Solar Panels

What are Solar Panels?

Solar panel electricity systems, also known as photovoltaics (PV), capture the sun’s energy using photovoltaic cells. These cells don’t need direct sunlight to work – they can still generate some electricity on a cloudy day. The cells convert the sunlight into electricity, which can be used to run household appliances and lighting.

The benefits of solar electricity

  • Cut your electricity bills. Sunlight is free, so once you’ve paid for the initial installation, your electricity costs will be reduced.
  • Get paid for the electricity you generate. The UK government’s Feed-in Tariff scheme pays you for the electricity you generate, even if you use it.
  • Sell electricity back to the grid. You will also receive another payment for the electricity you export through the Feed-in Tariff scheme.
  • Cut your carbon footprint. Solar electricity is green renewable energy and doesn’t release any harmful carbon dioxide or other pollutants. A typical home solar PV system could save around 1.5 to 2 tonnes of carbon per year.

How do solar panels (PV) cells work?

PV cells are made from layers of semi-conducting material, usually silicon. When light shines on the cell it creates an electric field across the layers. The stronger the sunshine, the more electricity is produced. Groups of cells are mounted together in panels or modules that can either be mounted on your roof or on the ground.

The power of a PV cell is measured in kilowatts peak (kWp). That’s the rate at which it generates energy at peak performance in full direct sunlight during the summer. PV cells come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Most PV systems are made up of panels that fit on top of an existing roof, but you can also fit solar tiles.

Solar tiles and slates

Solar tiles are designed to be used in place of ordinary roof tiles. A system made up of solar tiles will typically cost about twice as much as an equivalent panel system. Solar tile systems are not normally as cost-effective as panel systems, and are usually only considered where panels are not considered appropriate for aesthetic or planning reasons.

How much could solar panels save me?

Costs, savings and financial support for solar

Solar PV maintenance

Solar PV needs little maintenance – you’ll just need to keep the panels relatively clean and make sure trees don’t begin to overshadow them. In the UK panels that are tilted at 15° or more have the benefit of being cleaned by rainfall to ensure optimal performance. Debris is more likely to accumulate if you have ground mounted panels.

Once fitted, your installer should leave written details of any maintenance checks that you should carry out from time to time to ensure everything is working properly. This should include details of the main inverter fault signals and key trouble-shooting guidance. Ideally your installer should demonstrate this to you at the point of handover. Keeping a close eye on your system and the amount of electricity it’s generating (alongside the weather conditions) will familiarise you with what to expect and alert you to when something might be wrong.

The panels should last 25 years or more, but the inverter is likely to need replacing some time during this period, at a cost of about £800. Consult with your installer for exact maintenance requirements before you commit to installing a solar PV system.

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