1. How Do Solar Panels Work?
Solar panels are made up of cells, which convert light energy into electricity. This is in stark contrast to older solar panels, which needed direct sunlight and heat to function. Solar panels today can produce electricity on cloudy days and during the winter season, although solar panels are of course more efficient on sunny days.
Solar panels enable us to exploit the largest available energy source: the sun. The sun’s rays give off around 1.000 watts of energy per square meter of Earth’s surface on a good sunny day, so there really is a huge future potential for this clean energy source.
2. Is My Home Suitable?
To optimise the efficiency of your future solar panels, you need to ensure that your home is as energy efficient as possible. You should therefore consider how well your home is insulated, including the possibility of investing in double glazing or cavity wall insulation.
Additionally, to maximise the performance of your solar panels your roof should be south-facing at an angle of approximately 30 degrees. However, solar panels are still worth considering if you have a flat roof or if your roof is facing another direction.
3. How Much Do Solar Panels Cost?
The costs of installing a solar panel system are generally decreasing and today you can expect solar cells to set you back between approx. £6,000 - £9,000. It may seem a steep price to pay, but there are many benefits (see below) which enable your solar panels to pay for themselves.
Read more: How To: Choose a Solar Panel
Despite the high expenses of installing a solar panel system, the savings on utility bills make up for it. Annual savings on energy bills for the average household are estimated between £90 and £125 per year. There are further savings to be gained from The Feed-In Tariff (see below). Experts estimate total savings, including benefits from government schemes, to be between £800 and £900 per year for an average three-bed property.
5. The Feed-In Tariff (FIT)
The Feed-In Tariff is a government scheme available to people who install renewable energy technology which generates electricity e.g. solar panels, wind turbines etc. This scheme enables you to earn money from your green energy source. Under the scheme you will be paid for the electricity you generate, even if your household consumes it, and you will also be paid for any surplus energy which is fed back to the national grid. These FIT payments are guaranteed for a 20 year period and to top it off, they are tax free! British Gas estimates that the average household can earn almost £25,000 by the end of this period.
6. Free Installation: What’s the Catch?
There are many companies offering to install solar panels for free. You will get all the benefits of solar panels: free electricity and drastically lower utility bills. But is it too good to be true?
Here’s the catch: any income produced from electricity generated by the solar panel system and exported to the national grid will go directly into the company’s pockets. As the company owns the solar panels, they will benefit from the government schemes. Most companies unfortunately don’t give you the option of buying the panels from them after a certain period and there is often a 25 year commitment contract with the free installation. This is an important factor to consider if you are thinking about selling your property in the near future.
Read more: Free Solar Panels?
7. Add Value to Your Home
New research has shown that investing in solar panels can add value to your home. By adding solar panels to your home, you are improving your property’s EPC rating (Energy Performance Certificate). An EPC is needed whenever a property is bought, sold or rented - therefore a good EPC rating can only be to your advantage. Your property is even more attractive to prospective buyers if you have the Feed-In Tariff.
Prospective buyers will often pay more for a green property with renewable energy technology
8. Need to Know Jargon
It’s a good idea to become familiar with some of the terms and jargon associated with solar panels. Here’s a quick list of the most common terms:
Solar Photovoltaic (PV): using solar energy for generating electricity.
Solar Thermal (ST): using solar energy for heating purposes.
Photovoltaic (PV) cells: thin layers of semiconducting material, which is usually made from silicon. When the silicon is exposed to light, electrical charges are generated. Multiple cells connect together to form a panel and a set of connecting panels is a system.
Active Solar: when you use a device or collector to capture the sun’s energy to convert it to electricity or heating purposes.
Passive Solar: capturing and utilizing the sun’s energy without a device or collector, for example, large south-facing windows.
Monocrystalline Silicon Cells: this is the most efficient (and most expensive) PV cell.
Multicrystalline Silicon Cells: this is a slightly less efficient (and slightly cheaper) PV cell.
- Amorphous: this is another type of solar photovoltaic cell, which is not made from expensive crystalline silicon. The silicon is actually much thinner than that of multicrystalline cells, which means it is much cheaper.
Read more: How to: Choose a Solar Panel
9. Energy Saving Ideas
If you aren’t quite ready to take the plunge and buy solar panels, here are a few ideas to be more energy efficient at home:
Turning your thermostat down by one degree can save you around £65 per year
Close your curtains in the evenings and tuck them in behind the radiator or around the window sill to minimise drafts
Energy saving light bulbs can save you around £60 per year
Wash your clothes at 30 degrees
Put your central heating and radiators on timer so you don’t waste energy and money heating an empty house
10. Other Green Energy Sources
If your home isn’t suited to solar panels or if you are not sold by the idea there are still a range of other effective green energy technology available to power your home. Heat pumps can be a great alternative to solar panels and Passivhaus buildings are also rising in popularity.