Solar Q&A – Frequently Asked Questions
As alternative sources of energy go, there’s no denying that solar seems to be far and away the most favoured of all the renewable sources of energy.
But despite its popularity – or perhaps even because of it – solar has been muddled by myths and clouded by confusion.
From the financial costs and how it benefits the environment, to how to reap the rewards of the feed-in tariffs and how well the technology works when its cloudy, we thought it was time to address some of the most commonly asked questions.
What is solar electricity
It’s electricity that is generated through the use of solar photovoltaic (PV) technology. Solar PV panels are used to capture the sun’s free and clean renewable energy, turning it into electricity.
How does a solar PV system work
Solar PV systems feature an array of cells which contain a solar PV material that can convert radiation from the sun into direct current electricity. The electricity that is generated can be used to provide power for lighting and electrical equipment around the home.
Solar panels won’t work very well in the UK because it’s not very sunny
That’s incorrect. It’s actually radiation from the sun – and not temperature and heat – that enables solar photovoltaic panels to generate electricity. Solar panels in hot sunny countries are bound to gather more energy, but don’t be fooled into thinking that they won’t work well in the UK. They don’t need constant direct sunlight to work and can still generate electricity when the weather is cloudy. Don’t forget either that Germany is currently the world leader in solar energy generation – not exactly a country well known for its abundance of sun!
How does solar benefit the environment
Well, for starters it’s a renewable source of energy, so unlike coal it won’t run out. Plus solar energy is environmentally friendly because it doesn’t generate green house gases. Renewable energy technologies will help you reduce your carbon footprint, meaning you’ll personally be doing your bit for the environment.
What’s the difference between a solar PV system and a solar hot water system
Solar PV panels are used to generate electricity, whereas a solar hot water system – also known as solar thermal – is used to provide hot water in the home.
How much will solar panels for electricity generation cost me
The price of solar panels has come down dramatically since the feed-in tariff (Fit) was introduced in April 2010. Back then the cost of installing an average domestic solar PV system was around £13,000, whereas today it should cost in the region of £4,000 to £6,000 for a 2-4kW system.
Aside from helping the environment how can I benefit
Well, there’s the reductions you are going to make on your fuel bills for starters, because generating your own electricity will help reduced those costs considerably. For example, a 2.8 kWp system should be able to generate around 35% of an average household’s annual electricity needs. Then of course there’s the added financial incentive of the feed-in tariff scheme.
What’s the feed-in tariff
It’s a scheme the Government introduced to pay you for generating your own electricity. Originally set at a rate of 43.3p per kilowatt hour of electricity generated, this has been gradually reduced and currently the tariff stands at 15.44p. Our solar PV calculator is a great place to start to give you an indication of the potential payback.
Why has the Government decided to slash solar subsidies
Because they can! Although the level of cuts imposed does seem drastic, the solar industry has known for some time that the Government would have to make reductions to the feed-in tariff. However, no one expected them to be quite so dramatic. It seems the Government believes such cuts are necessary in order to keep the feed-in tariff budget under control. The Energy Minister, Greg Barker views the changes as a way of putting the solar industry on a “steadier and sustainable growth path.”
Is it still worth me investing in solar
There’s no doubt that the solar industry will have to reevaluate itself. Such drastic cuts to the feed-in tariff will mean that solar won’t be seen as quite the attractive option it once was. However don’t forget that the price of the technology has reduced considerably.
Are there any grants available to help fund the installation
Solar thermal systems are eligible for a one-off payment of £300/unit to help with the cost of installing a solar thermal renewable heating system. However there are no such grants to help fund the installation of solar PV. If you cannot afford the upfront capital investment, some solar companies have been running what’s known as free solar scheme. Meaning they will fit the solar panels to your house for free. But although you get to benefit from free electricity, it’s the solar company who gets to reap the financial rewards of the feed-in tariff. Also, it’s worth remembering that you will be renting your roof to the solar company for 20 years. But given the recent reductions to solar subsidies, solar companies are no doubt going to be less interested in providing this service as the rewards available will no longer be as sweet.