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Go solar for summer

By Rachel England Wednesday 30 April 2014

Solar power

There are lots of ways you can make the most of the sunshine – building a patio or conservatory and getting together for a barbecue, for example – but to literally make something from the sun, consider solar panels. 

Why solar panels?

Solar panels are one of the most cost-effective ways to generate your own energy, and thanks to various schemes, you can even earn money with them, too. The main benefits are:

  • Reduced energy bills. Any (free!) energy gathered by the solar panels can be used to power lights, electrical equipment, appliances – you name it! And if you’re using the sun as a power source, you’re not relying on your traditional paid-for energy supply.
  • You can be paid for the electricity you generate. Thanks to the government’s Feed-In Tariff scheme you’ll be paid for the energy your panels creates, even if you use it. Find out more here.
  • You can sell electricity back to the grid if your system makes more than you need, or if you’re not using it.

How do they work?

Find out about the science behind solar panels (and loads of other renewable technologies) in our handy guide.

How much do they cost?

The average solar panel system costs between £6,000 and £9,000 according to the Energy Saving Trust, which recommends that you get quotes from at least three different installers. But take into account the following:

  • The more electricity a system generates the more it will cost, but the more it could save.
  • Larger systems are usually more cost-effective that smaller ones.
  • Solar technology is eligible for the Green Deal, which lets people pay for their energy improvements through savings on their bills. Find out more about the Green Deal here.

It is also possible to get solar panels for free through ‘rent-a-roof’ schemes. Here, solar companies install the panels free of charge and collect any revenue generated from tariffs, while you benefit from the free energy.

How much money could I save?

The exact amount you stand to save depends on a variety of factors, such as the size of the installation and your energy usage. However, a standard 4kWp system can generate around 3,700 kilowatt hours of electricity every year – around the same amount as the typical household uses, which essentially means no more energy bills!

On top of that, you may be eligible for the Feed-In Tariff scheme. The amount of could earn again depends on a variety of factors, but the Energy Saving Trust estimates an average installation could yield nearly £800 a year in savings and income.

Do they even work in the UK?

One of the biggest misconceptions about solar panels is that they need constant and direct sunlight to work well, and therefore they’re not well suited to the UK. Of course, it’s true they work better in sunnier conditions, but solar panels still generate significant levels of energy during cloudy weather. Bear in mind that the world’s leading solar power producer and adopter is Germany, which has a very similar climate to the UK.

Using solar power means a shaky energy supply, right?

Not at all! This is another common myth about solar power, but the fact is that most solar systems are installed to supplement your existing on-grid power supply. So come rain, clouds or darkness, you’ll still be connected.

How do I choose an installer?

There are countless companies out there that tout renewable energy technologies among their specialties, but if you want to take advantage of payment plans and Feed-in Tariffs, make sure you choose an installer with accreditation from the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS). The Energy Saving Trust has lots more of information on choosing the best company here.

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