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Solar Electricity - Your Questions Answered

With spring not too far away and a rise in fuel bills looming, we have plenty of reasons to be thinking about the sunshine. One of these reasons is that solar energy has a big part to play in reducing our carbon footprints and slashing energy bills. If given the choice and if cost wasn’t a consideration, most people would choose to install solar panels. In this series we cover what you need to know about installing solar panels in your home.

Can solar only produce electricity?

When most of us think about solar power, we think of the flat glass panels that generate electricity. These panels use photovoltaics (PV) to convert the photons in the sun’s light into electricity. However, solar power can also be used to heat water. Thermal solar panels can either look like flat plates, or a series of glass tubes. This week, however, we will focus on solar electricity. Keep an eye out for next week’s blogs, when we look into solar thermal power in more depth.

How do solar panels work?

Solar panels are made up of a series of layers of semi-conductive material (usually silicon). Solar electricity systems are made up of a series of solar panels, each of which produce about 200-350W of energy when in strong, direct sunlight. A normal-sized solar panel system will contain 10-15 panels and will produce direct current (DC) electricity which is converted by an inverter to alternating current (AC). Any electricity produced can be used to power the home, and the excess is exported to the grid.

Do solar panels need to be in direct sunlight?

It is not essential for solar panels to be in direct sunlight to generate electricity. However, the stronger the sun, the more electricity will be produced, so it is wise to choose a south-facing location that has as much sun and as little shade as possible.

How much space do solar panels need?

The average 4kW solar power system needs about 20m2 of roof; that is about 4 metres by five metres.

Does it matter which way my house faces?

Although solar panels do work without direct sunlight, it is not recommended that you place your panels in areas of heavy shade or on a north-facing roof. While south-facing is preferable, east and west-facing roofs are OK, but will produce up to 20% less electricity.

Do I need planning permission to install solar panels?

As solar PV panels are classified as permitted developments, it is not usually necessary to get planning permission. However, there are some exceptions, for example, if you live in a listed building or national park, or designated conservation area.

Is there anyone else I need to inform about solar panel installation?

If you do get solar panels installed, it is important that you tell your energy provider. If you choose a reliable solar panel installation specialist, they will usually register your solar PV device on your behalf. If you would like to find out more about solar water heating, follow Trust A Trader on Facebook or Twitter.

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