Photovoltaic solar panels basically work by transforming energy from sunlight into electricity. A solar panel is made from at least two different kinds of semi-conductor material (one is positive, and one is negative, and the material itself is usually silicone). When sunlight hits this material electrons are freed, which creates a difference between the negative and positive charge of the panel. This is similar to how a battery works. Not to be too technical (the process is pretty complicated!) the difference in charge creates electricity. This electricity then flows through the wires leading out of your solar panel to a metre that measures how much electricity you’re making. Then there is a split, with some of the electricity going to a box that converts AC power into DC power so you can use it in your home, and the rest of the electricity going back into the national electric grid for other people to use.
How much installing a solar panel system will cost you is going to depend on a couple of factors. Firstly, the more panels you install, the more expensive it will be. Secondly, the higher quality the panels are (and higher quality means more efficiency which in turn means more electricity) the more you’re going to pay. You’re looking at anything from around £4,000 for a basic, small solar panel system, to over £12,000 for a high quality, large system. According to the Energy Saving Trust, the average cost for a solar panel system for a normal, three bedroomed house is around £7,000. All of these prices do include installation though!
How much your solar panel system will earn you depends, of course, on how many panels you have and on the location of your home (homes further South will generally earn more money, since there are more hours of sunlight). For the average sized house (which according to the Energy Savings Trust will have twelve solar panels), you’re looking at saving about £120 on your household electric bills, and making 12.92p per kilowatt hour of electricity you produce under the government’s feed-in tariff. This assumes that you’re eligible for the highest tariff rates because your home has an Energy Performance Certificate with a D grade or above. In real terms, the average home system in London will net you £720 per year in a combination of bill saving and tariff payments, whilst a home in Manchester will get you about £635, and one in Edinburgh £595.
There are many benefits to getting home solar panels. You’ll save on your monthly electric bills, and you’ll also earn money through the government’s feed-in tariff scheme. And, of course, you’ll be helping save the planet, since solar panels are environmentally friendly. On the negative side, solar panels are costly, you’re looking at paying around £7,000 for panels plus installation. This is a long term commitment, and it takes around a decade for the system to pay for itself and start making a profit. When it comes to house values, the jury is still out on whether solar panels are a pro or a con. In some cases your home might increase in value as more and more people are looking for environmentally friendly houses, but in other cases property value can go down as some buyers consider solar panels to be unsightly, or they don’t want the commitment of a solar system.
There are lots of different types of solar panels. Photovoltaic solar (solar PV) are the most commonly found types, and this is what you will need if you want to take part in the government’s feed-in tariff. There are two kinds of solar PV panels: single silicon and multi-silicon. Single silicone panels tend to be more expensive, but also more efficient, meaning they can create more electricity. There are also solar PV panels known as Building Integrated Photovoltaics (or BIPV), and these are basically roof tiles that work as solar panels. These are quite expensive though, difficult to install, and you’ll need lots of them to make enough electricity to cover your costs! Finally, there is also a kind of panel called a solar thermal panel. These do not create electricity at all, and are used to heat water which can be used in your home.
Absolutely! In fact, the UK government is committed to expanding commercial solar panels, and as a company you will not only save on your own electricity bills, but will also be able to benefit from the government’s feed-in tariff programme. Rates for commercial panels with the feed-in tariff are a little different than those for smaller, domestic solar panel systems, however. Commercial systems tend to be larger than the normal 4 kWh solar panel systems used in homes. For these larger systems the government feed-in tariff will pay you 11.71p per kWh of electricity produced (regardless of whether you use that energy yourself or not), as well as 4.85p per kWh of electricity that you put back into the national electricity grid.
The feed-in tariff is a scheme set up by the UK government to encourage people to convert to more environmentally friendly energy options. Under this tariff you will earn money for generating electricity in clean ways. In the case of solar power, the feed-in tariff will pay you for every kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity you produce (at current rates that’s 12.92p per kWh). You can use this electricity yourself in your own home, which will lower your home energy bills, or put it back into the national electricity grid. On top of the payments for generating electricity, you will also be paid for every kWh you put back into the national electricity grid (at current rates that’s 4.85p per kWh). The feed-in tariff is overseen by your power company, they will register you and all payments will come through them.
Commercial solar is quite simply the process of installing solar panels for businesses, rather than for domestic use. Businesses get the same benefits as homeowners do by installing solar panels. They can lower their energy bills, and are also eligible to take part in the government’s feed-in tariff scheme which will mean that they are paid for generating clean electricity. In addition, many business may also be eligible for tax benefits for being more environmentally friendly and for lessening their carbon footprint. And, of course, many businesses also profit from the positive reputation they get for begin environmentally friendly. Commercial solar panel systems tend to be far larger than domestic systems, meaning they’re more expensive, but also more efficient and can create more electricity.
Solar panels depend on light to produce electricity, and the brighter the light they receive, the more electricity they can create. At night, obviously, panels don’t work. But what about on cloudy days? When it’s cloudy outside solar panels can still generate electricity, though they’re not as efficient as on a sunny day. Depending on the type of panel you have and on the types of clouds there are (some cloud types are thicker than others and therefore block more light) the average solar panel will produce somewhere between 10% and 25% of its total capability when it’s cloudy. However, solar panel technology is getting better all the time, and modern panels are much more effective in cloud than they used to be. Simply because you don’t live in a Mediterranean climate doesn’t mean that you can’t generate electricity using solar panels!
How many panels you need is a tough question! In general a standard solar panel that generates 1 kWh (kilowatt hour) of electricity measures around 8 square metres. For most people, the number of panels they install is dictated by the size of appropriate roof area that they have. Solar panels need to be installed on south facing roofs that are free from shade. Hypothetically, should you want to produce all your household electricity from solar panels you would need to look at your average annual energy bill in kWh and install that many panels. For example, a household that generally uses 4 kWh of electricity would need four of those 1 kWh systems. It is highly unlikely, however, that you have enough suitable roof space on your property to produce all of your electricity through solar. The simplest answer to the question is that you need as many panels as you can fit! That’s how you’ll make the most money!
The honest answer to this question is that we don’t really know, since the technology hasn’t been around long enough for us to find out. Solar panels have few moving parts, so they’re relatively robust. We do know that the inverter on a solar panel system generally needs replacing about every twenty years, and most companies offer either twenty or twenty five year warranties on solar panels. In terms of the panels themselves, we’ve got no idea! There are plenty of solar panels around that were erected in the 1980s and that are still working just fine. As solar panel technology improves and panels become more effective you may want to look at replacing your existing panels, however, it looks like solar panels last for years and years, so you shouldn’t need to replace them unless you want to!
The great thing about installing solar panels is that you can expect your household energy bills to drop. Any solar electricity that you generate can be used to power your own home, and, of course, it’s free. How much electricity you generate depends on the size of your system, but the Energy Saving Trust estimates that the average household with a solar panel system saves about £120 per year on their domestic energy bills. If you’re looking into the government feed-in tariff, then it’s important to remember that the tariff pays you per kWh of electricity produced regardless of whether you use that electricity in your home or send it back out into the grid. You will be paid an extra payment on top of the regular tariff for kWhs sent back to the national electricity grid.
The majority of homeowners do not need planning permission in order to install solar panels. If your home is a listed property, or if you live in a conservation area, however, you may need to apply for planning permission. In these cases, it’s best to check with your local council regarding their policy. If you have a flat roof and are looking to install solar panels you will almost certainly need planning permission. Even if none of the above apply to you you should contact your local council before proceeding. In some cases you will need the approval of the council’s building control team, which is just a formality but should be taken care of before installation.
The good news here is that solar panels require little, if any, maintenance at all. Because they have few moving parts, solar panels are long lasting. The only part that will need replacing will be the inverter, and even that should last a good twenty years or so. In terms of cleaning, most panels are self cleaning. If your panels are set at less than the ideal angle of 35 degrees, or if there are lots of trees around, then you might find that you need to sweep leaves off your panels every now and again. This is pretty unlikely however, since shady, tree lined properties aren’t generally suitable for solar panels anyway, and panels set at less than the ideal angle tend not to be very efficient and therefore aren’t worth installing. So rest easy, you should have little work to do once your system is in place!
Solar panels are pretty big and bulky, so if you’re looking at moving house you’ve probably already guessed that you won’t be taking your solar panels with you. Should you move, the solar panels will stay with your property, and the appropriate feed-in tariff payments will switch to the new owner along with regular energy bills. The new owner may choose to keep the system, or may disconnect it. You will need to start over in your new home, installing new panels if you choose to do so, or deciding to go without. Moving should be an important consideration if you’re thinking about installing solar panels. It takes around ten years for a system to pay for itself and start making money, and if you choose to move before then you will be losing some of the investment that you have made.
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