You may think that Britain's wet and rather grey climate does not make it an ideal place to harness solar energy. However, different systems have been developed that can harness power from the sun in almost any climate.
The are several key benefits of using solar energy. The scarcity of fossil fuels will undoubtedly drive up the price of oil and gas in the coming years so switching to renewable sources of energy can be a great financial investment. It is also an efficient way of reducing your carbon footprint and moving towards a more self-sufficient way of powering your home.
What systems are available?
There are two main systems for harnessing solar power. The first is Photovaltaic electric solar panels. With this system, photons from the sun are converted to electrons within the PV solar cell and are channelled to produce an electric current.
With PV electric solar panels you can generate energy to heat your home while at the same time selling any surplus energy back to the grid. The government's feed-in tariffs will give you a better rate of return on investment than merely keeping it in the bank.
The second option are thermal panels. These panels will harness solar energy to heat the water in your home for showers and baths. They can also be used to heat swimming pools.
Solar thermal collector technology uses radiation from the sun and converts it into energy to heat domestic hot water. The panels have a life expectancy of over 25 years and do not require any maintenance by the owner. However, it is advised that they be serviced every 5 years to ensure they are working efficiently.
Your home will still require a boiler to top up your hot water needs if the panels have not absorbed sufficient energy. However your bills should be significantly reduced.
Does solar energy work in the British climate?
There is a common misconception that thermal panels are not appropriate for the British climate. On the contrary, thermal panels are known to work very well in the UK as they do not require direct sunlight to work. Photons can penetrate clouds and radiation from the sun is present even on cloudy days or when it is raining.
How much do solar panels cost?
The price of installing thermal panels and the amount of hot water they will produce will vary depending on the size and location of your home and the needs of your family. There is no one size fits all technology but free quotes are available from many companies online. Which technology is best for your circumstances will depend on various factors and you should talk through your options with a consultant. There are also home energy grants available from the government. The solar thermal grant is currently £400.