How Solar Energy Works
With the true environmental costs of fossil fuels becoming more widely known by governments, businesses and individuals, green energy solutions like solar energy have become significantly more popular in the last two decades.
The sun is a fantastic source of energy, offering limitless energy with none of the environmental downsides of fossil fuels such as oil, coal or natural gas. It’s also a highly affordable source of energy that’s suitable for homes and businesses.
Whether you’re interested in solar energy as a cleaner alternative to the numerous non-renewable energy sources used today or as a method of generating free energy for your home or business, there are plenty of reasons to try solar.
Over the last two decades, homeowners, businesses and governments in a range of countries have started to take solar seriously, investing heavily in solar panels and providing incentives for individuals and businesses to switch to solar energy.
Thanks to the Feed-in Tariff system and the increasingly affordable cost of modern solar panels, there’s never been a better time to install solar panels in your home or commercial building.
Would you like to learn more about how solar energy works? Read on to learn how modern solar energy systems convert sunlight into a usable source of energy that’s ideal for your home or business.
Solar energy quick facts:
- Over the last decade, solar panels have become much more affordable. It can cost just a few thousand pounds to fit solar panels to your home or building.
- Solar panels require very little maintenance, making the cost of solar energy extremely low once solar panels have been purchased and installed.
- Using the Feed-in Tariff system, you can feed solar energy back into the grid if your home generates more power than it uses.
- The vast majority of homes and buildings, even those in cool regions without consistent heat, can benefit from solar energy.
- Since solar energy has no long-term negative environmental impact, it’s an excellent option for making your home or building more eco-friendly.
The basics of solar energy
Until relatively recently, most people relied on non-renewable sources of energy such as fossil fuels. These fuels offer cheap energy, albeit with an immense toll on the environment. Fossil fuels are also non-renewable, with a limited supply.
The sun provides an unlimited supply of energy in the form of sunlight. Using the photovoltaic cells in modern solar panels, it’s possible to convert this sunlight into usable energy through the photovoltaic effect.
Solar panels have been used since the late 1950s to power spacecraft and satellites. In the last few decades, advances in solar technology have made solar energy more affordable, making it a viable option for homes and businesses around the world.
The design and materials used in solar panels have also become more efficient. This has made the cost of generating electricity from solar equipment significantly lower than it was just five to 10 years ago.
Modern solar panels are made up of photovoltaic (PV) cells – special cells that can convert light into electricity. The solar panels you see on rooftops are made up of many groups of solar cells, all of which are connected as part of a single panel.
When light comes into contact with a solar panel, some of the light is absorbed by the silicon material in the PV cell. Since silicon is a semiconductor, the energy can flow through the PV cell to form an electrical current.
PV cells are actually made up of two separate electrical fields: a positive field, which is made using silicon mixed with boron, and a negative field, which is made of silicon mixed with phosphorous.
As light touches the solar panel, electrons shift between one field and the other. In a large solar panel made up of many PV cells, this process can produce a steady source of electricity that can be used to power a home, apartment or commercial building.
On average, solar panels are between 15 and 20% efficient. This means that around 15 or 20 per cent of the light that comes into contact with a solar panel is converted into usable energy.
Although PV cells were originally very expensive (the average cost per watt was almost £50 in the 1970s) the growth of solar energy has reduced the cost of solar panels, making solar energy an affordable option for businesses and homeowners.
Unlike other sources of energy, which typically have consistent costs based on the amount of energy consumed, solar energy costs very little after solar equipment is installed.
Solar energy is also very flexible. On days with little or no sunlight, your home or commercial building can use power from the grid. During sunny weather, you can make full use of your solar energy system.
In addition to photovoltaic solar panels, there are other solar systems that convert sunlight into energy. These include solar water heating, which can operate with gas or electric water heating to provide year-round hot water.
The benefits of solar energy
There are numerous benefits of solar energy, from its limited cost to its low impact on the environment. Some of the most significant benefits of solar energy, from both a user and environmental perspective, are listed below:
Solar energy produces no pollution
Compared to non-renewable sources of energy such as coal and oil, solar energy is an extremely green, non-polluting form of energy. Solar panel systems do not cause any direct pollution, making solar energy a clean, environmentally friendly choice.
While there is some level of pollution created in the process of manufacturing solar panels, the amount is minimal when compared to the level of pollution produced by non-renewable sources of energy.
Solar energy is renewable
Solar energy is a renewable source of energy, meaning it will never run out. Unlike fossil fuels and other non-renewable energy sources, there is such a vast supply of solar energy that it could theoretically be used to power the entire world.
Because solar energy is so abundant, investing in solar panels protects homeowners and businesses against a rise in the cost of non-renewable energy caused by limited supply.
Solar energy does not contribute to climate change
Since solar panels don’t produce any emissions while creating energy, they have no effect on climate change. Since solar energy is affordable and easy to install, it’s the most accessible source of energy with no impact on the climate.
Although wind, tidal and hydroelectric energy also have little to no negative impact on climate change, they’re significantly more expensive and far less accessible than solar energy.
Solar energy is a predictable form of energy
Since solar panels produce energy without any significant running costs, they’re a reliable and predictable source of energy. Solar power isn’t subject to the pricing changes that can make other forms of energy less affordable.
Sunlight isn’t an asset that can be owned by any one company, making solar energy a great way to protect your business or household against the price fluctuations that are common with other forms of energy.
Solar energy is a highly affordable form of energy
As well as being very predictable and consistent, solar energy is an affordable form of energy. Aside from the initial cost of purchasing and installing solar equipment, there are no significant costs associated with solar energy.
In some cases, homeowners can save tens of thousands of pounds over a period of several decades by installing solar panels and changing from non-renewable energy to solar energy.
You can sell your excess solar energy
If your home or business uses solar panels to generate energy but doesn’t use all of the electricity it generates, you can earn money by selling your electricity back into the grid through the Feed-in Tariff scheme.
The Feed-in Tariff can be used to lower your monthly energy bills or to generate an additional source of payments. The Feed-In Tariff scheme is also available for wind turbine owners interested in selling excess electricity.
Are you interested in selling energy back into the grid? Read more about the Feed-In Tariff and other government energy incentives for UK homes.
Learn more about the benefits of solar energy for both residential and commercial buildings in our Benefits of Solar Energy guide.
Is solar energy right for your property?
Almost any property can benefit from solar energy. Although many people believe that solar panels are more efficient in warm weather, any location with sunlight is suitable for solar power.
Solar panels are typically installed on the roof of your property. They tend to be the most effective when installed in clear, open areas without obstacles such as trees or nearby buildings that can block available light.
Panels can be installed facing south, in order to get as much exposure as possible to daytime sunlight, or on east-west facing roofs to generate a steady supply of power as the sun moves throughout the day.
The amount of solar panels that your home will require varies based on your energy needs and the efficiency of the solar cells. It can also vary based on the total amount of sunlight your home receives due to its location and nearby obstacles.
Are you interested in solar energy for your home or commercial building? Read our Is Solar Energy Right For Your Property? guide to learn more about solar energy and your property.
How much does solar energy cost?
One of the biggest benefits of solar energy is that it’s significantly more affordable than other forms of energy in the long term. After solar panels have been installed, the cost of running a solar energy system is extremely low.
Due to the growing popularity of solar energy, the cost of solar panels is constantly decreasing. The cost of solar panels has dropped by as much as 70% over the past decade, largely due to increased demand.
The cost of solar panels for your home varies based on your energy consumption. On average, it costs between £4,000 and £6,000 to install solar panels capable of generating approximately 2,550 annual kWh in a typical home in the UK.
Other factors, such as your home’s location and exposure to sunlight, affect the type and amount of solar panels that it requires. This can increase or reduce the cost of installing photovoltaic solar panels on your home.
The real savings made possible by solar energy occur over the long term. Since light is completely free and solar panels require very little maintenance, solar panels can generate electricity at no cost over a period of 20 years or more.
This means that despite the initial cost of installing solar panels, you can save a large amount of money on your energy bill over the long term. With the Feed-in Tariff, it’s also possible to generate a return from your solar panels by selling back electricity.
Are you interested in solar energy? Learn more about the cost of solar energy in our How Much Does Solar Energy Cost? guide.
Would you like to install solar at home?
Are you interested in solar power? From reducing your environmental impact to lowering your monthly energy bill, solar energy offers a wide range of benefits for your home or commercial property.
We offer high quality solar panels and solar water heating equipment for residential and commercial properties. Our team of solar energy experts and installers can help you learn more about the best solar power system for your property.
Contact us today to learn more about the solar energy solutions available for your property and discover the benefits of switching to solar energy.