Solar panels

There are two types of solar panels you can install on your property. The first is known as Solar Thermal and uses the energy from the sun to heat up water for use in the home. The second is known as Solar Photovoltaic (PV) and uses the energy from the sun to generate electricity. This article gives an overview of Solar PV. After reading this, if you are interested to know more then get in touch with us.

Solar Photovoltaic (PV) technology turns light, not heat, into electricity.  This means that it can be an overcast day, but your panels still generate electricity, and that a clear winter day is perfect. It is a clean source of electricity efficiently generated which gives off no toxic fumes or greenhouse gases.

What are the advantages of Solar PV?

  • Every unit of electricity generated can be used either by your own home, or sold back into the grid and used by somebody else.  There is no wasted energy generation. When you go on holiday for a week Solar PV continues to generate electricity, while Solar Thermal heats up water which is then not used while you are away.
  • Financially you secure your energy future, and protect yourself against future energy price increases.  Any electricity generated by the panels is yours and will always be free!  Also, any excess electricity is bought back by your electricity company.
  • You prevent more carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere through generation of electricity than generation of hot water, because electricity is inefficient to transport. This means you reduce your Carbon Footprint more with Solar PV than with Solar Thermal.
  • Solar PV is entirely maintenance free after installation. The panels are cleaned by the rain, and they are silent.  They are also guaranteed for a minimum of 20 years (in some cases 25) and expected to last much longer than that.

What does the installation of Solar PV involve?

In a typical installation on an existing sloped roof, and after a site inspection the following steps are followed:
  • Mounting hooks are secured under the roof tiles to the structure itself.
  • An aluminium grid is attached to these hook
  • The solar panels are securely attached to the aluminium grid and then attached in an electronic series.  This is then wired (by an accredited electrician) into the dwelling.
  • PV panels generate direct current (DC) electricity whereas the national grid and all standard electrical devices use alternating current (AC).  Therefore the single DC wire fed into the house passes through an inverter to make AC electricity
  • This AC can be used either directly in the household or sold back to the national grid.
  • Non grid connected buildings require electricity storage equipment, which usually takes the form of large batteries. This makes installation much more expensive and harder to justify in both economic and environmental terms.

What grants are available for Solar PV?

Currently there are grants from the central government which are easily available for domestic PV systems of £2,500 when approved solar panels are installed by an accredited installer.  In order to qualify for these grants you must have fulfilled some energy efficiency measures such as loft and cavity wall insulation (if possible), energy efficient light bulbs and room thermostats.

How do I sell the electricity I generate?

There are utility deals to suit whether you are likely to use the electricity you generate or export it back to the grid.  In both situations you are paid as you generate and this is further increased by earning Renewable Obligation Certificates, which are valuable to utility companies who have quotas to hit.  These ROCs are doubling in magnitude in April 2009 and this is likely to increase the price paid for a kWh of electricity generated by a further 4p.

Germany, the world leader in solar generation, guarantees you a price for the solar electricity you generate of approximately three times the market rate. This is known as the feed-in tariff.  It is expected that the feed-in tariff in the UK will increase significantly towards the end of the year.  This will provide a massive financial stimulus to the industry and the economy as a whole.

It has been suggested that when the feed-in tariff is introduced, the installation grants will not be renewed.  Therefore now is the perfect time to benefit from the grant system, and the dual bonus of solar PV's advantages for the environment and securing you against future energy price rises.

So how much electricity do I need?

An average gas heated semi-detached house with a small family will use around 3,500 kWh of electrical energy per year.  In an average year, a south facing 1kW solar system in the East Midlands will generate around 800 kWh.  In order to achieve carbon neutrality in electricity would require a 4 kW solar system and a slight change in lifestyle.  One of the intangible benefits of PV is increased energy awareness; households usually see 10-20% decrease in electricity usage once PV is installed.  In order to offset half their carbon footprint a 2kW system would be required.  With feed in tariffs, either of these scenarios would likely result in the utilities company paying you as a micro-generator although this cannot be guaranteed until tariff details are announced.

Still interested? Talk to us and decide if you want a site inspection.