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The biggest benefit of having solar panels installed is that you will save on electricity costs. If your solar panels are large enough, you may be able to produce enough electricity for your whole home. If your solar panels are fitted correctly, your system should switch seamlessly between using the electricity your solar panels have generated to using energy from the National Grid when the panels are not generating enough. You won’t notice any difference in your electricity supply. You may also want to think about installing a solar battery or energy storage system which will store the electricity your solar panels generate. This will allow you to store electricity generated in the day to use at night, helping you to become more self-sufficient and reduce the amount of electricity you use from the Grid. Solar power needs to be used instantly or stored in a battery system, or it is fed back to the grid. This means that you will probably need to use electricity from other sources during winter and hours of darkness.

Joining the 21st Century

According to government data, installing 4kW of solar panels in the first 3 months of 2020 was already £288 cheaper, on average, than it was in 2019. Thanks to an increase in demand and the development of new technology, solar panels costs have fallen by more than 50% over the past decade. Overall, the cost of domestic solar electricity is now around 8p per kWh. This is a lot less than the 16p average domestic import cost from the grid, a cost that has increased by an average 4.75% each year over the past decade. Just this fact alone makes installing solar PV extremely worthwhile as you will be protecting yourself against future increases in the cost of importing power from the grid.

Financial considerations aside, installing solar panels is a good way to lower your carbon footprint. Solar energy is a natural, renewable source because it can be replenished unlike fossil fuels which are finite. As solar energy relies entirely on gathering energy from the sun and converting it into electricity (or hot water) for use in your home, using it means that you are not producing any greenhouse gases or contributing to global warming. The Energy Saving Trust estimates the average UK home with a solar PV system installed could reduce carbon emissions by 1.3 to 1.6 tonnes per year depending on where you live in the UK.

What Panels are Best for You?

MONOCRYSTALLINE

Both monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels have cells made of silicon wafers. To build a monocrystalline or polycrystalline panel, wafers are assembled into rows and columns to form a rectangle, and then covered with a glass sheet. While both of these types of solar panels have cells made from silicon, monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels vary in the composition of the silicon itself. Monocrystalline solar cells are cut from a single, pure crystal of silicon.

If you see a solar panel with black cells, it’s most likely a monocrystalline panel. These cells appear black because of how light interacts with the pure silicon crystal. While the solar cells themselves are black, monocrystalline solar panels have a variety of colors for their back sheets and frames. The back sheet of the solar panel will most often be black, silver or white, while the metal frames are typically black or silver.

POLYCRYSTALLINE

Polycrystalline solar cells are composed of fragments of silicon crystals that are melted together in a mold before being cut into wafers. Unlike monocrystalline solar cells, polycrystalline solar cells tend to have a bluish hue to them due to the light reflecting off the silicon fragments in the cell in a different way than it reflects off a pure monocrystalline silicon wafer.

THIN-FILM

Unlike monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels, thin-film panels are made from a variety of materials. The most prevalent type of thin-film solar panel is made from cadmium telluride. To make this type of thin-film panel, manufacturers place a layer of CdTe between transparent conducting layers that help capture sunlight. This type of thin-film technology also has a glass layer on the top for protection. Thin-film solar panels can also be made from amorphous silicon (a-Si), which is similar to the composition of monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels. Though these thin-film panels use silicon in their composition, they are not made up of solid silicon wafers. Rather, they’re composed of non-crystalline silicon placed on top of glass, plastic, or metal. The biggest differentiating aesthetic factor when it comes to thin-film solar panels is how thin and low-profile the technology is. As their name suggests, thin-film panels are often slimmer than other panel ty[es. This is because the cells within the panels are roughly 350 times thinner than the crystalline wafers used in monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels.

PERFORMANCE

Because monocrystalline solar cells are made out of a single crystal of silicon, electrons are able to flow easier through the cell, which makes the PV cell efficiency higher than other types of solar panels. The higher efficiency of monocrystalline solar panels means that they require less space to reach a given power capacity. So, monocrystalline solar panels will usually have a higher power output rating than either polycrystalline or thin film modules.

The multiple silicon crystals in each solar cell makes it harder for electrons to flow. This crystal structure makes the efficiency rate of polycrystalline panels lower than monocrystalline panels. Polycrystalline panel efficiency ratings will typically range from 15% to 17%. However, thanks to new technologies, polycrystalline panels are now much closer in efficiency to monocrystalline solar panels than they have been in the past.

As recently as a few years ago, thin film efficiencies were in the single digits. Researchers have recently achieved 23.4% efficiency with thin film cell prototypes but thin film panels that are commercially available generally have efficiency in the 10–13% range. The low efficiency rating means you would need to install more thin film panels to produce the same amount of electricity as a mono or polycrystalline solar panel. Because of this, thin film solar panels don’t really make sense for residential installations, where space is limited. Instead, they work better in larger scale installations, like industrial or utility solar projects, because more panels can be installed to meet energy demands.

COST

Because of the way that monocrystalline panels are manufactured, they end up costing more than other kinds of solar panels. Their high efficiency and power ratings also bump up the price. Most premium solar panels, like the SunPower X-series and the LG NeON panels, are monocrystalline.

Polycrystalline solar panels are cheaper to produce than monocrystalline panels, which allowed them to make up a significant market share in residential installations between 2012 and 2016. But while they’re still cheaper than monocrystalline panels, it’s not by very much. This, plus their lower performance has caused more people to choose monocrystalline solar panels over time.

Thin film solar panels have the lowest cost out of the three solar panel types because of their low performance. They are also easier to install than crystalline silicon panels, which drops their price even lower. The simple installation process is another reason why thin film panels are great for large-scale commercial projects. However, the price of monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels continues to get cheaper. This means a more powerful and efficient monocrystalline or polycrystalline system won’t cost you much more than a larger, less efficient thin film system.

Upkeep

MAINTENANCE

Solar panels generally require very little maintenance in order to function. The only thing they need is a periodic light cleaning to make sure dirt, leaves, and other debris aren’t obstructing the sun’s rays. The only time you may need more extensive maintenance is during periods of heavy snowfall, or if your panels’ energy output starts to decrease. It is generally recommended that you perform solar panel cleaning between two and four times per year. Solar panels are pretty good at using natural rainfall to keep themselves free of heavy soiling, but in the same way that your windows still manage to collect grime from pollen, pollution and all forms of nature, so do your panels.

ACCESS

The only real difference between maintaining ground-mounted solar systems and roof solar systems is that ground panels are easier to access, and therefore easier to keep clean. If you notice a buildup of snow or other debris, you can simply sweep it off with a broom.

PLACEMENT

Possibly the biggest problem for solar panels, however, are shadows. This is because solar panels are connected into ‘strings’ – if even one cell in a string is blocked, the output of the other panels in the string drops sharply. If some shading is inevitable, you can cheat this to a certain extent by arranging modules so that shadows will affect one whole string if possible, rather than the end cell of multiple strings. If your panels are even slightly shaded by large trees or nearby buildings, they will not work as effectively.

REPAIRS

If your panels need to be repaired or replaced, it’s best to hire a professional. If they’re losing efficiency and still under a performance/power output warranty, then call your solar company. They’ll send someone to assess the situation and either fix the problem or replace the panels.

MONITORING

Monitoring systems allow you to identify when and often where there is a problem with your solar panels if they ever stop working. While the installation and monthly fees can put many people off, if you’re someone that likes to be entirely in control of their environment then a monitoring system can’t be beaten.

 

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