Going Solar- How to Take the First Steps

Interested in installing panels but not sure where to start? Guest writer, Reuben Dickinson has some advice on how to take the first steps towards going solar, and having greener power in your home

going solar

Many people have an interest in taking steps towards converting their home into a more eco-friendly dwelling. The reasons are simple: lower energy costs, a smaller personal carbon footprint, and simple recognition of the fact that every person’s actions does actually makes a difference. With advances in recent years in solar power many homeowners, if not most, can go beyond the passive use of insulation and weather proofing to the next step of actively harnessing their own renewable energy from the sun.

 Solar – Is it a proven Technology?

Solar energy has been in use for billions of years. The ability to harness energy from the sun has warmed the entire planet since it came into existence. The idea of south facing homes to passively gather the warmth of the sun began as soon as earliest man began building shelters. The first modern style of solar cell was developed 60 years ago. Spacecraft and satellites have used solar energy for 40 years now as a primary energy source.

Modern Solar Photo Voltaic panels boast 30% efficiency meaning that 30% of the energy they are exposed to is converted directly into usable electricity. With no moving parts and the lowest maintenance requirements of any known energy source, the power of the sun can be harnessed in an efficient and cost effective manner that is Earth friendly as well as budget friendly. The days of shying away from solar technologies as unproven are years in the past.

 Steps to Going Solar

On a home basis solar energy is going to be a supplemental source of electricity in the majority of climates above the 30th parallel. The hours of sunlight and directness of the sun’s rays will not allow for 100% of energy costs on the typical home in northern climates. Full implementation of solar power would require large arrays of cells and large capacity battery storage that makes it impractical for use as the sole means of power. It does however make an extremely efficient supplemental power source for specific purposes, such as hot water heating systems or to supply electricity to out buildings or garages.

As a supplemental system, all that is needed is a south facing pitched roof to mount the needed solar panels on (or racks built to hold the panels in the case of a flat roof), and a supplemental tank that is used to add hot water directly into your existing plumbing. During the day when the solar panels are producing they will heat your water. Setting the system for the standard water heating beginning in the evening will ensure you have ample hot water in the morning but only use energy to maintain the heat rather than to heat the water completely. During the day after the typical large use of hot water in the mornings the suns energy will heat the water again.

Contact your local planning board.

You will need approval to install rooftop solar panels. In the UK a permitted development order will allow the approval to be fast tracked, however you will still need the appropriate permits from the planning board. Getting the required permits in retrospective is a far more difficult and costly procedure so make sure it is sorted before beginning installation.

 The Installation

The installation of solar panels and a solar water heater is not particularly difficult, however it is also not a DIY project for most. It is dealing with electricity or electricity combined with water so there needs to be a high level of expertise involved to ensure both safety and maximum efficiency. There are a large number of qualified installation experts throughout the UK. Typically installation will not take more than a day or two.

Be sure to do research and ask questions when selecting a system. Most systems are rated to last from 10 to 25 years or more. Quality installers will be able to provide a warranty on the installation for 5 to 10 years as well. This is important because the upfront costs can be significant. Though it will likely cost £4000 or more for a typical installation, if you divide that out for 25 years then it is only £160 a year to supply upwards of 70% of your hot water needs. This makes it far more cost effective to look at longer lasting systems than a 10 year rated system at £400 per year.

All systems to be considered should come with a supplemental guarantee available from a third party which will protect the homeowner against defects in installation even if the original installer goes out of business or moves. Information on these plans is available from the Renewable Energy Consumer Code website www.recc.org.uk.

By Reuben Dickinson

Edited by Helen Kinsella

Image sourced: Chandra Marsono

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