Solar Spectrum Ltd

Solar Panel PV Installations

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Questions & Answers for Solar PV only


I am confused about the cost and the changes to the Feed in Tariff?

Individuals who have a Solar PV installation installed will receive the current Feed in Tariff rate at the time of their installation, and that rate will stay the same for the next 20 years and is index linked. For example, installations completed April 2012 received 43.3p/kWh and this has now increased as a result of index linking (the other rates will remain the same). Any future Feed in Tariff reductions apply to new installations only. Your Feed in Tariff rate is fixed for 20 years at the current tariff rate of the date of install, this will NOT change.

What is PV?

PV stands for photovoltaic. 'Photo' refers to light and 'voltaic' refers to electricity. Essentially, PV panels turn light (the sun's electromagnetic radiation energy) into electricity using the photoelectric effect. They do not need be warm or need the air around them to be warm to generate electricity. In fact they operate slightly more efficiently when they are cooler.

Is PV expensive?

PV is now a reasonably mature technology. The cost of a typical home installation has come down by between 35-50% over the last ten years. And now that the government is promoting solar PVs through the new Feed-in Tariff they can be quite profitable. PV now makes economic sense for you and your home. Although PV installations do require a certain level of capital, the return on your investment (that's the important bit) can be both healthy and guaranteed.

Could Solar PVs ever meet the worlds electricity needs?

It would only take 3% of the Sahara desert to provide the world with all the solar energy it needed. However, transmitting that energy all the way from the Sahara would prove slightly tricky and that is why we are advocates of having PV installed on the free area that we have on the roofs of our homes.

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How important is PV Panel orientation? Are south facing Solar Panels always the best?

There are some exceptions to the rule that south facing panels generate the most solar power. The first obvious one is that this rule only applies to homes in the northern hemisphere. The second exception can come from cloud cover. If for example your area tends to be very cloudy in the morning and clearer in the afternoon then there may be a slight benefit if you roof is facing south west. The third exception can come from your energy-use habits. If you use very little energy in the morning, but lots during the afternoon and early evening, it may be financially beneficial to have your panels facing south west. In this case, although you would produce less energy overall, the energy would be more valuable to you because you would consume it on-site (and you may save more on your bill than you get from your export bonus). However, given the long lifetimes of the panels, and how things change with time, south facing is still your best bet.

About the Panels

What are Solar Modules?

Solar modules are the official 'correct' term for solar electric panels. These modules are made from several tens of solar cells linked together 'in series' by wires and protected by a sturdy aluminium frame with a glass cover.

What are Solar Cells?

A solar cell is a wafer (the size of a beer mat) of a semiconductor (usually silicon) chemically treated (e.g. boron on one side, phosphorous on the other) with thin wires running through it which collect the free electrons generated when light hits its surface.

How much energy does it take to make and install a Solar Panel?

Standard multicrystalline PVs recoup the energy it takes to make and install them (their 'embodied energy') in about 4 years according to an article published by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Most of the energy is used to purify and crystallise the silicon. Six months of energy payback time comes from the aluminium frame.

What are 'Thin Film' Solar Panels.

Thin film PV panels consist of a thin semiconductor coating on a supporting thin lightweight substrate. They use much less semiconductor material than standard cells and are much cheaper. However, they are around half as efficient and their long-term performance is not yet as stable. Their embodied energy is about a quarter of a standard panel and they pay this energy back in about two years of normal operation.

Do the manufactures use toxic chemicals to make the Panels?

In comparison to other energy generation means such as fossil fuels and nuclear energy PV is a much more benign technology. Nevertheless, harsh chemicals are used in the production of the panels although the federally funded National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) concluded 'By using well designed industrial processes and careful monitoring, PV manufacturers have minimised risks to where they are far less than those in most major industries. All of those risks fall well within the range already protected by OSHA and similar regulation'. Panel recycling is a matter of growing importance to the industry and this will ensure these chemical do not go to land-fill but are returned to the factories to be reused.

About the Installation

Do I need Planning Permission to put Solar PVs on my roof?

In England, Wales and Scotland, you don't need planning permission for most home solar electricity systems, as long as they're below a certain size - but you should check with your local planning officer, especially if your home is a listed building, or in a conservation area or World Heritage Site: we can only give general guidance here. You'll find full details on the government's legislation sites:

England – General Permitted Development Order (GPDO)
Scotland – Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Domestic Microgeneration) (Scotland) Amendment Order 2009
Wales – The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment) (Wales) Order 2009)

How long does it take to install a PV System?

Typically it takes just one day to install and get your panels up and running although it can take up to two days if you have many panels or if access to your roof is difficult.

What is an Inverter?

Your inverter will convert the DC current that your panels generate into alternating current (AC) which is then compatible with the national grid.

Living with PVs (after the installation)

How do I get paid for the electricity my Panels generate?

Once your chosen installer has installed your generating technology, take these steps to register for FITs. Ask your installer to register you on the central MCS database. The installer will then send you a certificate confirming MCS compliance.

Tell your chosen FIT supplier/energy supplier that you wish to register for the FIT, and send them a completed application form, the MCS certificate for solar PV, and the Energy Performance Certificate (that shows your home has an energy efficiency rating band D or better).

Your FIT supplier/energy supplier will cross-reference your installation with the MCS database, and undertake other eligibility checks. They will then confirm your eligibility and the date you are eligible for payments from. Then add you to the Ofgem Central FIT Register, which records all installations in the FIT scheme, and agree with you if and when you will need to provide meter readings and when they will make FIT payments to you – these will form part of your statement of FIT terms.

Do I have to change my lifestyle if I am using Solar Power?

You can live exactly as you did before you installed your solar panel. You can use the same electrical appliances etc as you are still connected to the national grid. You may find, however, that you will naturally tend to use less energy as you gradually become more energy conscious. The sense of helping the environment and doing your bit for the future may even improve your quality of life.

Do I need to clean my Panels?

Generally panels are self-cleaning due to the action of the good old UK rain and the slope of your roof. If you live in a very polluted area there is a possibility that the glass cover of your panels may get grimy over time which may affect the performance. PV panels can be cleaned in the same way as windows.

What happens if there is a power cut?

The PV system is designed to shut down in the case of a power cut to prevent power-line workers (working on local transmission cables) receiving an electric shock from your solar panels. This means if the grid goes down and there is a power cut to your home you won't be able to get power from your panels (if you have a standard grid connected system). To get around this (if you need to in the future) it is possible to go 'off-grid'.

Can I be fully independent and go 'off-grid'?

To go off-grid you would need a bank of batteries to store the energy your produce. Current battery lifetimes are around 7 years and some energy is lost in the storage process. Battery technology has come a long way in recent years and is set to improve considerably in the future which may make this a good option in the future - especially if you are able to go with other energy-generating technologies like wind power.