Simply put, solar photovoltaics (PV) convert sunlight into electricity. This means you can use the sun’s energy to generate electricity for your home with solar photovoltaics.
Solar PV panels are a sustainable source of electricity that can keep you connected and reduce your reliance on energy companies.
This quick guide will explain how solar PV systems work and their benefits.
What Are Solar Panels and How Do They Work?
The foundation of solar electricity is the photovoltaic effect, which causes solar photovoltaic panels to generate an electric current when exposed to sunlight.
Solar panels generate direct current power or DC electricity. However, this power isn’t usable by most household appliances.
An inverter converts the electricity produced into AC energy which is then recorded by your energy meter.
Your system doesn’t require full sunlight to generate electricity, but note that a solar panel is only produced during daylight hours.
Large systems typically produce more electricity but are also more expensive to install. You can compare solar photovoltaic systems vs. solar panels here.
What’s Nominal Power?
A solar PV system’s nominal power is its maximum theoretical output measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh.) However, note that this is only for classification purposes.
Kinds of Solar Cells
You can generate electricity with 3 main PV cells: thin-film, monocrystalline, and polycrystalline. This section briefly defines them.
Thin Film Solar Cells
Thin-film cells are typically made with thin layers of a semiconductor material like silicon. The layers are installed on a material like glass or plastic.
Due to their construction, thin-film PV panels can be used to produce a flexible and lightweight solar array.
This type of photovoltaic cell is created by cutting single-crystalline silicon into the necessary shape for a solar panel. They’re the most efficient and expensive type of PV cell.
Manufacturing them creates more waste, but they require less space to produce electricity efficiently and have a longer lifespan.
Polycrystalline photovoltaic cells are formed from melted silicon poured into shaped moulds. This manufacturing process produces less waste.
Polycrystalline solar photovoltaic panels are less efficient than monocrystalline solar panels, requiring more roof space to produce similar electricity.
Now that we’ve covered how solar panels work, let’s discuss their benefits.
Benefits of Solar PV
- Having a solar PV system installed will help reduce your carbon footprint.
- Solar energy is renewable compared to fossil fuels and will last as long as the sun burns.
- Countless appliances run on electrical energy, contributing to higher energy bills. Solar power can help reduce the financial strain of utility bills.
- Renewable energy technologies like solar PV panels are improving and will become more efficient.
Radiation vs Thermal
The sun’s energy can provide light and warmth, so solar radiation and solar thermal power can be used for your benefit.
Solar PV systems can produce enough energy but aren’t designed to address your water heating needs.
That’s where solar water heating comes in. They’re an alternative to the common heat pump or electric water heater.
Some solar technologies can also fulfil both roles, providing electricity generation and solar water heating. However, these are typically inefficient and too expensive for most households.
Components of a Solar PV System
Solar photovoltaic systems have a few main components, which we’ll discuss here.
Also known as solar PV modules, these are the main energy-producing component of a solar array. They’re typically roof-mounted but can also be installed on the ground.
The cost of installing solar PV panels varies depending on the size of your system.
The solar inverter is a critical part of all solar PV systems. The electricity produced by solar PV modules is direct current, but most household appliances utilise alternating current.
That’s where the inverter comes in. It converts the DC electricity generated by PV modules into usable power for your appliances like washing machines or dishwashers.
Battery storage is an optional part of your solar PV system, which can help you store excess solar electricity.
An electric battery is useful if you generate more electricity than you utilise but don’t want to export it back to the grid.
Solar panels are great for lowering your electricity bills, but it’s pertinent to discuss the installation cost and other considerations.
Solar PV system installation costs can range from £5000-£8000 depending on the installer you contact. Get quotes from different installers in your area for a better idea.
It’s also important to know how much photovoltaic solar panels cost if you decide to get a PV system later.
A photovoltaic module will typically last 25-30 years, provided they are regularly maintained in optimal conditions.
Servicing your panels will cost £100-£200 and can be done yearly. You’ll only incur major costs when replacing the inverter, which can cost £500-£1500.
Solar panels have a low maintenance cost because they don’t have any moving parts.
The main benefit of investing in solar renewable technologies is lowering your energy bills, but you can also earn money for your solar system’s contribution to the National Grid.
If the amount of electricity generated by your solar PV system exceeds your consumption, your excess electricity will be exported to the grid, and you’ll be paid a fee.
This was originally known as the Feed-In Tariff (FIT) scheme, but it was shut down in 2019. It was replaced by the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) scheme.
Various energy providers offer payments for customers who produce electricity and export it to the grid.
However, note that export tariffs differ depending on your energy supplier. Check the various electricity suppliers in your area to find the ideal electricity tariff.
Off-Grid or Connected?
There are 2 main types of solar arrays: Grid-connected and Off-grid.
If most of your electric power needs are fulfilled by an energy company, then you’ll likely prefer a grid-connected solar PV system.
These are typically used to supplement your household’s energy use rather than fully provide for your electricity needs.
An off-grid system is completely disconnected from the public grid and is typically used to power remote buildings.
Note that you’ll also need a form of off-grid energy storage to ensure your electricity generated doesn’t go to waste.
If you live in a cloudy area, these systems typically require a backup generator to ensure you don’t lose power when needed.
Solar PV Installation
This section will briefly discuss what you must prepare before installing solar panels in your home.
Finding an area that experiences direct sunlight is important to ensure your system generates the most solar energy.
A suitable roof for a solar panel system should be south-oriented and have a good supporting structure for the weight of the solar panels.
Gather Necessary Permits
Before you install a domestic solar PV system for your electricity needs, contact your local planning authority.
It’s important to ask whether new solar panels are regarded as permitted development. If so, you can proceed.
Otherwise, get planning permission from your local council. Getting planning permission is important, especially if you live in a conservation or protected area.
Get quotes from different installers before beginning installation, and ensure you know how large your solar panel system will be.
Larger systems will need more space and be free of shading to produce enough power. This makes ground-mounted systems preferable for larger solar arrays.
If you’re an experienced electrician, you can also take the solar PV installation course here!
Solar PV Maintenance
Here’s how to ensure your solar PV systems remain efficient.
As a home or business owner, you must also ensure that your solar photovoltaic system is up-to-date and efficient.
Have your system inspected by a professional at least once every 3-5 years.
Cleaning and Maintenance
A large plus with photovoltaic technologies is their minimal oversight. Most systems will continue generating electricity with minimal maintenance.
Remember to have your PV systems cleaned at least once a year. Depending on your PV system size, this can cost £100-£150.
Photovoltaic technology is becoming more efficient with time and is a great cost-effective way to harness renewable energy for yourself.
Though it will help you save money on energy and keep you electrically connected, note that it’s a long-term investment.
Before installing solar PV modules on your home or business, ensure a suitable roof.