Solar Electricity (PV)

Costs: £4,500-£5,500 I Annual Savings: £560 I Payback: 10 years I Profit: £5000

You can generate cheap, green electricity from sunlight, even here in Britain.

Solar electricity systems capture the sun's energy using photovoltaic (PV) cells. The cells convert sunlight into electricity, and this electricity can power your lighting and appliances. You can receive payments for the electricity you generate, as well as for exporting any electricity you don’t use to the grid.

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The basics

The cells used in solar panels are now so efficient that they will work well anywhere in Britain particularly if you have a southerly orientated roof. A typical home PV system can produce around 50% of the electricity used in an average household per year (Department of Energy and Climate Change), saving around £140 on your electricity bills.

In 2010, the government introduced the Feed-in-Tariff scheme to encourage uptake of solar panels. Under this scheme, your energy supplier pays you for any energy that you generate using your solar panels, as well as any excess that you export to the grid. The average installation can make around £420 a year in FITs at current tariff rates. You can alternatively get the installation paid for using a loan from the Green Deal finance scheme.

Fitting panels is not a complex process, and you can get them fitted with very little disruption. You do need to ensure that you get a qualified installer to qualify for the FITs.

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FAQs

What is the difference between monocrystalline and polycrystalline PV panels?
Firstly, they look different - polycrystalline wafer has a dark blue colour, whereas monocrystalline wafer is black. Monocrystalline panels tend to be slightly more expensive and efficient than polycrystalline panels,
Is efficiency important when choosing solar panels?
Often not, the efficiency of any given panel relates to how effectively it can convert the sun's light. Given that the sun's light is free a panel can simply be made larger to offset a lower efficiency. Only when suitable roof area is at a premium does it make sense to choose high efficiency panels, this will maximise the amount of power that can be generated from the limited space.
How long does a solar PV panel installation take?
A solar PV installation normally takes 2-3 days.
Can I heat water with solar PV panels?
Whilst PV panels do not directly heat water (this is what solar thermal panels do) they do produce electricity that can be used to do anything that you want to - even export it back to the grid for an extra payment. This electricity can be used to heat water if you have an immersion water heater.
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