Over the last two years more than 500,000 households in the UK have had solar panels installed.
These numbers are expected to increase with many experts believing there could be up to 10 million homes running on solar power by 2020. With electricity prices predicted to rise steadily over the next 20 years, solar power seems the way to go, the clever choice – but is it really all it’s made out to be, or is there a catch?
As with most things in life: there are pros and cons, and solar energy is no different. Here we take a closer look at solar energy in the home and go over some of the main questions and important details you should know if you’re considering switching.
Do I need plenty of sunshine for solar power to work?
This is generally the second question asked by homeowners, after the one about money and how much can be saved. The point to note here is that solar energy is generated primarily from daylight as opposed to bright, intense sunshine. Modern day photovoltaic panels are capable of generating energy even in cloudy conditions, and the panels actually work more efficiently in cooler temperatures.
How is solar power converted to electricity?
Solar energy absorbed through the installed panels generate direct current (DC) which flows through a piece of equipment called an Inverter (surprisingly small, the size of a typical domestic boiler), this inverter then converts the electricity into alternating current (AC).
This freely generated electricity then provides heat and light to the home and powers domestic appliances, rather than importing your energy through the national grid and having to pay for it.
What are the benefits of solar panels?
When you install electricity-generating technology in your home from a renewable or low-carbon source such as solar or wind turbine there are a number of benefits. After paying the initial installation costs, you could be paid for all surplus electricity you export to the grid through the UK Government’s Feed-in Tariffs scheme (FITs), in addition to using it yourself.
And importantly, solar electricity is green renewable energy and doesn’t release harmful carbon dioxide or other pollutants into the atmosphere. A typical home solar PV system is estimated to save over a tonne of carbon dioxide each year – more than 30 tonnes over its working lifetime.
Are there any safety issues with solar generated power?
Where there is heat and electricity there is always a degree of risk. The numbers of fires involving solar panels requiring the fire services is miniscule compared to the other main causes of household fires, such as, faulty gas and electrical equipment, or appliances, open fuel fires and cigarettes, etc. In many incidents involving solar panel initiated fires, the cause has been found to be poor workmanship or negligence.
For for fire services, solar panels present additional challenges to an already risky profession. The problem with solar panels is the system generates direct current electricity which is later converted to the less harmful alternating current but parts of the system cannot be switched off, making them more hazardous.
As more of the UK’s coal-fired power stations and ageing nuclear reactors are taken out of commission, the demands to replace this lost energy generation becomes greater. With solar panel installation set to increase, the costs of the technology will fall dramatically, making solar power an ever more attractive alternative.
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