A Consumer Guide to Solar Panels in 2019
Solar energy is one of the biggest and most effective kinds of renewable energy in the world. We harvest the natural power of the sun to create electricity to heat and light homes and businesses. Your system can either produce electricity or heat your water whilst reducing the amount of carbon dioxide you produce.
Solar panels give us a greener alternative to other forms of power, such as central heating, as they do not pollute or emit greenhouse gases whilst operating. There have been many advancements over the years into the technology of solar panels and more recently battery storage. They are now more than ever accessible and affordable. Solar can save homes and businesses hundreds of pounds a year on electricity bills.
Solar power works using individual PV cells. These are joined together to form the solar panel systems that are made up of cells and conductive materials. They can then convert energy from the sun and generate electricity for use around your home.
There are few things we can look at to help you decide if installing solar panels could be right for you.
Firstly, the types of solar PV panel, and which one you choose, does depend of what you need it for, as well as the space you have available and the money you are able to spend on them. Solar cells have come a long way since they first began. They are now much more advanced, making them not only more efficient but more aesthetically pleasing too. The main types of solar panel available are:
Monocrystalline solar module: these kinds of solar panels take up less space than the polycrystalline panels but are about the same efficiency. They can be more expensive, however.
Polycrystalline solar module: the process of making these panels is much simpler. This makes them cheaper, however they are slightly less efficient at high temperature but not enough for residential purposes to worry about. They do, however, require more space as you tend to need more of them.
Thin film solar cells: these work by using substrate and photovoltaic cells and using several layers of the material onto a substrate base. There are various materials that can be used, they are simple to produce en mass and can be cheaper and more flexible.
Amorphous silicon solar cell: these usually have several layers which are stacked to increase their efficiency, however, compared to other types these are less efficient.
Biohybrid solar cell: these have been made to utilize a more natural method of photosynthesis by combining organic and non-organic matter. This means almost 100% efficiency, but they do produce less power overall.
You can also buy roof tiles that are solar. These look just like normal roof tiles and can incorporate a battery. If you have a listed property these can often be the better option, and they are most popular amongst those who feel solar panels don’t look very attractive. The tiles are considerably more expensive than solar panels as you’re probably looking at around £10,000 for an average home of 3 people.
There are also solar panels and solar cells. Solar cells contain all the necessary parts to convert sunlight into electricity. The cells are connected to create a solar panel which generates more electricity.
Energy storage is becoming increasingly efficient. With solar batteries becoming more popular, energy your system produced during the day can be stored for use at night or on cloudy days when less power is produced. This is a good way to ensure your home is even more energy efficient and you get the best out of your panels.
It is thought that the sun must be directly shining on solar panels to work but this is not absolutely true. They can still produce electricity even on dull days, but their efficiency will be much more on sunny days in the summer than winter. The best panels can have an efficiency of around 22%. This is very high efficiency as most are around 15%.
The benefits of solar panels: there are many benefits to using solar panels here a few:
- Its green: there are no pollutants produced while solar panels are used, so by using them you are using clean energy to power your home or business, reducing your carbon footprint.
- Save on cash: any electricity you produce is totally free of charge and you can use it to power anything within your home or business for free. This will of course lower your energy bills and save you cash in the long term. You can also make money from the tariffs available, meaning a quicker return on investment.
- No planning permission: solar panels don’t require special permission. There are some rules that need to be followed but mostly it’s simple.
- Its renewable: the sun won’t be running out any time soon and they even work on cloudy days, so you should have plenty of free electricity all year round. Add a battery storage device to save your electricity produced for the evening too. It will cut your carbon footprint as a bonus too.
- Efficient all year: they can produce energy all year, not just when the sun shines most.
Are there disadvantages?
Yes, there can be some, the main one being cost. There is initially a high cost to installing them, this has decreased over the years and will continue to do so. They have become cheaper and easier to manufacture meaning the cost of purchasing them has significantly lowered. Also, the savings you make on energy bills will in the end outweigh this initial cost.
The next thing to consider is dependence on sunlight. They are most effective in bright sunlight; however, they do work on cloudy days. They cannot work during the night so some power from the grid will need to be used during certain times. The best way to maximise their efficiency is by using a battery to store power ready to use during the evening.
The long-term benefit of solar panels does outweigh the initial investment as they can save you money. Their maintenance costs are low, and warranty lasts for around 25 years - that’s 25 years of lower energy bills! The panels themselves could last even longer, potentially up to 50 years if serviced at least every3 years by a certified installer. The inverter, however, will probably need to be changed after 15/20 years.
Always check what is suitable for your home before you make the investment. You should think about location and which way your roof faces. In the UK south is best as they will be receiving sunlight all day. Also look at your roof. How big is it? How many panels do you need? Will they fit? make sure they won’t be shaded too much by things like big trees. It is important to get good quality quotes that take all these things into account
Initial cost for solar panels can be around £4000/£6000. The more roof space you have available the more you can get out of your solar panels.
For a 21m2 roof with a 4kw system you could see a return of £700 in the first year and £6,750 after 20 years. This is the kind of system an average house would need at a cost of around £6000/£8000. Once your initial cost is covered, you can see that you start making money and saving money. There are many things to consider when looking at the price of solar panels - it does vary depending on a range of circumstances. Here is a table with some estimates of pricing and roof size:
Grants for solar
There is currently still a feed in tariff payment available. This is only going to be the case until 31st March 2019. This means that you get payments for every unit of electricity your solar panels generate and any not used gets sent back to the grid. The payments last for 20 years and will reduce the overall time it takes to get back your initial investment. The government are now abolishing the FIT this year due to solar panel prices decreasing and being much more affordable.
‘Rent a roof’ schemes no longer exist due to the government scrapping the FIT.
There is also an export tariff available which enables you to sell any excess energy back to the national grid. This will change slightly in 2019 and will be called the generation rate tariff. Your supplier will then agree a set rate to pay you for the energy per kWh you generate. It is important to say that the rate will change each year for new projects and will change based on inflation. The payments will be like the FIT and will be paid to you for 20 years and more probably, for as long as the system generates sufficient energy.
It is good news if you are hoping to make your money back on your initial investment. After the government announced the changes to the FIT, new projects where thrown into uncertainty, but the government now has a plan for the future of the solar industry.
Lastly, there is the renewable heat incentive (RHI). This could be used with ‘solar thermal’ systems that warm your hot water. Payments are made for up to 7 years and based on the amount of heat your system makes. If you own your own home in England, Scotland or Wales, you can apply via the government website.
it is often asked if it is possibly to fit or even build your own solar panel system. And yes, it is possible to do this, and this is a much cheaper option. There are some things to consider:
You will need an MCS certificate if you want to claim FIT. This must be carried out by a professional engineer to make sure that safety standards are met. It may be difficult to get someone to do this on a system they didn’t install themselves. Also, there could issues if you wish to sell you property.