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Solar PV

Generate cheap, green electricity from sunlight.

Solar electricity systems capture the sun's energy using photovoltaic cells. The cells convert the sunlight into electricity, which can be used to run household appliances and lighting.

Photovoltaic cells don't need direct sunlight to work - you can still generate some electricity on a cloudy day.

How do photovoltaic(PV) cells work?
The benefits of solar electricity
Is solar electricity suitable for my home?
Making the most of solar electricity
Costs, savings and maintenance
Selling your electricity

How do photovoltaic (PV) cells work?

PV cells are panels you can attach to your roof or walls. Each cell is made from one or two layers of semiconducting material, usually silicon. When light shines on the cell it creates an electric field across the layers. The stronger the sunshine, the more electricity is produced.

PV cells come in a variety of shapes and colours, from grey "solar tiles" that look like roof tiles to panels and transparent cells that you can use on conservatories and glass.The strength of a PV cell is measured in kilowatt peak (kWp). That's the amount of energy the cell generates in full sunlight.

The benefits of solar electricity

Cut your carbon footprint:

Solar electricity is a green, renewable energy and doesn't release any harmful carbon dioxide (CO2) or other pollutants. A typical home PV system could save around 1 tonne of  CO2 per year - that's around 25 tonnes over its lifetime.

Cut your electricity bills:

Sunlight is free, so once you've paid for the initial installation your electricity costs will be greatly reduced. A typical home PV system can produce around 40% of the electricity a household uses in a year.

Sell electricity back to the Grid:

If your system is producing more electricity than you need, or when you can't use it, someone else can use it - and you could make a bit of money.

Store electricity for a cloudy day:

If your home isn't connected to the national grid you can store excess electricity in batteries to use when you need it.

Is solar electricity suitable for my home?

To tell if solar electricity is right for you, there are a few key questions to consider:

Do you have a sunny place to put it? You'll need a roof or wall that faces within 90 degrees of south, and isn't overshadowed by trees or buildings.If the surface is in shadow for parts of the day, your system will generate less energy.

Is your roof strong enough? Solar panels are not light and the roof must be strong enough to take their weight, especially if the panel is placed on top of existing tiles. If in doubt, ask a construction expert or an installer.

Do you need planning permission? In England, Wales Scotland and Northern Ireland, you don't need planning permission for most home solar electricity systems, as long as they're below a certain size - but you should check with your local planning officer, especially if your home is a listed building, or is in a conservation area or World Heritage Site.

Making the most of solar electricity

To make electricity you produce go further:

Invest in energy efficient appliances

Use energy when the sun is out - do your laundry during the day to take advantage of the free electricity

Costs, savings and maintenance

Costs for installing a solar electricity system vary a lot - an average system in 2011 (2.2kW) cost around £12,000 (including VAT at 5%). Per kW, solar electricity systems can cost in the region of £4,500 to £8,000 per kW, but costs per kW should reduce as system size increases. 2/2/2018: Current costs are likely to be half that of 2011 figures.

In general:

The more electricity the system can generate, the more it costs but the more it could save. Solar tiles cost more than conventional panels. Panels built into a roof are more expensive than those that sit on top but, if you need major roof repairs, PV tiles can offset the cost of roof tiles

Savings can be considerable - around 1 tonne of CO2 a year. A 2.2 kWp system can generate around 40% of a household's yearly electricity needs. If the system is eligible to receive the Feed In Tariff it could generate some savings, though there have recently (2016) been drastic reductions in support for Renewable Energy.

Maintenance is generally small - you'll need to keep the panels relatively clean and make sure trees don't begin to overshadow them.

Selling your own electricity

You can make money on excess electricity by selling it back to the Grid through a scheme called Feed in Tariffs (FITs).

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