Go Green: our guide to solar

Our guide to solar PV and solar thermal panels

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Whether you want to live a greener life, or find out more about the options open to you as part of the government’s Green Deal – you’ve come to the right place.

In this blog post we’ll be looking at how you can grow your own green energy and power your home for less using solar panels. So keep reading…

Why go solar?

The Great British weather isn’t always great. But that doesn’t mean we don’t get enough sunshine to make solar a real money saving option.

Solar panels are a great way of generating cheap, green energy from sunlight. According to The Energy Saving Trust, installing a 3.5kWp solar PV system on a south facing roof could generate total income and savings of around £645 a year, made up of in feed-in tariff payments and savings on your energy bill. And installing solar thermal water heating could save you between £60-85 a year on fuel (depending on the water heating system you’re replacing).

Solar is also a great way of living a greener and more environmentally friendly lifestyle – so all round, it’s a great choice. And with Green Deal loans soon to be available to help with the costs, it could be an option you might be able to consider now even if you couldn’t afford it before. All the more reason to get informed…

Well, what are your options?

There are two different types of solar systems available if you’re thinking about going solar – Solar PV and Solar Thermal.

Solar PV uses photovoltaic panels to convert sunlight into cheap green energy that can be used to power your home or sold on to the National Grid. Solar Thermal uses heat generated by the sun to warm your domestic hot water supply, cutting your fuel costs.

What you need to know about Solar PV

  • Solar PV systems use photovoltaic panels to convert sunlight into a supply of electricity that’s green, clean and sustainable and can be used to power your home.
  • On average, 50% of the energy you generate won’t be needed at home. So whatever you generate but don’t use is exported to the National Grid.
  • If your solar system is eligible for the Feed-In Tariff scheme, you’ll be paid for the green electricity you generate and use as well as the electricity you export to the Grid. Unfortunately, homes in Northern Ireland aren’t eligible for the Feed-In Tariff.
  • According to the Energy Saving Trust, a 3.5kWp Solar PV system could, on average, generate around 3,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year – about three quarters of a typical household’s electricity needs. And, if your system is eligible for the Feed-In Tariff scheme it could generate savings and income of around £645 a year (based on a 3.5kWp solar PV system eligible for a generation tariff of 15.44p/kWh).
  • Solar PV is most suitable for homes that are south-facing. Houses facing east or west generally produce around 15-20% less energy than those facing south.
  • The South West of England gets the most sun – so Solar is especially good for you if you live there.
  • You may need to clean your panels to keep them working effectively and free from bird droppings, leaves, debris and dirt. But if you have them tilted at a 15 degree angle or greater, rain water should clean them for you.
  • Generally, a 3.5-4kWp Solar PV system costs around £5,500 – £9,500 but can last for 25 years or more, with little maintenance. The system inverter will probably need replacing during this period and that would currently cost around £1,000 or so.

And what you need to know about Solar Thermal

  • Solar Thermal systems use solar panels fitted to your roof to capture heat that is then used to heat your domestic hot water supply. Solar Thermal works all year round – even in winter – and it works to reduce your energy costs and cut your carbon footprint.
  • According to The Energy Saving Trust, you could save £60 by replacing gas heating or £85 a year by replacing electric immersion heating with a Solar Thermal system. And you could save between 230 – 500kg in carbon emissions a year as well.
  • Provided your property meets the eligibility criteria, you could also be able to receive payments for the heat you generate due to start in summer 2013 as part of the government’s Renewable Heat Incentive. More details can be found here.
  • You’re set to save the most from your bills if you have an immersion heater or hot water cylinder but don’t already have gas before you install Solar Thermal.
  • Your roof should ideally be facing south and get direct sunlight to capture more heat and sunlight.
  • However, if you don’t have a south-facing roof which receives direct sunlight, you can have a “split system” installed on easy or west facing roofs. This involves putting one half of the panels on one side of your roof, and the rest on the other.
  • You’ll need at least 4 square metres of roof space. More if you have a large family.
  • And you might need planning permission if your home is in a conservation area or if you live in an area of outstanding natural beauty.
  • You’ll also need space in your home for a larger, or an extra, hot water cylinder with a solar heating coil.
  • Generally speaking, Solar Thermal systems start at £4,800 to install and a well designed system is low maintenance. They’re generally cheap to repair too – pumps can last for up to ten years and only cost around £90 to replace.

Solar and the Green Deal

Solar is one of the green home improvements that qualify as part of the Government’s Green Deal scheme. If you haven’t heard about the Green Deal yet, it’s a government-backed scheme that will enable people to take out loans to cover their energy efficient home improvements and attach the repayments to their electricity bill.

Independent assessors will work out how much each improvement should save you and what the repayments should work out to be. And the ‘golden principle’ is that you shouldn’t pay back more in a month than what you save by taking that green measure.

You can read more about the Green Deal here – and find out how it works and if it’s for you.

Are you thinking about going solar? Or surprised by how much solar can save – even in rainy old Blighty? Please leave a comment and let us know.

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