Solar panels are one of the most popular forms of renewable energy, offering tangible benefits for the homeowner and the environment. For the homeowner, solar panels deliver a significant reduction in energy bills and there is also the opportunity to earn money from the UK Government’s solar incentive schemes. For the environment, solar energy represents a cleaner, greener alternative to fossil fuels. Solar panels emit no carbon dioxide as they operate, helping the planet to reduce its carbon footprint. Solar electricity systems capture the sun’s energy using photovoltaic (PV) cells. The cells convert the sunlight into electricity, which can be used to run household appliances and lighting. PV cells don’t need direct sunlight to work – you can still generate some electricity on a cloudy day.
How do photovoltaic (PV) cells work?
PV cells are panels you can attach to your roof or walls. Each cell is made from one or two layers of semiconducting material, usually silicon. When light shines on the cell it creates an electric field across the layers. The stronger the sunshine, the more electricity is produced. PV cells come in a variety of shapes and colours, from grey “solar tiles” that look like roof tiles, to panels and transparent cells that you can use on conservatories and glass. The strength of a PV cell is measured in kilowatt peak (kWp) which is the amount of energy the cell generates in full sunlight.
- Drastically cut your carbon footprint
- Cut your electricity bills
- You can sell electricity back to the National Grid
- Store electricity for a cloudy day
Solar electricity is green, renewable energy and doesn’t release any harmful carbon dioxide (CO2) or other pollutants so solar installations will help to reduce your home’s carbon emissions. A typical home PV system could save over 1 tonne of CO2 per year – which is more than 30 tonnes over its lifetime! Sunlight is free, so once you’ve paid for the initial installation, your electricity costs will be greatly reduced. A typical home PV system can produce around 50% of the electricity a household uses in a year and if your system is producing more electricity than you need, you could make a bit of money by selling the excess back to the National Grid for someone else to use. If your home isn’t connected to the National Grid, you can store excess electricity in batteries to use when you need it.
Is solar electricity suitable for my home?
To tell if solar electricity is right for you, there are a few key questions to consider:
- Do you have a sunny place to put it? You’ll need a roof or wall that faces within 90 degrees of south, and isn’t overshadowed by trees or buildings. If the surface is in shadow for parts of the day, your system will generate less energy.
- Is your roof strong enough? Solar panels are not light and the roof must be strong enough to take their weight, especially if the panel is placed on top of existing tiles. If in doubt, ask a construction expert or an installer.
- Do you need planning permission? In England, Wales Scotland and Northern Ireland, you don’t need planning permission for most home solar electricity systems, as long as they’re below a certain size – but you should check with your local planning officer, especially if your home is a listed building, or is in a conservation area or World Heritage Site.
Costs, savings and maintenance
Costs for installing a solar electricity system have come down quite a bit in recent years with an average system costing around £12,000. Solar electricity systems can cost in the region of £4,000 to £5,000 per kWp installed, but costs per kWp should reduce as the system size increases. Grants may be available but are issued on a first come, first serve basis so if you don’t act now you could miss out.
- The more electricity the system can generate, the more the installation will cost initially but you could save more in the long run.
- Solar tiles cost more than conventional panels.
- Panels built into a roof are more expensive than those that sit on top but if you need major roof repairs, PV tiles can offset the cost of roof tiles.
Maintenance is generally small – you’ll need to keep the panels relatively clean and make sure trees don’t begin to overshadow them.
For more ways to reduce your carbon footprint, visit our Eco Page here. If you’re interested in making your home more energy efficient (and saving money at the same time!) visit Ace’s Tips for all you need to know about boiler efficiency, loft and cavity wall insulation, double glazing, solar electricity installations and general energy saving tips.