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Installation Guide

We have compiled a comprehensive guide for all those looking for more information on solar panel installation and selecting the right system for your project.

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Solar Panel FAQ

Still have questions about generating domestic solar energy or selecting a solar panel installer? We have answered your common questions.

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Solar Panel FAQ’s:

Sunlight is a form of energy; when the light hits the layers of silicon (a semi-conductor) which are contained in a solar panel, the form of the energy is changed from light into electrical energy. The electrical energy is then transported via a wiring system into the inverter, where it is converted from direct current (DC) to the alternating current (AC) which is used to power common household appliances.

Once the AC current has been produced, some will go directly to power your home whilst the excess will be stored in batteries for later use. Any power left over after that will be sent to the National Grid for use by other households. Because it is the sun’s energy rather than unsustainable fossil fuels which creates the electricity, solar panels are seen as a clean, environmentally friendly option.

 

Solar Installation Explained

 

Normally yes! Although the initial outlay for the purchase and installation of solar panels can be significant, there are a number of ways in which these costs can be recouped within a few years through savings on your energy bill and the income made by selling the excess power you generate back to the National Grid.

How you finance your installation obviously has implications for the level of savings you will make. If you pay for installation up-front, as soon as your photovoltaic panels become operational you will immediately see a drop in you energy costs, as your domestic power needs will be partially met from your solar generation system. In addition, once you opt in to the “Feed-in Tariff”, the government pays you for every kWh your system produces, regardless of whether you use it yourself or export it to the National Grid. Known as the “Feed-in Tariff” this index-linked subsidy is currently set at 14.33p per kWh. Solar panel owners also receive a separate payment of 4.77p per kWh for electricity passed to the National Grid. Clearly the cost of the panels (typically between £4000 and £6000 for an average home installation) needs to be offset against the savings made, but as solar power installations are normally guaranteed for twenty-five years and expected to last for another twenty-five, over time the initial costs are recouped and a modest profit is almost always achievable.

Homeowners who haven’t got the funds needed for a solar installation can get the work financed through the government’s Green Deal scheme. This is a loan scheme which enables solar panels to be fitted for no up-front cost. Once operational, the cost of the installation is gradually recouped from the cash made through the Feed-in Tariff and By-back income. This can work well for cash-strapped homeowners, but the interest charged on the Green Deal loan results in profits being less than if the solar panels are paid for through other methods.

Factors such as number of solar panels, panel type, panel postion, aspect and pitch as well as property location will all affect the level of power produced and therefore the potential income made.

Because the sun shines everywhere, solar panels will always generate some electricity, even during the winter months. Obviously during cloudy weather the level of solar radiation reaching the panels is reduced, as some is blocked by the clouds.

There are also seasonal variations to consider, with summer output typically being higher than winter generation levels in the Northern Hemisphere. Homes in more northerly latitudes receive less sunlight each day, due to their position in relation to the sun.

Fortunately, even taking all these factors into consideration, in the majority of cases the income from generated power still exceeds installation costs in the long term. Provided your panels have the right aspect and are correctly mounted, the amount of energy produced will still be significant, even during a typical British Summer!

A common goal amongst many homeowners is to generate enough electricity through solar panels to be independent of the National Grid. Whilst many domestic solar installations produce enough power to meet the needs of a family, the difficulty lies in storing that power until it is needed. Inevitably solar power generation fluctuates during the day as well as on a seasonal basis. These fluctuations don’t match the energy needs of a family, so whilst there may, for example, be plenty of power available in the middle of the day, peak times for energy usage tend to be first thing in the morning or during the evening.

Once a battery has been perfected that can efficiently store generated power for a few months, ensuring a year-round constant electricity supply, it will be entirely possible for families to live completely off-grid. Currently there is considerable research into the development of a suitable battery, but initial prototypes are prohibitively expensive so further work is necessary. If you would prefer to rely on the National Grid as little as possible, reducing energy consumption is probably the best method at the moment. Potentially, once developed, a suitable battery could be added to the circuitry of an existing installation, so it’s worth looking out for information on further advances in this area.

One of the most satisfying aspects of generating your own power is keeping track of how much you’ve created and what savings you have made. Luckily, a number of monitors have been produced which record data on variables such as current power generation levels, total energy production and reduction in individual carbon footprint which has been achieved through opting for solar electricity rather than power from traditional sources which has been produced using fossil fuels.

A simple monitor costs only a few pounds and can be easily fixed to a convenient wall for accessible perusal. More complicated monitors are equipped with the technology to send data to different locations, enabling you to gain instant information on your energy statistics from your laptop or iPhone. Generally homeowners tend to choose one of the basic models, with commercial solar power generating businesses selecting a more sophisticated type.

Obviously the optimal location for solar panels is on a south facing roof, as the sun’s rays have the greatest strength whilst the sun is in the south of the sky (around midday).

Don’t worry if only the east or west aspects of your roof are available for panels, as power output is estimated to be only around 15% less than if a southerly aspect was chosen. Unfortunately, a north facing roof isn’t usually suitable for solar panels, simply because power output will be extremely small and is unlikely to offset the installation costs, even over a decade or two of operation. It’s also important to ensure that your roof isn’t overshadowed by tall trees or adjacent buildings, as these will block out the sun and prevent your panels from generating power effectively.

Although generally homeowners don’t need planning permission to install solar panels, if you live in certain locations, such as an AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) or a National Park, then you may well have to get permission as solar panels do have a visual impact. Your local council will be able to advice on whether you need permission.

Permission may also be needed from the relevant body (usually English Heritage or the local council) if you have a historically important home (for example a listed building), where the installation of panels might be seen to compromise its exterior aesthetics. It’s worth remembering that panels are now available which blend with existing roof colours and that photovoltaic (PV) tiles are also available, which can be used to generate power without impacting unduly on the external appearance of a property. For farms, churches or schools who would like to install solar panels, a quick call to the local council will confirm whether planning permission is required.

Because the panels have no moving parts and are constructed to resist extremes of temperature, moisture damage and the effects of salt or acid, they usually require minimal maintenance.

The charge controller, isolator, batteries, control panel and inverter (the piece of equipment which converts the generated DC (Direct Current) into the AC (Alternating Current) which is needed for most domestic use, are all straight-forward components which are unlikely to malfunction. As electricity can be dangerous, the pieces of a solar panel system are all tested to an extremely high standard and require construction from premium build materials. Relevant industry certifications are needed, which help ensure that your installation is both safe and durable.

Obviously it is important to check your system regularly for wear and tear, as well as being alert to unusual fluctuations in power production which may indicate that something has gone awry. Visual inspection of the panels and mountings is also sensible periodically. Although panels are fixed to the roof using specially shaped mountings which are designed to securely hold components in place, occasionally one may shift or slip, in which case prompt remedial action is required.

As most professionally installed systems come with a twenty-five year warranty, if you encounter any problems during that period you can ask the contractors to come out and put things right. Beyond the duration of the guarantee you will need to finance repairs yourself. Generally the straight-forward nature of the system and premium quality of the parts means that extensive maintenance is highly unlikely.

The main function of a solar panel is to trap energy from the sun and convert it to electricity. This is achieved through the use of silicon, which is present in every type of solar panel. Manufacturers can produce panels which are either monocrystalline (each part of the panel is covered by a thin layer of silicon which has been cut from the same silicon crystal), polycrystalline (silicon slices from several different crystals have been employed) or amorphous (a very thin layer of silicon is spread over a backing of glass or metal). Monocrystalline panels were the first form of solar panel developed and are well-known for their high-efficiency and superb durability, due to the large amount of silicon which is used. Because silicon is an expensive element to source, monocrystalline panels are normally the priciest. Polycrystalline panels are slightly less efficient but also cheaper. Amorphous PV panels often cost least and have the advantage of enhanced flexibility. They are the least efficient of the three choices and tend not to have the extreme longevity of the former options.

Aside from some consideration of roof shape and location (the enhanced give of an amorphous panel makes it a good choice for an awkward corner where a curved surface might be needed), choice of panel essentially depends on balancing the initial investment price against the potential return. Usually an installer can provide a selection of costed options which will enable you to decide which type will ultimately prove most cost-effective given your individual circumstances.

A solar power system can be installed by a technically competent homeowner but there are several reasons why most people prefer an approved installer.

Green Deal beneficiaries are required to use a company approved by the initiative to carry out the work. If you are financing the fitting yourself, using a reputable, accredited installer who offers a guarantee ensures you have some comeback in the event that your system malfunctions in some way. Experienced providers will have plenty of expert knowledge on the type of system that would best meet your needs and can offer solutions to complex fitting or running problems. Like any other DIY task, if you undertake an installation yourself then you have to take responsibility for sourcing the correct materials, acquiring the right tools and undertaking the installation and maintenance of the system without the safety net of a guarantee should things go wrong. This can potentially add a large sum onto a DIY project as costly tools, parts and labour are required to sort out glitches. Whilst many people can fit solar panels themselves, they often lack the expertise to fine-tune it in order to maximise power production. This leads to a significantly diminished return on their investment.

Another issue for DIY installers is that self-installed panels may put potential buyers off purchasing your property, as there is no evidence that the installation process has been safely or satisfactorily undertaken. Money saving is frequently a reason why people consider undertaking installation themselves; unfortunately, the cost of putting things right if they go wrong, particularly if an accredited contractor has to be employed to undertake remedial work, can far outstrip the cost of using a professional in the first place. For most properties and homeowners, generally an approved installer is a more sensible solution.

If you have opted for Green Deal financing, then the outstanding payments for the installation are simply transferred with the house.

Green Deal is an innovative financial product in that the debt is attached to the house, not the homeowner. Homeowners who have had the panels installed at their own expense normally find they add value to the home as buyers appreciate the energy saving potential they offer. Make sure you have the installer’s details and evidence of relevant warranties and guarantees to hand so that buyers can be assured you have used an accredited installer. If you have installed the panels yourself, their attractiveness to buyers depends on personal preference. Some may be appreciative of the asset, whilst others will view DIY installations with suspicion and be concerned about the hazards a DIY power installation might present.

In a standard domestic installation, the inverter and other vital equipment is installed in the loft area, directly below the solar panels. This has the advantage of keeping everything out of the way and not taking up valuable storage space in the main part of the home. The disadvantages are that space in the loft is diminished, making a conversion or other uses problematic and the extremes of temperature found in a loft (typically they get very hot during the summer months and chilly during the colder seasons) can slightly diminish the efficiency of the inverter.

If you have outside space available, there’s no reason why an inverter can’t be installed in a garage, out building or other secure space which is weather proof, dry and suitable for housing electrical equipment. This is often the most appropriate solution for larger installations or where the loft already has an alternative use. The equipment does need to be as close to the panels as practically possible, so it’s worth discussing the storage issue with your installer early on in the design process to check which locations will work best.

Like any other form of power production and use, it is common sense to ensure that your panels and the associated equipment are appropriate for their intended use and have been installed by a competent individual. Reassuringly, panels and other solar energy products are required to comply with strict industry legislation to ensure they are fit for purpose and will work properly. A solar installation has a number of safety features included, such as isolator switches, which minimise the risk of power surges or other electrical problems developing. With all these safeguards in place, solar installations are normally an extremely low risk addition to your home.

Some people are concerned about the levels of electromagnetic radiation which are released during power generation. Whilst electromagnetic radiation in large amounts can be damaging, there are currently no scientific studies which indicate that a domestic installation presents any significant risk to health provided it has been correctly installed and the parts and panels are in good condition. Whilst any form of energy generation has potential health risks (the emissions of carbon monoxide from gas installations, for example, or the toxic nitrogen dioxide which is produced when a fire or log burner is ignited), the general consensus amongst specialists in the field suggests the risks of solar power production are minimal and extremely well managed in a residential installation.

The majority of conventionally tiled roofs provided they are in a good state of repair and don’t face north, are suitable as a site for solar panels. Tile, slate and most other commonly used materials (including those used on flat roofs) can usually accommodate solar panels, provided they have strong rafters beneath. The only exception is a thatched roof, which is unsuited to PV panel installation. The pitch of the roof is also important. Steeper aspects reduce the level of light which will reach an installation. The best pitch is between 30 to 44 degrees, depending on latitudinal position. If your roof pitch falls outside these parameters, panels can be mounted on adjustable tilts that enable them to be pitched in a way which maximises the amount of sunlight which reaches them.

Ideally the roof needs to face south, although a good power yield can still be achieved with roofs which have a south westerly or south easterly aspect. Although some return can still be made on panels located to the east and west, these locations are not the most advantageous. More northerly aspects are unsuitable as insufficient light will reach the panel to achieve significant power generation.

Tall chimneys, overhanging trees, adjacent buildings and projected windows can all obscure parts of the roof. If you have any of these features on your property, then panels will need to be located on parts of the roof which are unaffected.