Solar Electricity

Solar panels or tiles allow property owners to generate affordable and green electricity using sunlight. Solar electricity systems capture energy from the sun using photovoltaic (PV) cells, even on cloudy days. Sunlight is converted into electricity, which costs nothing since sunlight is a free resource. Energy from solar electricity can be used to power everything from lighting and heating systems to appliances and other electronics.

Benefits of Solar Electricity

The benefits of solar electricity are numerous. One of the most important benefits of this power source is its eco-friendliness. Since solar electricity is a renewable energy source unlike gas and oil, it is a green source of electricity. Using solar electricity reduces carbon footprints and reduces the amount of pollutants like carbon dioxide. According to the Energy Saving Trust, a typical solar electricity system can save over a tonne and a half of carbon dioxide each year. That is more than 30 tonnes over the lifetime of the system.

Other benefits of solar electricity relate to cost. This type of power can help reduce electricity costs since sunlight is free. Once the installation of the system is paid off, electricity costs are reduced since fuel does not need to be purchased. Solar electricity also makes money. With the UK government's Feed-in Tariff programme, property owners with solar electricity can get paid for the power they produce. Property owners are also able to sell any surplus electricity they generate back to the grid under this scheme.

Types of Solar Electricity Systems

Solar electricity is generated using photovoltaic (PV) cells. These cells are made from layers of semi-conducting material such as silicon. As light hits the cell, the unit creates an electric field across the various layers. Higher amounts of electricity are produced when the sun is brighter and stronger. The power produced by PV cells is measured in kilowatts peak or kWp, which is the rate of energy generated at peak performance when full direct sunlight hits the cell.

Groups of PV cells are found in panels or modules such as tiles and slates. The most common type of PV cells is solar panels. These panels are mounted on a roof or other flat service such as the ground. PV cells are also designed as solar tiles or slates, which are used in place of regular roof tiles. Solar tiles and slates are generally double the cost of solar electricity systems that use panels. As a result, tiles and slates are generally only recommended when necessary due to planning restrictions. Since panels are large and obvious, solar tiles or slates might also be appropriate for aesthetic reasons when property owners want a streamlined look.

Installing Solar Electricity Systems

Solar electricity systems are easy to maintain and their cost depends on the amount of power that is produced. They typically work best on properties with a mainly south-facing roof, in the case of panels that are mounted to the roof or tiles/slates are being used. The spot where the panels are being installed should have little or no shade to maximise the amount of energy produced. How much energy is produced will depend on the tilt angle of the roof and its orientation. Ground or flat roof systems can include tilting mechanisms that position panels towards direct sunlight at different times of the day. The amount of energy generated will also depend on location and the amount of average sunlight. For example, the South West of England has more hours of sunlight compared to Scotland and the North of England.

Although solar power is costly to install, they will end up saving money on electricity bills. It may even make money in the long run thanks to programmes like the UK government's Feed-in Tariff scheme. There are other programmes that also help reduce the cost of installing solar energy. Nest Wales, an initiative funded by the Welsh government, also provides grants when installing renewable energy technologies such as solar electricity. The Scottish Government's Renewable Heat Inventive also provides cash payments when installing renewable heating technology, while the Home Energy Scotland Renewables Loan offers interest-free loans for installing domestic renewable energy systems. The Northern Ireland Renewable Heat Premium Payment (RHPP) scheme provides grants for domestic installations of renewable heating technologies. The Northern Ireland Renewables Obligation also allows property owners to claim Northern Ireland Renewables Obligation Certificates (NIROCs) for each megawatt hour of electricity generated from solar PV panels. Local authorities may also provide grants and offers when installing energy efficiency systems such as solar power.

Finding a Qualified Installer

When installing a solar electricity system, obtain at least three quotes from installers to help assess value for money. Also, ask for recommendations, read online reviews, and visit properties in the area with installations to review the quality of the installer's work. Installers should be qualified and experienced in fitting these types of systems. Look for installers that are registered under the national Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS). In addition to being safe and effective, an installation completed by a MCS-certified contractor will ensure it is eligible for the Feed-in Tariff scheme.