Investing in solar panels is an opportunity to earn a substantial supplementary income. The benefits are environmental too: switching to solar energy could reduce your carbon footprint by around 1.8 tonnes annually. Solar photovoltaic panels are also a popular home-improvement measure as they can save you money on your electricity bills.
Maximising the amount you are saving on your electricity bills is achieved by ensuring you are using as much of your free solar energy as possible. Here listed are a few suggestions for how you can easily do this, including simple lifestyle adjustments and one relatively inexpensive but potentially financially-rewarding technology.
Making the Most of Solar Panels
1. Take advantage of the brightest hours: Solar photovoltaic panels are generating electricity whenever they are exposed to light. Therefore, it is advisable to use any electrical items with a high electricity demand during the sunniest hours of the day, to maximise your savings.
For example: the average washing machine cycle requires 700 watts of electricity, accumulating an estimated cost of £55.48 annually – which could be avoided if you were to schedule your washes for during the hours when your panels are generating energy. Many models of washing machine have built-in timers, which are useful if you are not at home during the brightest hours of the day. But if you don’t have in-built timers, external timers for your appliances are available cheaply.
2. Stagger use of your appliances: To avoid accidentally importing electricity from the grid by using more than your panels are generating, try not to allow multiple appliances to draw electricity simultaneously. So when making breakfast, boil the kettle for your morning drink before switching on your toaster. Small changes like this will lessen the chance of you using more electricity than you are generating.
3. Heat your water: Solar immersion diverters are small, automatic power controllers that are programmed to divert the surplus energy that your solar panels are generating, which would normally be exported back to the grid, to your immersion heater. These devices will generate a large portion of your hot water and are expected to save an average family £250 annually. They’ll also help to reduce your carbon emissions, as you won’t rely as much on your typical, non-renewable heating measure.
4. Storing the surplus: An often enquired-about method of maximising self-consumption from solar panels is to store your surplus electricity using a form of solar battery. These products can certainly help you in eluding rising electricity costs, and are particularly useful for those with off-grid properties.
For those connected to the grid, these types of systems typically will only feed electricity to the utility grid once the battery has been fully charged. You can then draw from your battery when you require electricity at moments when your panels are not generating. Solar batteries tend not to be the ideal choice for most domestic homes as, unlike a solar immersion diverter, these devices tend to be very large and expensive, resulting in a much longer payback period for your system.
Choosing the right solar panel installer for you can be a confusing process – there are all sorts of installers to choose from, variously offering installation of different panels at different prices.
- Check your home has an EPC rating of D or above
- Ensure you have the available space for an array and an inverter
- Make sure you have chosen an installer who is MCS certified and installs MCS certified products
- Have any planned works approved by your local authority, if your property is in a conservation area, area of outstanding natural beauty or if the building is listed
- Check the warranties on offer from the installer for parts and labour, as well as warranties offered by the product manufacturers
During Your Installation:
- They should check that the roof area is suitable for panels and that the loft can contain an inverter.
- You should receive a quotation containing essential information about the system the installer has designed for your property. This would include: a system specification (details of the panels, inverter, isolators, etc), SAP calculations, projected savings.
- After the panels have been installed, the system must be commissioned by an MCS qualified electrician. Once this has been done, your installation will be submitted to MCS and you will be provided with an MCS certificate.
After Your Installation:
If your installers have met all the criteria stated previously, then your solar panels should be covered by product and performance warranties, offered by the part manufacturers, and a good installer would have offered you their own warranty, for parts and labour.
Experienced installers will typically offer an aftercare service; this service should be performed by a technician and include: cleaning and checking of the panels, inspection of the condition and tightness of roof fixings and seals around roof penetration, examining the condition of the inverter, checking and recording open circuit voltage and current levels, and ensuring optimum functionality of the system.
Solar Collectors using glass evacuated tubes, called Solar Tubes, are the most efficient Collectors available and are particularly suitable for the UK and other northern European countries. Their efficiency is such that they heat water all year round working even on cloudy days.
The HS-VAC1.8 is the solar absorber. It absorbs solar energy converting it into heat and is a “twin-glass tube”. This type of tube performs reliably and is a component part of tube type solar water heating panel. Fifteen HS-VAC1.8 tubes are mounted on a vertical incline into a heat exchanger to form a solar hot water Collector.
How it works
The process by which solar radiation is converted into heat is as follows.
The HS-VAC1.8 has an excellent selective absorption coating which produces an efficient method of heat generation. This heats the inside skin of the glass tube where the heat is transferred through conduction and radiation to the centreing metal heat fins and the central copper tube. This tube contains pure water with anti corrosion additives. The inside of the tube is at a reduced pressure so that the water boils at around 30°c. The hot water vapour rises to top of heat pipe where the heat is transferred to the circulating water, the vapour condenses and drains back down the tube.
As the HS-VAC1.8 has less parts to absorb heat before any meaningful heat transfer can take place, it starts producing heat more quickly than flat solar panels, even on cloudy days. It can even produce heat on sunny days at -30°c. It also is more resistant to frost damage and scaling. Each HS-VAC1.8 works independently of other tubes in the same racking system. This means that if a tube is damaged, the other tubes are unaffected and the system still produces solar energy.
The HS-VAC1.8 performs better than flat plate solar collectors in cold weather because it minimises heat transfer losses to the water.
Solar water heaters using the HS-VAC1.8 are aligned in parallel; the angle of mounting depends upon the latitude of the particular location. In general, the efficiency of a HS-VAC1.8 system depends upon a number of factors, one important one being the level of solar in the region.
Basic Specifications of the HS-VAC1.8
|Structure||All-Glass Double-tube co-axial structure|
|Glass Material||High borosilicate 3.3 glass|
|External pipe diameter/thickness||58mm, +/- 0.6mm; T=1.6mm|
|Internal pipe diameter/thickness||58mm, +/- 0.6mm; T=1.6mm|
|Sf*dime»nt method||3 Target magnetron sputtering plating|
|Idle sunning property parameters||Y=260-300m2 7KW|
|Solar Irradiation for preset water temperature||H<=4.7MJ/m2(O58)
|Solar irradiation for preset water temperature||H<=3.7MJ/m2(047)
|Average Heat Loss coefficient||ULT= 0.4-0.6 w/( m2 °C)|
Solar hot water heating systems use the free heat from the sun to provide your hot water requirements, be this for your home or your business. During the winter and at times in the springs, autumn and even summer, it is necessary to additionally heat the water with a conventional boiler or immersion heater. However, when solar energy is available the amount of fuel needed for this purpose is dramatically reduced or removed all together.
How do they work?
- Solar water heating systems use panels, called Collectors that are fitted to a roof or mounted free-standing on flat roofs or even in flower beds. South facing, pitched 45° angle positions are best but Collectors can be east or west facing. Two distinct types of solar water heating panels are commercially available.
- Flat Plate Collectors. These comprise an insulated frame with a glass cover in which sits an absorber plate and pipework. The Collectors can be fitted in the roof or on the roof, which is the easiest method for retrofit installations. More radiation is absorbed if the cover glass is made from iron-poor safety glass as this allows light in the short-wave spectrum to pass through. The shorter the wave length the more energy is in the light. Flat Plate Collectors are less efficient than Glass Evacuated Tube Collectors and do not work well in winter.
- Glass Evacuated Tube Collectors. These are also called Solar Tubes and use the principle of the vacuum flask to efficiently capture the suns rays to heat water all the year round. Far more efficient than Flat Plate Collectors, each tube concentrates heat in its pure copper tip. The tip of each tube is inserted into a manifold where the heat is transferred to the water. Solar Tubes will heat water to over 60°c in strong sunshine when the outside temperature is -30°c. They also work better than simple Flat Panel Collectors in east-west orientations. Larger Glass Evacuated Tube Collector systems can se used to heat or supplement the heating of a home or business but mainly in summer and sunny days in spring and autumn.
When installing Collectors other factors such as the condition of the roof, shading, aesthetics and accessibility need to be considered when choosing where to locate a Collector.
- An indirect circulation system is used to pump the heat transfer fluid (mixture of water and antifreeze) from the Collectors to the heat exchangers in the hot water cylinder or other heat dump zones. Some indirect protect themselves from over heating to stop the glycol fluid from becoming super-heated when demand is low and solar radiation is high.
- Antifreeze. The indirect circulation system is pressurised and uses an expansion vessel. The heat transfer fluid comprises a non-toxic food grade glycol-water mixture with the concentration of glycol dependant on the likely minimum temperature. As the system is pressurised, the boiling point of the heat transfer fluid is much higher than that of water.
- Drainback systems. These use pumps to push the water through the Collectors when there is solar radiation. When the pumps stop the water drains into a reservoir tank so there is no water in the Collect to freeze in cold weather. Fine in theory, but these systems are more difficult to install and get right so that the piping always slopes downward to completely drain from external area that can freeze.
- Storage of hot water is the next consideration. Here, a Solar Cylinder needs to be installed to store the water heated by the sun. For most central heating systems this will mean replacing the existing gravity fed hot water cylinder. Modern combi-boilers have no hot water cylinder but flash heat mains pressure water on demand. This is a more difficult installation but be achieved by using valves to separate the two systems.
- The important point here is to make space the largest Solar Cylinder that can be accommodated. The thermal efficiency of these means that water heated the day before yesterday can often be used today; or at worst act as pre-heated water that only needs to be topped up.
Why install solar hot water heating
- Cut fuel bills. Once the initial installation cost is paid the hot water costs will be slashed.
- Cut your carbon footprint. Solar hot water from sunlight is a green and will reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
- The cost of gas, electricity, oil and coal is likely to rise faster than interest on savings and wages.
Cost and payback
- The Energy Savings Trust says the typical cost of solar water heating system range from £3,000 to £5,000.
- Savings are good, although the Energy Savings Trust just say “moderate – a solar water heating system can provide about a third of your hot water needs”. This depends on some extent to where you live in the UK and how much hot water you use. A guide would be 50-80 litres per person per day. From our experience a solar heating system provides nearer to 70% of hot water needs, which is double the modest claims of the Energy Savings Trust – and of course there’s the CO2 emission savings too.
Things to consider
- The Energy Savings Trust suggest you will need a minimum of 5 m² of space for a solar hot water collector system, although two of our 2 m² glass evacuated tube Collector seem to be fine for most households.
- Solar heating needs a sunny position for the Collectors. South facing is best but east to west will work with two panels, one facing east and one facing west. The installation of this configuration will be more expensive, but the parts costs from SolarSave are around the same.
- Planning permission is not normally needed but it’s always best to consult your local planning authority if you live in a Listed Building, or a building in Conservation Area or World Heritage Site.
- Collectors don’t always have to be mounted on a roof, they can be fixed to a frame on flat roofs or even in the garden. If you have a heated swimming pool then they are seriously worth considering – providing you have the space.
One of the most common ways to light your home at night in Asia is solar lighting. Amazingly China are leading the way in the battle against use of outdated lighting methods. They are mass producing solar lighting which are lasting for over ten years as well as costing the home absolutely nothing to run, now don’t call me a conspiracy theorist but why on Earth is a part of the planet this is so over populated coming up with brilliant ways to not necessarily save money but actually produce power that a centralised government simply is not capable of doing.
Now take a look at a developed country such as The UK or anywhere is Europe for that matter solar lighting is extremely expensive and very scarce. I’ll give you an example. This nice little light that produces ample visibility for your garden path is 1$ for one in China, now in the UK this very same item is £15 in most retail shops.
Look I’m getting out of control here with my rants this was supposed to be about solar lighting and I am going off on a tangent. Here’s the bottom line. Solar lighting in China costs peanuts, please if you have a night light use it. They work in a simple but brilliant way. They have a small storage capacity which will allow the solar panel to absorb energy enough that the light can stay on all night whilst the next morning the power will be close to low and the charging process will begin all over again. By making sure the power charges up and down slowly everyday the battery will continue to hold power for ten years no problem at all. For the small cost of plastic the saving to the environment is massive. Just imagine if we all swapped over to this form of lighting. The savings in electric produced would be phenomenal as we ll as the jobs that are created by manufacture! Seriously guys solar power is affordable and we’ve got to start taking advantage of it.
If you think we will buy a normal light there really is no damage to the environment at all as it’s simply a case of swapping over the method in which we light our homes. Solar lighting is one way we are going to keep our homes relevant and up to date. Now you might be wondering if this truly is the future because Elon Musk has released unbelievable roofing technology for solar power however, for the average home it just is not viable yet and he is being hit by governments not willing to reduce tax on increase property value, as well as the cost of the install itself.
Solar panels and solar setups work in two distinct ways. One is on grid, the other off grid. Off grid is currently rather expensive because the cost to replace batteries is prohibitive. As technology has improved, so has the viability of an off grid system because batteries are holding more power, longer. It’s still not quite there in terms of a cost efficient mechanism to replace coal power stations. We are not that far away however.
If you have access to the grid, then you should have solar panels installed. It’s as simple as that. In most countries around the world solar panels are relatively cheap. A full 5000 Watt system should not cost anymore than £4000 and another £1000 to install. This will power most homes comfortably to the point minor top up may be required from the grid, however that’s unlikely. You are more likely to be feeding the grid.
One major requirement for solar panels is roof space. To get a 5000 Watt system on your roof would require 40m2 of free space. This is normally going to be ok for your average 3 bed home. The maintenance is absolutely minimal and mid quality cells from China are still going to last fifteen years providing an astonishing payback. By the way after fifteen years your solar panels are not useless they will have lost a fair amount of performance however, in the region of 30%. It is certainly not even close to throw away. Many homes run on 3000 Watt systems according to varying sources. There is every reason to think a solar system will last twenty five years.
The only thing stopping this revolution is the upfront cost. Government incentives will hopefully make this all the more attractive proposition in the near future and continued improvement in battery technology allowing for homes without grid to become normal. Government have already recognised many other technology savings, such as sash window draught seals, so why not cut solar tax? It’s an exciting time in human history. Think about it – Elon musk has just announced his new high tech roof will only cost a mere $22 a square foot. Now combine the over supply of electric with an electric car – and that is a warm thought to not be powering our vehicles and home on dirty fossil fuels. He’s also gone on record as stating that his wonderful system may only require 40% roof coverage in the high tech beautiful solar tiles, the rest being ordinary. That means the remaining 60% can be used to power our car, or heat our water with electric, and maybe do away with gas in the home as well. I believe the future to be solar and it’ll be in every home as standard pretty soon.