Why are Solar Panels a Good Option?
Solar panels take advantage of one of nature's most powerful, yet free resources - the energy of the sun.
There are two types of home solar panel systems used to generate electricity and heat: solar panels and solar thermal. Both systems use panels but differ in terms of installation, application, features and solar panel cost. The technology for each serves a unique purpose, which needs to be evaluated in order to understand how solar panels work
Our focus here will be on solar panels, also called photovoltaic, or solar PV. This type of home solar panel system uses semi-conductor technology to convert energy from the sun into electricity.
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If you wish to know some more about solar panels before asking for quotes, just keep on reading! Below you will find information not only about solar panel cost, but also about its benefits, how the technology works and what you need to know before installing a solar system.
How Do Solar Panels Work?
As shown in the picture below, a solar panel (or module) is a group of cells connected electrically and grouped into a frame. Many modules are put together to form a solar array and many arrays connected together will form a solar system.
Solar cells, or photovoltaic (PV) cells convert sunlight directly into electricity. Solar cells are made of special materials called semiconductors (usually silicon). When sunlight hits the solar cell, part of it is absorbed and electrons from the atoms in the semiconductor material are released.
The electrical conductors attach respectively on positive and negative sides, thus forming an electrical circuit. From there the electrons can be captured in the form of an electric current (electricity). This current, together with the cell's voltage (which is a result of its built-in electric field or fields), defines the power (or wattage) that the solar cell can produce.
There are stand-alone PV systems and grid-connected PV systems. What makes them different is that in the first case solar energy is stored for personal use, whilst in a grid-connected PV system you can sell your surplus of electricity back to the grid.
What might be surprising is that solar panels do not need direct sunlight to work. Although efficiency is boosted on sunny days, solar panels also produce a considerable amount of electricity on cloudy days and during the winter season. The chart below shows how much energy is gathered by solar panels throughout the year (with solar panels facing south and a 3kWp system). The power of PV solar panels is measured in kilowatts peak (kWp).
A typical commercial solar module has an efficiency of 16,5%, meaning that over one-sixth of the sunlight hitting the module is converted into electricity. One important challenge of the PV industry is to improve solar module efficiencies and at the same time hold down the cost per cell.
What Are the Benefits of Solar Panels?
There is a reason why solar energy is growing in popularity! Solar panels can be beneficial not only from an environmental perspective but also from an economic point of view. And whilst there are a few disadvantages, the long term benefits of investing in solar panels far outweighs the cons.
Below is a list of the main advantages and disadvantages of this renewable source of energy:
Cuts Electricity Bills
Energy bills have in the past years increased by at least 7% per annum. You can protect yourself from the rising utility bills by incorporating solar panels into your energy mix. This will reduce your electricity bills, with sensible differences even before the initial costs of the installation are covered. So whilst utility costs will continue to peak every year, having solar panels can help to reduce the impact. Also keep in mind that the electricity generated from the solar panels is free.
Earn Money Back
Through Feed-in Tariffs (FiT) you can get paybacks for the electricity you produce. The Feed-In Tariffs is an initiative by the UK Government-backed aimed at helping you to become more self-sufficient and sustainable in your use of energy, whilst earning some extra income. The added value of the FiT is that payments are tax-free, index linked and have 20 year guarantee.
Sell Back Electricity
If your system produces more energy than you need, through the generous tariff schemes you can sell the surplus back to the grid. Thus apart from cutting down utility bills, your investment on solar panels can give you warranty of a state-backed income for the next 20 years.
Cuts your Carbon Footprint
Switching to solar energy cuts your carbon footprint, as it is a green, renewable source of energy. Unlike traditional electricity generators, solar panels do not release any harmful carbon dioxide (CO2) or other pollutants. Estimates also indicate that solar panels for homes could save around one tonne of CO2 per year, which comes to approximately 25 tonnes over its lifetime.
All-Year Round Efficiency
Solar panels work all year round. Their full potential is released during the sunny months, however they also produce a considerable amount of electricity during the winter and on cloudy days.
No Maintenance Required
Solar panels require almost no maintenance. Once the panels are installed, you just need to keep them clean, and check whether the trees begin to overshadow the solar PV. Keeping the installation clean can be even easier when solar panels installed on the roof are tilted, since rainfall can help cleaning the system.
With ground solar panels, maintenance may be more problematic, as the installation can accumulate dust, debris, snow or bird droppings. Any dirt can be removed from the solar panels with the use of hot water, a brush and possibly some washing-up liquid.
Independent of Grid
Solar panels are ideal in remote areas where extending energy supply to the electricity power grid would be too expensive. They are therefore an affordable and effective solution for isolated homes within the rural parts of the country.
High Initial Cost
Solar panel cost at the initial offset and in the installing of the panels efficiently. Although a number of subsidy programs as well as as government rebates to counter the expenses, it takes up to 10 years to 15 years before homeowners can subsidy programs with their initial investment. With new technologies in the solar panel field emerge, prices of solar panels are expected to continue to decrease making the investment more affordable.
Dependence on Sunlight
Solar panels are dependent on sunlight, and while this does not necessarily mean direct sunlight, they are most efficient in locations with bright and direct the sunlight. Thus they cannot produce energy at the night time, and are less effective during dark winters. The effective solution for this is therefore to switch to the main power grid at night. Equally, homes that have a standalone system can store energy in batteries during the day to be used at night.
Solar Panel Placement
An inaccurate placement of solar panels can be a major hindrance to the effectiveness of electricity generation. Mostly affected by this are homes that are covered by trees and landscapes. In the same way, if you live in an area surrounded by large buildings, the effectiveness of the solar panels will be limited. However, the effectiveness can be increased by adding more panels to your rooftop in order to generate a sufficient supply of electricity.
How Much Do Solar Panels Cost?
It is difficult to calculate the exact solar panel cost due to the many factors that may affect the price of the array. The average domestic solar array for electricity may cost between £6,000 to £9,000.
Generally, the more expensive the system, the more electricity it generates and therefore the more savings it can bring. In contrast, installing a typical solar heating system is much cheaper. Price varies from £3,000 to £5,000 depending on the size of the installation and its features.
It is important to note that despite solar panel costs being known to be expensive, during the last years prices have dropped considerably and improvements in technology have led to more efficient systems, making the cost-effective equation more tempting.
Below, is an approximation of how much you can expect to spend on solar panels for home usage.
|Roof Space SQM||System Power Peak||Estimated Cost (£)|
|+/- 8||1 kW||from £2,500|
|+/- 14||2 kW||from £3,000|
|+/- 21||3 kW||from £5,000|
|+/- 28||4kW||from £6,000|
How to Buy Cheap Solar Panels?
A lot of people are eager to find the cheapest possible solar panel system. However, one should not just think of the solar panel prices alone, but most importantly about everything it takes to install the solar panel system. Besides the initial investment, you should consider how well insulated your home is, so that you will require less from the system. This will save you money! You should also check government grants and the Feed-in Tariff that applies to your case, as this will help you absorb the initial investment.
In the section that follows we present some good tips to keep in mind when in the process of buying solar panels. As you will see, there are different factors to pay attention to, but nothing to stress about!
Before Investing in Solar Panels
Before investing in solar panels, it is wise to get informed about planning permissions, insurance and some tips to make the most out of your investment. If you want to maximise the benefits of investing in solar panels and you want to cut your expenditure on utility bills, then you should be sure that your property is as energy efficient as it can be. Some key factors to consider are:
- Improving or installing insulation.
- Improving or installing cavity wall insulation.
- Investing in double glazing.
How to Install Solar Panels
When installing solar panels, we have to take into consideration some basic factors, like the inclination of the roof (orientation and tilt), site location, shape of the roof and shading. The best configuration to install solar panels is to have a roof facing south at an angle of about 30 degrees. This way, solar panels can give the best annual performance. However, solar panels will work efficiently in other settings as well. The solar panel array tolerates some shading early in the morning and late in the evening, but it is important to keep the installation away from any shadows between 10am and 4pm.
Planning Permission for Solar Panels
In England, Scotland and Wales you are not required to apply for a planning permission for most of the domestic solar panel installations (both heating and electricity). It is important to note, however, that the installation must be below a certain size. If your solar panels protrude more than 200mm, a planning permission will be needed. There are also other local restrictions that might affect the need for permission, especially in Scotland - for example, when the building is within the conservation area of World Heritage Site. Therefore, it is advised to ask your solar panel installer to check, whether your installation meets all the requirements.
Solar Panels and Insurance
In most cases, when you install solar panels on your roof, your insurance should cover you under the current terms. However, since the solar panel installation means a change to the home structure, it is advised to always contact your current insurance provider before taking on the installation.
It is important to note that your home insurance may not include a cover for damage or theft to your solar panels. Therefore, to avoid any uncertainties, its is advisable that you consult your insurance policy to confirm that your panels are covered.
Installing solar panels are a worthwhile investment for both homes and companies. They insure greater sustainability, reduce utility bills and in the long run helps you to put money back into your pocket.
We know that finding the right solar panels supplier might mean investing some time doing research. We want to make this process simpler by providing you free, non-binding quotes from different suppliers. How? Simply fill in the contact form at the top of the page, stating your needs and preferences. We will get back to you as soon as possible to ask you some further questions and connect you with the most suitable suppliers. They will quote you on the product of your choice!