A solar panel converts sunlight into an electric current or heat used to provide electricity for home or building. Solar panels are constructed as a collection of lots of small solar cells that are spread over a large area to provide enough power. The larger the concentration of light hits the cell the more electricity or heat is produced.
Solar panels work by converting light photons into electricity through the solar photovoltaic (PV) effect. This allows for direct conversion of sunlight into solar power, or electricity. Solar panels use layers of semi-conducting material, most commonly silicon. PV’s are measured by kilowatts peak (KWp).
This measures the rate solar panels generate energy at their peak performance with direct sunlight in the summer. Solar panel cells can either be mounted on rooftops or on the ground, alternatively you could have solar tiles fitted instead, thus completely replacing the already existing rooftop.
Solar thermal systems work based on the process of solar thermal heating using the suns by absorbing the sun’s energy and then converting it into heat that can be transfered into your home or business to be used for hot water heating and space heating. The heat is generated from solar panels (collectors) that are mounted on rooftops.
These can paired with boiler or collector allowing for the heat generated from the sun to transfer the heated fluid and antifreeze. The water is then pumped into a heat exchanger that is found inside your water tank.
Main types of solar panels
When considering solar panels there are two main types to choose from:
- Photovoltaic (PV) systems are made up of a collection of photovoltaic solar cells. These individuals cells are usually small and produce around 1 or 2 watts of power. To get the most out of these in terms of power output, these cells are connected to for a larger unit called a module. This module can be connected to another larger unit to form an array that produces even more power.
- Solar thermal systems (solar water heating systems) are made up of collectors (types of solar panels) that are fitted to your roof. They collect heat from the sun and can be used to heat water for immediate use or water stored in a hot water cylinder.
Why choose solar panels?
Here are the main advantages related to why one should choose solar panels:
- High Savings – Save more on your electricity bills
- Renewable Energy Source – It uses energy from direct sunlight
- Payment Scheme – Receive payments for generating your own electricity through the UK Government’s Feed-in-Tariff scheme
- Energy Benefits – Sell the electricity you produce in surplus back to the grid
- Low carbon footprint – Low carbon emissions allowing you to cut back on your carbon footprint, as their main source of energy is the sun
- Easy to maintain -Trees should not overshadow solar panels so they can absorb sunlight and they are clean
- Easy replacement – If you already own a conventional heating system, it is easy to make switch from it to solar panels
- Long Life Span – Solar panel can last up to 25 years or more with the proper care and maintenance
- Property Value – Solar panels increase the value of your property in the future for being a self sufficient home
- A Silent System – They don’t make any noise.
One should also consider their disadvantages:
- High Installation Cost – Initial installation costs are quite high at first but overall solar panels are cheaper in the long run
- Absorbs sunlight during the day – As solar panels require sunlight to produce electricity they can only be used in the day time
- Costly Storage – One must make sure trees do not overshadow solar panels so they can effectively absorb sunlight, and are in no contact of harmful objects that could damage the panels themselves
- Requires large space – In order to benefit from the power of solar panels you would need a large area to install the solar panels
- Hidden Pollutants – Silicon and other materials found in the photovoltaic panels cause pollution but environmental pollutants can damage the solar panels
- Location – Certain parts of the UK are better suited for solar panels compared to others, ie: city dwellings verses mountainous or highland areas
Of course when one considers purchasing a solar panel, it is important to know about the costs associated with them.
The average price of installing solar panels falls between £5,000 – £8,000 but they are subject to additional costs:
Additional costs of Installing Solar Panels:
- Solar panels built-in to rooftops are more expensive compared to those that would just sit on top
- Even though PV panels cost the same price per kWp, PV tiles are more expensive compared to system made up of panels
- If you need more electricity to be generated means that it costs more to install but overall they provide long term saving benefits
- The larger the solar panel system the more expensive it is to install compared to smaller systems (4 kWp) though they save you more in the future
Even though, solar panels do have a number of costs, they do provide significant savings benefits. According to the Energy Savings Trust (EST) with a 4kWp system:
- You could save anywhere between 1500 kg to 2000 kg of C02 per year depending on the region you live in
- Save up £65 per year on your electricity bill if you live in Great Britain and £80 per year if you live in Northern Ireland,
N.B: As of February 8th 2016, new changes were made to the tariff scheme, visit the Energy Savings Trust (EST) to check your tariff eligibility.
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