Solar Panels

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Solar panels (PV)
Generate cheap, green electricity from sunlight
Solar panel electricity systems, also known as solar 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
How do solar panel (PV) cells work?
Costs, savings and maintenance
Watch our video on using solar PV to generate energy for your home, which focuses on two
electricity-generating technologies for the home: wind turbines and solar PV.

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 government’s Feed-In Tariffs pay you for
the electricity you generate, even if you use it.



Sell electricity back to the grid: if your system is producing more electricity than you
need, or when you can't use it, you can sell the surplus back to the grid.



Cut your carbon footprint: solar electricity is green, renewables energy and doesn't
release any harmful carbon dioxide] or other pollutants. A typical home solar PV
system could save over a tonne of carbon dioxide per year – that's more than 30
tonnes over its lifetime.

How do solar panels (PV) cells work?
See a pop-up animation of how solar electricity panels can work in your home.
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 be
mounted on your roof.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 around twice as much as an equivalent panel system, although you
will save the money you would have spent on roof tiles or slates. 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.

Costs, savings and maintenance
Costs
The average domestic solar PV system is 4kWp and on average costs between £6,000 and
£7,400 (including VAT at 5%).Costs have fallen significantly over the last year. They vary
between installers and products, so we recommend getting quotes from at least three
installers. Guidance on finding an installer.Other factors that affect PV installation costs are:


The more electricity the system can generate, the more it costs but the more it could
save.



Larger systems are usually more cost-effective than smaller systems (up to 4kWp).



PV panels are all around the same price per kWp, but PV tiles cost much more than a
typical system made up of panels.



Panels built into a roof are more expensive than those that sit on top.

Green Deal finance and renewables
This technology is an eligible measure under the UK government’s Green Deal which is a
financing mechanism that lets people pay for energy-efficiency improvements through
savings on their energy bills.Further information on Green Deal.

Savings
A 4kWp system can generate around 3,700 kilowatt hours of electricity a year – roughly
equivalent to a typical household's electricity needs. It will save nearly two tonnes of carbon
dioxide every year.

System
size
Registered up until 31st March 2014 4kWp
Registered on and from 1st April
4kWp
2014

Savings per
year
£770
£750

Carbon dioxide per
year
1.8 tonnes
1.8 tonnes

If your system is eligible for the Feed-In Tariff scheme it could generate savings and income
of around £770 a year if you register before 31st March 2014 (based on a 4kWp solar PV
system eligible for a generation tariff of 13.52p/kWh). You will get paid for both the
electricity you generate and use, and what you don't use and export to the grid. Find out
more about how we made these calculations.
When applying for FITs you will need to show evidence of your property's Energy
Performance Certificate and this will affect what tariff you can get.If you know your system
size, you can get a tailored estimate for your system using our Solar Energy Calculator.Please
note that the Feed-in Tariff scheme is not available in Northern Ireland.

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 additional benefit of being cleaned by rainfall to ensure optimal performance.
Debris is more likely to accumulate if you have ground mounted panels.If dust, debris, snow
or bird droppings are a problem they should be removed with warm water (and perhaps some
washing-up liquid or something similar – your installer can advise) and a brush or a high
pressure hose (or telescopic cleaning pole) if the panels are difficult to reach.
Always be careful if you are working above the ground or near the top of a ladder.
Alternatively, there are a number of specialist window cleaning companies who will clean
solar PV panels for you at a cost (of around £30 based on our research in March 2012)
depending on the size of your array and location. Many of these companies use a water fed
pole system which does away with the need for a ladder.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 current

cost of around £1,000. Consult with your installer for exact maintenance requirements before
you commit to installing a solar PV system.

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