Solar panels have developed to offer a wide variety of solutions for domestic energy production. Photovoltaic panels produce electricity from sunlight, so are suited to all electrical appliances, including heating where applicable.
Solar panels can be sited in various locations around the home, and do not have to be roof mounted. An outhouse, for example, may provide a less obtrusive site than on the roof of the house. Similarly panels could be sited in the garden, which may also allow them to be tilted during the day to maximise efficiency.
Solar PV Panels (produce electricity)
Since the introduction of the Government feed-in tariff solar PV panels have provided income for those homeowners that are willing to invest upfront in the technology. Payments that are guaranteed for 20 years and free electricity are tempting for those of us able to utilise electricity during peak generation in daytime hours.
However, with the advent of solar batteries times are changing, and solar generation will become more useful than just feeding back to the grid. Whilst we move away from fossil fuel generation and increase our use of electric cars solar power will be a vital component of the country’s electricity generation. Charging a battery during daytime sunlight hours whilst making use of that power during the evening is a natural evolution of the technology making panels more attractive an investment than ever before.
Typically a 4kw solar installation will cost around £6,300 with an 11 year payback, with the addition of a solar battery costing around £3,000 extra.
Solar Thermal Panels (produce hot water)
More affordable, and often more efficient, solar hot water systems are now commonplace across the country. Solar hot water is now the most popular – and fastest growing – type of alternative energy system. Solar panels for heating water can be divided into two distinct types which use entirely different approaches.
Flat plate panels are technically the simplest in the solar panel family. Metal piping – often copper – is painted black and fed through a metal panel, covered with highly insulated glass. Water is then piped to a large insulated tank for use. Solar panels based on evacuated tubes instead operate on the principle that the vacuum inside the glass tubes provides the best insulation. One advantage of evacuated tubes is that they function throughout the year, whereas flat plates will only be useful for a maximum of 6-9 months each year.
In addition many solar hot water systems may be self installed. Employing professionals to install systems is one of the more substantial costs associated with home energy production, and is generally essential when using PV panels. It may be possible, where systems are self installed, to establish solar hot water heating for as little as £1000.
Running Costs and Maintenance
Generally solar panels require little or no maintenance. A yearly or biannual service, and occasional cleaning of the panels to ensure efficiency will usually suffice. One point to consider is whether existing home insurance policies will cover solar panels installed on a roof. Whilst incidents are rare, many policies will not offer cover as standard. Additional policies are available at reasonable prices.
Assuming no accidents occur, the majority of solar panels will last for at least 20 years. Many claim 30 year lifespans, which can represent good value both in terms of initial costs and the total energy a panel will produce. Whilst those initial costs will still prevent many homeowners from investing, solar panels are now a viable alternative to dirty gas and coal power stations.