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Solar Panels Explained

Last updated: 23. 01. 2020

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Over the last few years solar panels have become an option for households and businesses looking to go green and save money on their energy consumption. Government subsidies, renewable energy trends and general updates in technology have led to them becoming cheaper, more reliable, and generally more attractive for those looking to diversify their sources of electricity. This guide will take you through all you need to know about solar panels, how they work, and how you can install them yourself. 

What are solar panels?

Solar Panels are the main part of a Solar photovoltaic (Solar PV) system which generates electricity from solar energy. Essentially, they work through the photovoltaic cells that are put in between semi-conducting materials becoming energised by daylight. Interestingly, they don’t need the sun specifically just the photons in natural daylight. 

Types of Solar Panel

There are a variety of solar panels that operate in similar, but different ways which we’ll take you through:
 
Monocrystalline
These are the most developed and oldest solar panels; they are made from a continuous crystal structure. They are easily identifiable as one flat colour. Because they use the highest purity of silicon these are very efficient with a high-power output. 
 
 
Polycrystalline 
These are different than monocrystalline in that the silicon is poured into a square mould and then cut into square wafers. This produces the polycrystalline shape. These panels are faster to make and cost less than monocrystalline but they are less efficient. 
 
Hybrid 
Similar to monocrystalline these put a thin layer of film behind the cells to make them more efficient by extracting even more energy. These are by far the most expensive type of solar panel so may not be useful if you are looking to have solar panels on your own home. However, they are the best solar panels and therefore the investment will pay off more in the long term with energy production. 
 
Thin Film 
Very cheap and can be placed onto curved surfaces which is useful, but they are incredibly inefficient, with about 5 - 7 % efficiency. 

Is my house suitable for solar panels?

Whether or not your house is suitable for solar panels depends on a variety of factors including: 
 
  • Direction of your house: If your home faces south it will be more efficient 
  • Location: Although solar energy only needs ambient light, there are shorter daylight hours in the north in winter and you’ll need to take that into account. If you live in the woods where there’s lots of shade this could also make them less efficient. 
  • Angle of roof: depending on the angle of your pitch, your house could be more or less suited for solar panels. The ideal angle is 30 - 45 degrees but you can still generate solar energy between 15 - 50.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Solar Panels


Advantages 
 
  • The quality of your electricity will not change when you switch to solar, and you don’t have to switch them on every day as they run continuously. 
  • You have the ability to sell energy back to the National Grid through the Feed-in Tariff scheme if you produce too much solar energy meaning your home could be making you money
  • If the panels are working correctly you will not notice any difference and your system should move over when solar energy is available. 
 
Disadvantages
 
  • You may need planning permission depending on the type of place that you live in and where it is located, but this shouldn’t be difficult to get. 
  • You will most likely not be able to fully move to solar energy, it will simply supplement your existing energy supply. 

How much do solar panels cost?

This is dependent on the type of solar panels you want to get, and how many you want. The best thing to do is to get many different quotes so that you can decide what best suits your needs. Generally, a domestic system will be between £5,000 and £8,000. Although this may seem like a lot, you can save money through the FIT scheme and the ‘export tariff’ if you produce a surplus of energy that you can sell it back to the National Grid.  

How do I install solar panels in my home?

The first thing to do is to make sure you choose a solar installer that is trustworthy and accredited. There are a variety of different accreditations, with MCS being the absolute minimum. There are other member associations such as the Solar Trade Association (STA) that are trusted. It’s best to get 3 or 4 quotes from different installers, and references to compare and help you to make the right choice. 

Is it worth installing solar panels for my business?

Because they work best during the day, solar panels can be an efficient way of lowering your energy demand from the grid and saving you money on your electricity bills. They not only save you money and can even make you money from the FIT scheme but allow you to project a sustainable ethos which can be good for your brand. Take a look at the costs involved to decide whether they’re a good investment. 
Michael Quinn

Author: Michael Quinn

Michael is a dedicated author helping usave to write guides, blogs and news for the last four years. When not writing articles, you can usually find him at wine tasting events or having a political debate on the night tube.

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