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Mark Labbett Brand Ambassador

Complete Guide to Solar Energy

Homeowners have numerous benefits to gain from the fast-growing availability of renewable energy. Today, there are two main types of solar power systems installed in homes across the country. This in-depth guide will familiarise you with these two systems, the types of homeowners who might choose one over the other, the benefits they stand to gain, and the cost comparisons they’d need to make. We’ll cover all of the key factors you need to know before making any final decision on solar for your home.

What exactly are solar panels?

Devices created to convert sunlight into usable energy for your home are universally known as solar panels. They come in two primary types, with each serving a somewhat different vision for what the solar panel of the future should be.

Solar panels that produce electricity (photovoltaic panels)

Solar panels are designed to take in sunlight and transform it into electricity. They are created from a collection of solar cells that produce a direct current when they are not just exposed to any light but, of course, to sunlight. Then, that current, which already goes on quite easily in the average internet search—even the path of electrons and holes is something that some really complicated math and physics scholars have been arguing about for years—must be in AC or alternating current, the kind of current that alternates at a specific frequency.

Water-Heating Solar Panels (Solar Thermal Systems)

Solar thermal systems, also known as water-heating solar panels, is a technology that has been around for many years, but it is still a niche product group. It works by using the sun’s energy to heat a fluid, which in turn provides heat or hot water (or even cooling, if air conditioning is needed) for a building or other structure. The systems are very simple and reliable; after properly setting them up and letting the sun do its job, one can expect them to work for years with almost no maintenance.

The energy harnessed by solar thermal systems originates from the sun. These systems work by heating water, which then flows through the panels. After the panels heat the water, it is pumped back into your home’s water storage. This provides your household with hot water, reducing the need to use electricity or gas to heat the water. The basic principle behind these systems is quite simple and has been around for a long time.

In 2024, are solar panels a good investment of money?

Undoubtedly worth the investment, solar panels can become the UK average home’s energy supply as a clean, smart, and much-needed sustainable choice. In the best and sunniest of times, residential solar panels could generate a whopping 117% of the electricity someone demands at their home, making them one of the most viable options we have for self-sufficient and completely cool and non-polluting energy at home.

As an example, the average three-bedroom home in the UK, fitted out with a 4kW solar panel system, can save residents around £660 a year in money that would otherwise be spent on electricity from the grid.

In the usual 25-year life cycle of a solar power system, the average home in the UK could save a total of £16,500 compared to if it had used conventional power from the national electricity grid instead. After around 14 years, the system would have paid for itself and then went on to save another £7,260 by the end of its life. Solar power’s long-term financial return is matched, of course, by its environmental payoff.

Do solar panels work well in the UK?

The solar panels in the UK are very effective regardless of the mostly overcast weather that this country receives annually. Believe it or not, the majority of the energy generated from UK PV installations comes during the summer months. It is a common misconception that solar panels only work well in warm, sunny climates—anything else and you might as well install coal boilers or wood-burning stoves in your basement. Nothing could be further from the truth. The PV panels on your roof use the energy of the sun, even when it is hidden by clouds. They work on the principle of the photoelectric effect.

The phenomenon of growing acceptance in the UK

Solar power is gaining popularity among UK homeowners. Provisional government figures project that by the end of last year, the UK had 15.7 GW of solar capacity spread across 1,441,285 installations. That’s a rise of 6.9% (1.0 GW) since December 2022. Over the course of the year, domestic installations made up 29% of that total capacity, coming mostly in the form of rooftop solar panels. Solar farms accounted for around 50% of the total.

In 2024 is it worth upgrading to Solar Power?

The costs of a solar power system are essentially determined by the following factors:
1. The actual costs of the solar power technology (herein called the device); and
2. The installed costs of the balance of system (BOS) components, that is, all the other bits and pieces needed to get the device to work safely, reliably, and effectively.

A solar panel system around 3.5 kilowatts in size costs an average of £7,000 in the UK. This price includes the essential technology that enables the system to work. It seems very difficult to compare solar PV system prices, as installers offer different kinds of deals and use different kinds of manufacturer hardware. The important point for you to remember is that selling prices reflect all the component prices, such as those for the essential solar panels and the peripheral technology that keeps them working by converting sunlight to electricity in the first place.

An average solar water heating system costs about £6,000 to install. The exact figure mostly depends on the kind of setup you get. Evacuated tube collectors typically cost more, but they also extract more energy from the sun. Thus, if you really want to maximize your return on investment, they might be the better choice. System size also matters. However, the basic point is that for £6,000, you can get a system big enough to service an average family of, say, three or four people. With proper care and maintenance, such a system would provide abundant, consistent hot water for 20 or 30 years.

Evaluating Costs and Potential Savings

Although solar panel systems can be expensive initially, any decision about them should take into account the possible long-term gains. What you are comparing here is the panel system’s installation cost with the savings right from day one. Okay, so we are not going to fool ourselves; the amount of money you save on your energy bills is only a portion of what the system itself cost to install. But since you are then going to be around four to eight years free from another bill from your energy company, solar power makes good financial sense.

Things to think about before putting up those solar panels.

The way that houses are situated on the Earth’s surface and the resulting exposure to sunlight are two of the most important considerations a homeowner can make.
Solar panels’ effectiveness is determined by how much they are exposed to the sun. They work best when they’re mounted on a south-facing roof with a good sunlight angle. Roof orientations to the east and west will work, but not as well as a south-facing roof. North-facing roofs are the least productive. When solar panels are exposed directly to sunlight, they convert the light energy into electricity at an efficiency rate of up to about 20%. Trees, buildings, and other obstructions around the house need to get out of the way.

Your solar panel efficiency depends on your roof’s angle. A solar company can evaluate your roof to determine if it’s at the right angle (called the tilt) for producing the most sunlight. If it’s not, they might be able to adjust it or they might not—some steeples aren’t as adjustable as others.

Another consideration is whether you have enough space. Every solar panel is big, and together, they take up a significant area of your roof.

For your solar installation to work without any problems, it’s essential to be certain that your roof can support the weight of the solar panels. This, perhaps more than almost anything else in the planning stage, is of critical importance. While some roofs are, of course, better suited to supporting solar panels than others, it is an option for most homeowners—so long as your roof is strong, you can feel confident that it will support your solar panels for their full planned lifetimes.

Type and Size of System

If you want to make informed judgments about solar options, it’s important to consider the kind and extent of the system that’s the best fit for what you’re looking to do. When it comes to panels, opting for monocrystalline solar panels is generally understood to be the first and most straightforward choice to make. By comparison, polycrystalline panels are rated as less efficient. If cost is of overriding importance, then thin-film panels may fit the bill.

Solar savings calculator

This tool will help you work out if your home could benefit from solar photovoltaic (PV) panels.

What is your average monthly electric bill?

This will help us determine how much we can reduce you’re overall savings by.

  • No. of panels needed

  • Cost of System

  • Current Bill:

  • Annual Savings

  • Monthly Savings

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