Thursday, February 9, 2012

Understanding Solar Power – The Fastest Growing Energy

According to the Renewable Energy Association (REA), solar power is the fastest growing energy technology in the world. Thousands of people in the UK are now using solar panels to harness the sun's energy and, as costs continue to fall, the REA predicts that photovoltaic solar systems could become one of the cheapest methods of generating electricity by 2030*.

What are photovoltaic (PV) solar panels?

PV solar panels collect energy from daylight that can be converted and used to power home appliances and lighting or be exported to the National Grid. They are fitted to a south facing roof to harness as much daylight as possible.

How do they work?

Here's the science bit. Each solar panel is made of a thin layer of semi-conducting material that's sandwiched between a polymer resin and a sheet of glass. The semi-conducting material becomes energised when it's exposed to daylight and this produces electricity. The stronger the sun, the more electricity is produced.

The direct current that's produced has to be converted into a safer alternating current so it can be used to power appliances through the mains like a washing machine, lamps and the television. This happens through an inverter, a box that is usually housed in the loft.

How much do they cost?

According to the Energy Savings Trust (EST), an average system will cost around £10,000.The bigger the system, the higher the initial outlay but the potential savings will be greater too.

The EST says that an average 3 kWp system can generate around three quarters of the electricity needed by a typical household in a year. That's power that you don't need to buy from a supplier.

As well as saving money, you could make money if your system is eligible for the government's Feed-In Tariff scheme. The scheme rewards households in England, Scotland and Wales (not Northern Ireland) that install systems to generate their own electricity. You get a tax-free payment for the electricity you generate and use. The EST estimates an average annual payment of around £670** .

What are the benefits?

You can harness the free energy of the sun wherever you are because you only need daylight, not bright sunshine. Average electricity bills could be reduced by 40 per cent according to consumer watchdog Which*** .The Feed-In Tariff provides an income which could offset the cost of installation.

Solar power is energy efficient. The EST says an average system will save over a tonne of carbon dioxide every year**** .

What are the drawbacks?

Initial outlay can be prohibitive and you must make sure the size, strength and location of your roof is sufficient to sustain enough panels to generate a significant amount of electricity.

Are solar panels for me?

First things first. Make sure your home is as energy efficient as it can be before you make plans to install solar panels. Make an energy saving checklist and insulate your loft, make sure you have sufficient cavity wall insulation, install double glazing and invest in a modern, energy efficient boiler. This is particularly important if your motivation for going solar is to reduce you electricity bills.

Then look at the practicalities. You need a big, strong roof to accommodate the panels. It must be south facing and shouldn't be over-shadowed by large trees or other buildings.


No comments: