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Everything you need to know about solar panels

Posted on 21 April 2016

Solar panels are an amazing way to reduce your carbon footprint and are one of the most eco-friendly upgrades you can make to your home. In fact, the average domestic solar panel system can save more than 30 tonnes of CO2 over its lifetime!

However, despite an increase in popularity over recent years, there’s still quite a lot of confusion surrounding solar panels. If you’ve been thinking about upgrading your home with solar panels but aren’t sure where to begin, we’ve answered some of the most common questions below.

How do solar panels work?

Solar panels are made up of photovoltaic (PV) cells, which absorb sunlight and convert it into electricity. That electricity can then be used to power any appliances in your home. You don’t need to worry about switching them on or off either – once they’ve been installed they’re constantly running, always working to generate electricity.

You might also hear people talking about thermal panels, but these are only used to heat water, not to generate electricity.

Would my home be suitable for solar panels?

While solar panels are a great way to become more eco-friendly, there are certain homes that aren’t suitable for them. First and foremost, you need to own your home if you want solar panels. And if you live in a flat, solar panels probably won’t be the right option for you.

Ideally, you want a home with a large, south facing roof, angled at between 30º and 45º. You can still use solar panels on a flat roof, but you would usually be advised to mount a frame on the roof to raise the panels to the optimum angle.

Do I need planning permission to install solar panels?

Since a change to legislation in 2008, fitting solar panels is now deemed ‘permitted development’, which means you don’t need planning permission, unless you live in a listed building or a conservation area. In these scenarios, you’d need to apply for planning permission before moving forward.

Is it ever sunny enough in the UK for solar panels to work?

The UK may not be the sunniest country in the world, but that doesn’t mean solar panels won’t work here. Obviously the more sun they receive the better, but solar panels will still work and generate electricity in cloudy, overcast weather.

How much do solar panels cost?

The price of fitting your home with solar panels will depend on the quality of the panels and the size of your roof. Thanks to advances in technology and mass market production, the average cost has reduced by around 70% in recent years. Now, a 4kW solar system for a family home will cost you around £6,000 - £8,000.

How long will my solar panels last?

Usually, solar panels will come with a 25 year performance guarantee from their manufacturer, but they should last for a good 10-15 years more than this. After about 12-15 years you may need to replace your inverter, which is the device that converts the sunlight from the panels into electricity.

How much will I save?

The amount of money you save on your electricity bill will depend on where you live, how many solar panels you have and how much sunlight they’re getting. A 4kW solar system for a family home could save you around £400 a year on your energy bills. Some homes have been known to generate so much electricity they actually make money, by selling excess energy back to the grid!

Want more inspiration for how you can make your home more eco-friendly? Check out our list of 5 of the most energy efficient homes in the UK.

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