbon emissions in production and is environmentally friendly and of course it’s renewable.
Solar panels are designed to work throughout the year with the highest level of efficiency during the sunny month. However, they can generate a significant amount of electricity during the winter season and on cloudy days.
Increased demand coupled with the economies of scale means that installation of solar systems is cheaper than ever. For a quick comparison, a simple solar PV installation costs about 45% more that eight years ago.
Solar panels don’t require a high level of maintenance. The only thing to be done on a regular basis is cleaning the panels and ensuring that no trees overshadow the solar array. If the solar panels are tilted and installed on the roof, keeping them clean becomes even easier since the rain can wash the dust off the system.
If the solar panels are installed on the ground, the maintenance can be more complicated. The dust can be accumulated during the installation as well as it can get snow, debris, or bird droppings. However, it is quite easy to clean using only hot water, a brush and some cleaning agent.
Solar PV: The Disadvantages
Without a doubt, solar pv panels are a great idea but they aren’t without their drawbacks. And whilst their aren’t many disadvantages, the ones that exist require consideration.
Yes, the cost of getting a solar installation has fallen drastically but it’s still a sizeable investment. There are grants from the government that make it more affordable that make it more reasonable but solar should be seen as an investment in the future.
Due to the ever-changing nature of British weather, it’s difficult to estimate how much energy solar panels will generate at any one time.
Solar panels don’t need direct sunlight to generate energy but the panels should be orientated correctly to maximise the panels output. If your roof is in the shadow of large trees or other buildings, this can greatly reduce the amount of energy produced.
The Different Types Of Solar Panels
As the industry has matured, a range of different developments and technologies have improved efficiency and whilst this is not an exhaustive list, it covers what’s commercially available pretty well.
Monocrystalline Panels – comprised of monocrystalline silicon (mono-Si) and are easily identified as the panels have a uniform look and colour. Currently these panels are considered to be the most efficient and long lasting.
Polycrystalline Panels – also made from silicon and are cheaper but due to the manufacturing process these panels are less robust, less efficient and have a shorter lifespan.
Thin Film Solar Cells(TFSC) – TFSC panels are made by fixing one or more layers of photovolatic material to glass or metal. The flexible process can use materials like amorphous silicon, cadmium telluride and copper indium gallium selenide and are regarded as robust and efficient.
Solar PV Tiles – You can now get PV tiles that will go unnoticed when they replace your traditional roof tiles. The energy efficiency and other factors depend on the type and brand.
Will Solar PV Panels Fit On My Roof?
Solar panels come in a variety of different arrays so you should be able to find a solar system that is suitable.
How Long Do Solar Panels Last?
Solar panels should last between 30 and 40 years and this is apple time for you to see a ROI.
Are There Grants for Solar Panels in the UK?
Yes, the British government introduced a solar grant scheme through the SEAI of about £1250. The ‘Better Energy Home’ programme is open to all houses built before 2006 that haven’t received a Greener Homes grant in the past.