In this guide, we’ll be covering:
What do solar panels do?
What are the benefits of solar panels?
What are the main types of solar panels?
Which solar panel system is right for you?
How much do solar panels cost?
Do solar panels require maintenance?
First things first, let’s lay it out on the table (or roof): solar panels aren’t exactly new to the eco-world. In fact, the invention of solar dates back over 100 years. But it’s only in the last decade that they have become more accessible for everyone. Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon are just a few of the global companies reaping the solar benefits - and for good reason, too.
With countless benefits such as increasing your energy security while decreasing your usage, it’s no wonder that the demand for solar panels has rapidly increased. There are currently an incredible 29 million UK homes using solar-generated power. And as the popularity grows, so do the technological advancements. Manufacturers are continuing to tweak the technology to become more effective for smaller-scale businesses and homes - and not just for the big-shot brands. What’s more? They’re becoming more affordable than ever. In 2021, the UK government revealed that they were 88% cheaper than they were in 2010. Now, that’s no ‘light’ work.
Curious to learn how all of this can work for you? Read ahead to discover everything you need to know about solar panels for your property, as well as the key things to look out for when choosing the perfect type for your needs. It’s time to power up…
Simply put, solar electricity panels, or ‘photovoltaics’ (PV), work by converting the sun’s light into renewable energy for your home or workplace. The device is made up of energy cells called ‘photons’ which create direct current (DC) electricity when the light shines on them. This is then used to power household appliances, which use alternating current (AC), all year round. It can also be sold and transferred to the National Grid for optimum energy security.
While they’re most effective when in contact with strong sunlight (think 200-350W), you can be rest assured it doesn’t need to be a blazing hot day for solar panels to work. They’re just as effective on an overcast Tuesday in November as they are on a sunny Friday in July. So, great news all round if you’re in the UK.
Reduces carbon emissions - The most significant benefit to come from solar is the fact that it can help you to reduce your carbon footprint. We all know that unsustainable energy sources such as oil and gas are detrimental to the planet. Renewable energy, however, allows for a truly green way of living - keeping the need for high-carbon fuels to a bare minimum. It’s a no brainer.
Highly cost effective - Despite the large initial investment of solar panels the reusable electricity they create means you can make impactful cost savings in the long-term. With the cost-of-living crisis and energy bills soaring higher than ever before, solar panels are a highly beneficial asset for both home and business owners to consider adopting. What’s more, if you generate more energy than you need to use, there's also potential to sell it on to the National Grid.
Varied usage - From powering up your electrical devices right and keeping your home or office lit up right through to ensuring your water and surroundings stay warm, solar energy can be used for a diverse range of residential uses. What’s not to like?
Easy to maintain - There’s a common assumption that solar panels are expensive and time-consuming to maintain. Well, we’re happy to tell you that this is far from the truth. Generally, you only need to clean them twice a year - and because there are no moving parts, the likelihood of them breaking is extremely low.
Increased energy security - Unlike unsustainable sources of energy, solar energy will never run out. It will also mean you’re depending less on the National Grid and more on your own source of electricity. If there was a power cut for example, you can have peace of mind that you have a reliable source of energy as a backup.
The great thing about solar panels is that there’s an option for almost everyone. While there’s multiple varieties, monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin film are the most common types of commercial solar panels available here in the UK. Let’s shine a light on them.
Made from the purest form of crystal silicone cells, monocrystalline is the most advanced and impactful form of solar panels. The sleek black aesthetic, long life-span and high efficiency rating makes them an extremely popular choice for those who are ready to invest and commit to a more solar way of living.
Polycrystalline panels are also made with silicone - but the cheaper production process means the energy cells have less room to move, so they’re not quite as efficient. Striking a strong balance between affordability and effectiveness - these blue, rectangular panels make for a good compromise.
Different from the two above, thin-film solar panels are designed using semi-conducting materials to form layers that capture sunlight. What makes them attractive to many is that they are not only the cheapest available, but also extremely thin and flexible - great if you want a discreet look. The downside? They’re the least efficient. If you want to generate a decent amount of energy, you’d need a considerable amount of space (and panels) to achieve your goals.
Now you’re up to speed with all things solar, it’s time to convert this new inspiration into practicality. Finding the right solar panel for your individual needs can feel overwhelming - especially with so much choice on the market. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Here’s the four key components to consider when starting your search…
- Space - Of course, the size of your roof will of course be a big factor to think about when shopping around. Monocrystalline panels are generally the best for areas limited in size as they don’t need as much space when installing. Think maximum outcomes, minimum space.
- Budget - It comes as no surprise that the initial cost of solar panels is a huge barrier for many. While monocrystalline panels are known to be on the pricier side, don’t forget that polycrystalline solar panels are much cheaper to buy upfront - and are almost as effective.
- Impact - With efficiency ratings of 15-20%, monocrystalline panels come out tops for providing maximum results. However, polycrystalline doesn't fall too far behind - with an impressive 13-17%. It’s worth taking the time to weigh up your options, as it will depend on how reliant you plan on being with the solar energy you generate.
- Design - Want your solar panels to look good as well as do good? Sleek and sophisticated, monocrystalline panels are known to shine on roofs in more ways than one. If your budget can’t stretch that far, thin film panels are an affordable and highly popular option with homeowners - but keep in mind they’re the least efficient.
Prices of solar panels can vary widely. The type, system, and size all impact the cost in different ways. Generally, the purer the form of silicone, the higher the cost of the panels and installation - but they will drive the most impactful cost savings in the long-term. This goes the same for a cheaper alternative. Lower upfront cost, but lower savings.
Want to use solar energy, but put off by the large upfront costs? It’s well worth checking out the government grants available. The ECO4 scheme, for example, can help you to save up to £1,600 every year, while the Home Upgrade Grant provides grants of up to £10,000 to households.
What’s more, due to technological advancements, the costs have decreased considerably over the last few years. It’s actually very similar to electric vehicles in that way. If you’re keen to get a benchmark price for the current solar panel market based on your postcode, head on over to theNational Solar Energy website.
Solar PV systems do need a little looking after, but not much. So long as they’re installed in a place well away from trees to avoid blocking sunlight and well cared for, your panels should provide you with up to 25 years of energy-saving benefits. They can be washed by the rain (more great news for Brits), but if they do gather dust or debris, it costs around £4-£15 per panel to have them professionally cleaned. Maintenance wise, the inverter is the one part that typically needs replacing at some point over the duration of usage. Many come with a minimum warranty of five years, which can then be extended if you want optimum peace of mind. Have a chat with your installer for advice on what would be best for your needs.
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Get in touch with our expert team today so that you can hit the road to net zero.