Why solar panels can be a ray of sunshine for the future

PUBLISHED: 15:30 19 October 2011 | UPDATED: 20:10 20 February 2013

Why solar panels can be a ray of sunshine for the future

Why solar panels can be a ray of sunshine for the future

Solar panels are an environmentally-friendly way to power your home and they can not only save you money, but make you money as well

As the raindrops chase down the windows again and the wind blows more leaves from the trees the idea of powering your home with solar energy may seem laughable but growing numbers of people are turning to alternative sources. Concern over the dwindling supplies of fossil fuels allied to high fuel prices and an increased awareness of our environmental impact have all led to the surge in interest.

While arguments rage in towns and villages across the country about the siting of windfarms and debates rumble on about the cost-efficiency of off-shore turbines, solar photovoltaic (PV) panels are seen by many as a more affordable, small scale way of making a difference.

The government has a commitment to generate 34 per cent of UK electricity from renewables by 2020 the figure is currently less than seven per cent but although there is widespread acceptance of the need to generate environmentally friendly power and to move away from our dependence on fossil fuels, take up levels are still low.

So if rising fuel prices are the stick, the potential to make energy pay for consumers is the carrot.

Solar PV panels on the roof of a home or business can not only help the environment and save money on fuel bills, they can make money, too. The feed in tariff was launched last year and is payable to owners of solar panels or other forms of eco-friendly power generation, such as domestic wind turbines for each kilowatt hour of electricity their system generates, even when they use it themselves.

And there is an additional payment for electricity which is not used and is then fed back into the national grid. The rate at which payments have been set is 41.3pence per kilowatt hour for all electricity generated, with a further three pence per kilowatt hour for electricity exported to the national grid.

These figures are due to remain unchanged until April next year when a government review of feed in tariffs is completed. The tariffs will decrease annually as prices for buying and installing solar equipment fall and are planned to reach zero within the decade.

But here in Lancashire, especially at this time of year as the nights draw in, sunshine is at a premium. Does that make solar panels redundant? Not according to Mike Alger of Jack Cunliffe Electrical in Poulton-le-Fylde.

Solar PV panels run off daylight, not sunshine, so the only time they arent generating electricity is in the dark, he said. Even on a cloudy day solar panels can be generated electricity, making you money and saving you money.

In this country this is all a relatively new thing and we are lagging behind other countries but once word of mouth starts to go round and people can actually see the friends, family and neighbours are making money with solar panel, then take up rates will improve.

And Mike, who recently trained in the installation of solar technology, added: Around 10 or 12 panels can fit on the roof of an average semi-detached house which can generate about 2.2kw an hour and on a detached house, that figure can rise to around 4kw. Those panels will generate electricity all day, whether you are in the house or not.

If you are in and run the washing machine for instance, then its free because you are generating the electricity. If you are out and just have the fridge and freezer running, the rest of the electricity will feed to the national grid. As long as you have a meter fitted it will track how much you and you will be given money every quarter for the electricity you have created.

Many new homes have environmentally-friendly features built in but even on older homes without ukdouble glazing or the recommended quantity of insulation, solar panels can make a difference.

Matt Hodgson from Brian Hodgson Electrical, based at Kirkham, said: Obviously a house will be more energy efficient the more heat it retains but even older less energy efficient can definitely benefit from having solar PV panel installed. They are a worthwhile investment for any kind of home.

There are certain restrictions if your home is a listed building it may not be possible to have solar panels fitted and there are other complications if your home is in the shadow of tall trees or tall buildings. In many cases that problem can be worked around, however, by placing the panels where they will maximise the available light.

And Matt, the third generation to work for the Kirkham-based family firm, added: We have six panels on the roof of the office which generate around 1.5kw an hour and power the lights and the computer. And when were out, the electricity goes to the national grid. Its a win-win situation.

The benefits of solar PV electricity

Lowers carbon emissions: Solar PV electricity is renewable once its installations carbon payback time is accounted for

Save money: Electricity bills could be reduced by as much as 250 per year. A typical home PV system can produce around 50 per cent of the electricity of an average household in a year.

Make money: If the system is producing more electricity than needed, or at times during the day when you are not at home, someone else can use it by either exporting by a private wire or to the grid

Energy storage options: If a home is not connected to the grid, excess electricity can be stored in batteries

Do you generate your own power? Tell us your stories at letters@lancashirelife.co.uk or write to us at Lancashire Life, 3 Tustin Court, Port Way, Preston, Lancashire, PR2 2YQ.

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