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All You Need To Know About Solar Power Systems for Homes

Powering homes with solar energy is no longer a novelty. You'd recall about a decade back when climate change activists, local governments and celebrities would install them at homes and public spaces to showcase the use of this renewable source of energy. One of the reasons for their lack of mass adoption in the past was the high upfront costs involved and the low efficiency of an earlier generation of solar panels. But all that has changed in recent years is not only have solar power systems for homes become cheaper, they have also become a more efficient and practical way of powering homes.

As the world's fastest-growing renewable energy solution, you'd find solar panels everywhere. With climate change and the high power tariffs levied by energy companies hurting household customers equally, installing solar panels for your home seems to be the most viable option with an eye on the future. The increase in tariffs has been quite astronomical over the last decade increasing from 13.86 Euro cents per kilowatt-hour in 2010 to 22.0 euro cents which is an approximately 60% increase over a decade that has outpaced average growth in household incomes in the UK. 

How Much Can You Save Every Year?          

The savings on power bills by opting for solar panels for your home can vary depending on a host of factors including your average power consumption, the type of system you install, the size of the house you live in, etc. An average house in the UK can save roughly £270 on your annual electricity bill by opting for a basic solar system for your home based on research by one of the leading agencies that track the use of energy products in the United Kingdom. It isn't just savings alone that serves as an incentive for households opting to go solar, but the fact that this allows you to become independent of the National Grid and also play an important role in reducing carbon footprint. This can reduce the impact on the environment caused by burning fossil fuels to generate electricity.

As we have mentioned earlier traditional solar power systems were unviable for homes given the high input cost involved. But prices have dropped significantly over the last decade or so coinciding with home solar panels in the UK becoming more efficient. Hence, most homeowners are able to recover their investments into these systems in about 20-25 years. This is apart from the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) as mandated by the government that allows small power generators (your solar power system) to earn by exporting the additional power generated to the National Grid.

Cost of Solar Panels for Home       

As someone who is planning to invest in a home solar system, your first concern would be the solar panels for home cost. Though solar panels have become cheaper and cost only a fraction of what they did a decade back or at the start of the century, installing solar panels at home does require a princely investment. On average, you'd have to spend anywhere between £5,000 and £10,000 to install a complete solar system in your home. This figure is arrived at taking into account the cost of panels, batteries, wiring, and installation costs.

There are companies that offer you complete solar power systems that include batteries for storing the energy generated. In such cases, you would have to invest £350 per panel and an average home in the UK would require anywhere between 12 and 16 solar panels (considering 250W every four hours of full sunlight per panel) which would be able to power your  3-4kW solar power systems that are widely used in the United Kingdom. There are several detailed articles on solar panel costs and you can use them to figure out your upfront investments and also choose the right solar power system for your needs.

Which Solar power system should You Choose?       

There are two major types of solar panel systems in the UK to choose from – on-gird and off-grid systems and you may be in a dilemma on which among these should you choose. As the name suggests on-grid systems are connected to the grid and these systems draw power from the grid when the demand is more than power generated in your system and sell the excess back to the power company. There are no storage units in this system in the form of batteries. On the other hand, off-grid systems work completely independently and aren't connected to your local power utility. Here the power generated during the daylight hours is stored in batteries to power your home 24/7. Both these systems have their own pros and cons and you should choose one based on your lifestyle needs.

The biggest benefit of the on-grid system is the fact that you enjoy the benefits of both the world. While you will be able to generate most of your energy requirements from your own system and draw the remaining amount from the grid thereby reducing your monthly bills, you also have the option of selling additional power generated thereby reducing your monthly bills. However, on-grid systems have a major flaw where in case of a complete grid outage they don't provide any power since there is no storage unit in this system.

Off-grid systems are the true solar power systems for homes as you generate all your power from the panels and do not depend on the local power company. The power generated is stored in batteries and runs your home even in the non-production hours. These are ideal for small homes that consume less power and do not run too many appliances. However, on the downside building, a completely off-grid system is highly expensive as you need to invest in a large number of batteries. Also if the system fails (which it does rarely) you will have to live in darkness till the problem is fixed.

Choose The Best Batteries for Your Solar Power System        

When people talk about solar power systems for homes, it is the choice of the panel that takes precedence over everything else. Quite rightly so as the quality of the panels, their size, and efficiency determine the functioning of the entire system. But if you are planning an off-grid system as most Britons in the countryside do, along with the solar panel system in the UK, you also need to devote equal attention to choosing the right size and type of battery. This is more so important in the UK than elsewhere in the world where your peak energy generation is restricted between 5 and 5 ½ hours per day depending on the season of the year and the climatic conditions.  

Any compromises on the battery would prevent you from going truly off-grid. It is important to bear in mind that power generation can vary depending on the climatic conditions and hence it is important that you choose batteries that can serve your regular power consumption even on days when power generation is low. Given the fast adoption of solar energy in the UK, there are several manufacturers offering state-of-the-art batteries that complement your solar panel system in the UK, and here is a selection of the best brands in this business.

  • Powervault – This home-grown brand has made a strong name for itself offering a wide range of batteries that are suited for different needs. Their batteries are priced competitively starting from the Powervault 3 that can hold 4.1kWh of energy which is enough to power a small home. Their range extends to batteries that can store 20.5kWh and power most of your needs. In case you are looking for something even cheaper they have a cheaper range made using recycled electric vehicle batteries.
  • IKEA – The Swedish giant has made deep inroads into the UK market selling rooftop solar panels along with battery packs. However, you can buy their battery packs and pair them with a solar system for the home of your choice. Their products are highly rated in the international market for their efficiency and long service life. IKEA offers batteries of all sizes and can easily meet your needs.
  • Tesla – Talking about batteries it is difficult to keep away Tesla from the list. The brand brings in years of experience in building batteries with its new line of Powerwall batteries. These batteries can easily attach to the exterior walls of your property thus saving your indoor space. While it may not be the cheapest brand in the market it does offer you higher efficiency than most others.
  • Nissan – What is an automobile giant doing in the battery market, you might ask. But the very fact that they have spent millions of pounds in R&D for their electric vehicles makes them an ideal candidate in this space. While Nissan's range of batteries is bulky they do offer you good storage options. Also, they have a cheaper range of products made from repurposed batteries that once powered their EVs.

Tips to Increase Solar Power Generation    

Thousands of Britons have installed solar power systems but not everyone is able to extract maximum efficiency out of their systems. Poor planning and lack of foresight are often the reasons behind systems that underutilize the resources. Let us take you through few basic tips that would help you in getting the most out of your solar panels for your home.

  • Don’t Mess with Installation – You may be a DIY enthusiast but it is important to remember that installing solar power systems for homes is a highly skill-demanding job. This is where it is best to leave it to the experts. Faulty orientation can affect the power generation capability of your system and it is advisable that you get them installed by an expert.  
  • South Facing Roof is Key – If you are lucky enough to have a south-facing roof you will be able to get the best out of your solar panel system. South-west or west-facing roofs also offer you good power generation capability. However, if your roof faces in any other direction you need to be creative while installing the panels using mounts.
  • Avoid Shaded Areas – Solar panels generate electricity from sunlight and they need the sun's rays to directly fall over the entire panel to operate at their maximum efficiency. Even if few photovoltaic cells are shaded this can severely affect your power generation. Hence, you need to be smart while installing these panels and make sure tall trees and nearby buildings don’t affect your power generation capability. 
  • Look for Efficiency of Panels – Not all solar panels are created equal and hence you need to be extremely choosy while buying these panels. If you cut corners you are likely to end up with a panel low in efficiency and this would hinder your power generation capability. Modern panels are between 15 and 20% efficient which might sound less but is a huge improvement from the earlier generation of panels. You need to make sure you are buying panels that have a minimum of 15% rated efficiency. They may command a premium price over the budget panels available in the market but they would help you cut down your energy bills significantly.
  • Clean Panels Regularly – Dust and debris sitting over the solar panels obstruct sunlight from hitting the photovoltaic cells and this can bring down the efficiency of your entire system. You need to periodically clean the surface of the panels. Rinse away the loose dirt using water and a pressure washer. You can also scrub the surface with a soft scrubber and soapy water to get rid of the more stringent dirt from the surface. 

How to Qualify for the SEG Scheme?           

If you wish to take part in the SEG Scheme and receive payments under the program you will need to meet three eligibility criteria -        

  1. Install solar panels with 5 megawatts or less capacity as this scheme isn’t applicable for commercial power generation.
  2. The solar panels you install need to be certified by MCS (Microgeneration Certification Scheme)
  3. You need to install a smart meter that can keep track of the amount of power you export and share this data with your local power company every 30 minutes

To conclude, investing in a solar power system is an investment into the future. You not only reduce your dependence on local power companies for your power needs but also save significantly on your energy bills. As you go along and the power tariff increases your solar panel system would earn you a higher rate of returns.  

Summary: In this write-up, we discuss all that you need to know about solar power systems and how do you plan a solar power system for your home.

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