Solar PV Panels: Overview

Solar photovoltaic panels, or solar PV panels, are used to generate electricity for use in the home using the energy available from the sun’s rays.

Solar PV panels

 

How Solar PV Panels work:

The PV cells which make up this type of solar panel are comprised of layers of a semi-conducting material such as silicon. The cells act in such a way that when sunlight hits the cells an electric field is created across the layers. Multiple cells are combined to create a panel. The stronger the sun’s rays on any particular day, the greater the amount of electricity the PV cells are able to produce. PV cell power is measured is kilowatts peak (kWp), which is the rate at which energy is generated at peak performance.

Solar PV is mostly available as panels to be fitted to the roof but PV solar tiles are also available. Solar tiles are intended to be used instead of conventional roof tiles, and generally costs around twice as much as the panelled variety. Tiles are usually intended for use in cases where planning or aesthetics make panels unsuitable and are not overall as cost effective.

The Costs of Solar PV Panels:

A typical domestic solar PV system will range in cost from around £5,500 to £9,500, averaging at around £7,000 inclusive of 5% VAT, although costs vary and have steadily decreased in recent years. These systems should operate at between 3.5 to 4kWp.

The overall cost effectiveness of a solar PV system will depend upon:

  • The amount of electricity is produces;
  • The size of the system (larger usually means more effective);
  • The type of system used, whether tiled or panelled;

The Savings of Solar PV Panels:

A typical PV system operating at 3.5kWp generates around 3,000kW of electricity annually. This is around a third of the typical household’s electricity usage. Solar PV not only saves money on energy bills but also vastly reduces CO2 emissions by around a tonne every year.

Further savings can be enjoyed with the Feed-In tariff scheme, available in Scotland, England, and Wales, which can provide you with an income of around £645 a year sing a solar PV system at 3.5kWp at 15.44p/kWp. With this scheme, you are paid both for the energy you generate and use, and the surplus which is sold to the grid. The tariff you are given will depend upon your property’s Energy Performance Certificate.

Maintaining Your Solar PV Panels:

Solar PV panels are virtually maintenance-free. Apart from keeping the panels clean and out of the shadow of overgrown trees, most solar panels in the UK can be kept clean by rainwater providing the panels are angled at 15˚ or more. Ground-mounted panels are more likely to be hampered by debris. Cleaning of the panels should be carried out with warm water and possibly a washing soap and brush or pressure hose if the panels are out of reach.

Professional cleaners are also available to hire. For a clear idea of when your system is not operating properly, be sure to gain a good understanding of its normal electricity generation so that abnormal functioning can be spotted.

Solar PV Panels should last 25 years or more, with the inverter needing to be replaced at some point at a cost today of around £1,000.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Solar PV Panels:

 

Advantages

Disadvantages

Make use of the Feed-in tariff, guaranteed for 20 years, paying you for the energy you produce whether you use it or not.

Large south, south-west, or south-east areas work most efficiently, but large systems can be expensive.

European panels produce electricity even on overcast days.

PV panels will degrade by around 20% after 25 years of use.

Carbon emissions are reduced by around a tonne per year and energy prices are greatly reduced.

The inverter may need to be replaced after around 10 years of PV panel use to maintain optimum operation.

Image: JJCrump and Son Ltd

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