Whether you love them or hate them, the sight of solar panels gracing the sides of our homes is becoming rightly more common. Smart solutions like solar panel tiles are even in play now, meaning that if the traditional panels are not your thing, there are more ‘roof-like’ options. And honestly, the aesthetic design of all solar panels has increased dramatically from when they first came about.
We won’t lie to you; solar panels are very unlikely to totally fulfil your energy needs in the UK. Shocking, we know, but the level of sunlight here in the UK is unlikely to cut it. But as a fairly low maintenance, simple low-carbon energy provider, they are certainly worth considering if you want to make energy savings and reduce your carbon footprint.
How Do Solar Panels Work?
As most will already know, solar panels work by capturing energy from the sun’s rays and converting it into usable energy around the home. There are two main types of solar panels, photovoltaic (PV) and thermal.
Photovoltaic (PV) Solar Panels
By far the more common option, PV are probably the ones you are picturing when you think of solar panels. PV solar panels convert the sun’s energy into electricity to be fed you’re your home. They are made up of layers of semi-conducting material, usually silicon, that are combined to form a module; multiple modules then form an array or panel. When light shines on the panel, electrons are agitated, creating a flow of electricity. While PV panels can work on a cloudy day, the stronger the sunshine, the more electricity it can generate.
PV solar modules and panels come in different designs as mentioned above modules can be installed separately to give a tiled roof-like appearance (although this is rarely cost effective). PV systems also offer great flexibility depending on the roof space you have available. Worth noting, PV solar panel electricity current is direct, and so will need to be converted to alternating before use, although many panels come with such a converter.
Another very appealing aspect of PV solar panels is their eligibility for the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) Scheme. Although the more lucrative Feed In Tariff (FIT) was closed by the government in 2019, SEG can still see you getting paid for excess renewable energy you feed back into the grid. You can read a little more about that here.
Thermal Solar Panels
Thermal solar panels are a little different; they use tubes called collectors to heat water using the sun’s energy, which is then stored in a hot water cylinder to supply heated water to your home when it’s needed. Integration with a boiler or immersion heater is also possible with these systems, to ensure a hot water supply even less sunny days.
They come in two flavours; evacuated tubes and flat plate collectors. Evacuated tubes are made up of a row of aligned glass cylinders, as can be seen in the image above. Flat plate collectors are exactly what they say on the tin; a flat plate that appears more similar to a PV solar panel. Evacuated tube panels tend to cost a bit more than flat plate panels but are better suited to more ambient/colder climes such as we have in the UK due to their higher heating capacity.
Sadly, while you will certainly benefit from energy savings, with the end of the Renewable Heating Incentive (RHI) came the end of government funding for thermal solar panels – but certainly still worth considering as a way to reduce your energy bills and cut your carbon footprint.
How Much Does Installing Solar Panels Cost?
The cost of your solar panels and their installation will depend on the type of panels you choose, the size of your solar panel system, the ease of installation and ensuing labour costs, and any additional components you wish to add, such as a storage battery.
As a very loose guide, you can expect to pay anywhere between £2,500-£8,000 for a PV solar panel set up dependent on the factors above, and between £3,000-£6,000 for a thermal solar panel set up. If it’s the the solar PV tiles that have caught your eye, their installation can cost anywhere between £5,000-£14,000.
While the upfront cost may seem high, it’s worth noting that the cost of solar has drastically reduced by as much as 70% on previous years. And in the long term, you’ll reap the rewards of energy savings and an increased property value. If you’d like some pointers on which solar panels we recommend, head over to our article here.