Property guides

How does solar power work?

Wondering whether installing solar panels is a good option? We’ve taken a look at how solar power works, the different types of solar panels, and how you could benefit from using them to generate power for your home. 

How do solar panels produce electricity? 

Solar photovoltaics, or solar pv panels, are made of layers of silicon, boron and phosphorous in small cells which capture light. Through an inverter, that light is then turned into electricity.  

Solar power must be used instantly, unless you have a battery to store it in. And it could also be sold back to the grid for others to use.  

What are the benefits of solar panels? 

Some of the advantages of solar panels include: 

  • You’ll save on your energy bills by using the electricity you generate, rather than buying it from a supplier
  • You’ll be using a low-carbon, clean and renewable energy source 
  • You can sell electricity back to the industry, a process known as export payments. To do this, you’ll need to deal directly with an energy company. The Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) introduced in 2020 for homeowners in England, Scotland and Wales was designed to ensure small-scale generators, or households, are paid for the electricity they export to the grid 
  • There’s a low level of maintenance required once solar panels are installed

READ MORE: Your guide to installing solar panels

Are there any disadvantages of solar panels? 

Even though solar panels can have many benefits, there are some things to be aware of when you’re thinking about installing them: 

  • It will take time for you to see the return on investment for solar panels. Although the cost of solar panels is falling, they still cost thousands of pounds  
  • While solar panels can work through clouds, they don’t work after dark 
  • Solar power must be used as it’s generated, so if you want to store it to use later you’ll also need to invest in a battery 
  • Not all solar panels are made to the same quality. Inferior ones won’t last as long, and won’t be as efficient to run 
  • A specialist installer is required – this isn’t something for an inexperienced DIYer to try their hand at 
  • Not every home has a suitably ‘regular’ or large enough roof space to use solar panels.
  • While solar power is a green and renewable energy source, and overall pollutes far less than the alternatives, the making and transportation of solar panels does add to greenhouse gas emissions. 

READ MORE: How much do solar panels cost?

Is there an optimal way to use solar power? 

You can ensure you’re making the best use of solar panels by powering your devices at the times when your solar panels capture the most sunlight. Running washing machines, tumble driers and dishwashers at certain times of the day will make a significant difference.  

What are the different types of solar panels? 

The most commonly-used types of photovoltaic panels are: 

Monocrystalline: these are made from pure silicon and are noticeably dark in colour. They’re the most expensive type of solar panels, and also the most efficient. 

Polycrystalline: these are made from several silicon crystals, so they’re more affordable but generally less efficient. 

In addition, you can also choose thin-film panels which are light in weight, resilient, and easy to install. These can be a good option for unusual roof spaces.  

And Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell (PERC) panels, which use relatively new technology, are a popular choice when roof space is tight. 

You might also come across solar thermal panels, which use a completely different and older technology to photovoltaic panels. They collect solar power to heat water and link directly to a home’s hot water cylinder. 

Can I charge my electric car using solar power? 

Yes, you can integrate your home charge point with your solar panel system. But if you’ll be charging your electric vehicle in the evenings, you’ll need to make sure you buy a battery for your solar panel system so you can store the electricity produced during daylight hours, for use after dark.   

Your guide to installing solar panels
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