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Solar heating or PV solar panels?

"Should I install solar heating or PV solar panels? This is now an outdated question because PV systems can easily and affordably do both jobs with PV to heating converters."

Frequently asked questions.

Frequently asked questions about solar panels
Questions about solar heating panel installations
Questions about PV solar panel installations
Solar panel jargon
Q&As

Do we get enough sunshine?

The UK receives 60% of the solar energy compared with the equator. Each square metre of the UK receives between 900-1300 kWh annually of solar radiation each year. Modern solar panels work well in diffused light conditions which allow them to work even on cloudy days.

Obviously clouds come in many different densities, but solar panels will be able to capture most levels of diffused sunlight. The UK receives 60% of the sun's energy that the equator gets.

Quotes from installers. Solar radiation map of the UK

Is my home suitable for these technologies?

Yes, if you have a South/South East/South West facing roof space.

Quotes from installers. Check your roof suitability

Do I need planning permission?

No. From 6th April 2008 planning permission will not be required for solar panels, unless you live in a listed building. Even then, most councils will allow installations in most cases.

What is the science behind these technologies?

In a nutshell, when the sun's radiation/energy enters the earth's atmosphere, it does so as a short-wave. When these short-waves hit something, then it converts to long-wave.

How long do these technologies last?

Solar heating panels, including evacuated tubes and thermodynamic panels have a longevity of around 30 years. PV installed in the 1960s is still working today, which makes it the longest lasting technology around.

Can an installation, add value to my property?

A survey by MORI found people are willing to pay thousands more for a solar-equipped home, compared to one without this technology.

Which technology is best, electric or heating?

Choices will vary per household, but it basically depends on which type of energy cost you want to reduce and how much money you can afford to spend. Prices vary on system types and sizes.









Sunshine on a cloudy day.


About solar heating panel installations

The basics

Solar heating panels can be catergorised as:

Some people prefer flat-plate panels for aesthetics, but solar tubes give better performance results in the winter months. Thermodynamic technology is a real game changer with the ability to be used day and night, raining or sunny with its heat pump hybrid system.

Why install a new hot water tank?

People now see these installations, as an investment into your home and energy future.

Imagine converting your car to LPG, then running it on semi-flat tyres. Your old tank is very inefficient and probably scaled up with limescale. In order to maximise the efficiency of your installation, a modern super-efficient tank is installed as part of the installation to bring your heating system up to modern efficiency standards. Ultimately saving money in the long term.

What grants or incentives are available for these installations?

The government has created the (RHI) Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme, which will pay property owners to generate heat from technology such as evacuated tubes and heat pumps, an average of 8.5p per kWh produced for a guaranteed eighteen year period. This brings down the payback period and helps the government achieve its CO2 emissions targets, which our government has signed up to. A double win situation.

This scheme's reward will go down every three years, so it's better to install sooner, rather than later.

Will an installation, replace my energy bills fully?

No, you won't be able to totally replace your current energy supply, but you could get close with a realistic budget and the implementation of different panel installation combinations.

We don't use much hot water, how can this help us?

At the moment the water in your hot water tank has to stay above 60° Celcius (to prevent Legionella), which means your current heating method is constantly firing up to keep your water above 60° Celcius. Your boiler or immersion heater will still be keeping your tank heated up, so yes, it will still benefit your heating bills.

Save 70% on your energy bill, how?

There are many reasons for installing this technology into your home; increasingly, people are making the decision to install sustainable energy for cold, hard economic reasons.

This technology system should reduce your water heating bills by about 70%, with the system paying for itself in five to ten years, depending on your household's water consumption.

During the spring, summer and early autumn months, The 'solar heating system' should generate all if not nearly all, your hot water requirements. Even in the coldest winter months, it should generate around 50% of your requirements, meaning that your existing boiler merely has to top up' the temperature of the water to the required level, rather than heating it from almost freezing!

Can solar panels be added to flat-roofs?

Yes, on an A-frame to angle the panels at 20 and 50°.

What this technology can do?

50% of all the domestic systems installed in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark and Norway were to supply space heating systems, while in Sweden and Canada it was more. These countries have a similar climate in the UK.

These installations keep an abundant supply of hot water in your hot water tank, thus extending the lifespan of your boiler because for most of the year, your boiler will not be used at all.

How much conventional energy will it produce?

Independently tested, the panels delivered 900-1400 kWh (3.6 GJ) of clean green, energy (depending on geographical location) per year in the United Kingdom. It saves far more bought-in energy. Peak output is 1.6 kW, similar to an immersion heater.

(Performance varies per domestic household, depending on your micro climate and geographical location, but on average, an evacuated tube system will supply all your hot water needs from March - September, and most, but not all, in the winter months).

What temperatures can I expect from a solar heating?

On sunny days, temperatures of 75C can be achieved (45C hot enough for bathing), but this is dependent on your micro climate, geographical position within the UK and the type of technology installed. On cloudy days this will still reduce the need to use your boiler, thus extending your boiler life.

Do I get hot water during the winter months?

Even during cloudy days in winter you can expect some gain, through diffused radiation, which bathe's the earth even on cloudy days. This means some of the light penetrates and is scattered around. With darker and more compact cloud formations - solar panels won't work at all.

Although we do our best to keep prices reasonable, there are the customers we spoke to two years ago who wished they had bought back then.

Is there any ongoing maintenance needed?

The system is kept clean by weathering, just like Velux windows. A periodic check every three to four years is recommended. Check the PH level of the antifreeze solution, but other than that, you can simply fit it and forget it.

Which is best for me, tubes or flat-plate?

Some people prefer the aesthetics of flat-plate, but evacuated tubes are more efficient. Saying that, the flat-plate are the best efficient of all the flat-plate on the UK market today. With both systems being of excellent quality, this is the main reason we promote both flat-plate and tubes, so you can choose for aesthetic reasons.


"Work's side-by-side with most current central heating systems and contributes all year round - even in the winter."


About PV solar panel installations

The basics

PV solar panels can be catergorised as:

Monocrystalline give better output, but cost more than poly panels.

What grants or incentives are available for PV installations?

The government created the (FIT) Clean Energy Cashback Scheme, which will pay property owners to generate their own electricity from this technology. The payment is currently of 4.39 pence per kWh produced for a guaranteed 20 year period. This brings down the payback period and helps the government achieve its CO2 emissions targets, which our government has signed up for.

This scheme's reward will go down every three years, so it's better to install sooner, rather than later.

Will a PV array produce all my electricity needs?

In most cases, no, but this depends on your energy consumption rate and the size of the system installed. Large sized systems might be able to.

How much energy can a PV panel system produce?

Each case is different, but a PV solar panel installation would generate approximately 750 kWh/year per kWp installed. So a typical two KW system would generate around 1500 kWh per year. A hot water installation at Peak output is 1.6 kW, similar to an immersion heater, or 1,500 kWh and 2,000 kWh annually.

What does on-grid mean?

When PV is producing electricity and you are not using it, then it will automatically feed the electricity out to the National Grid, where you will be credited for your contribution. With modern feed-in tariff scheme, you will get paid for the power you consume in your home and the power you export to. It has never been such a good time to install PV technology.

Does PV have to be installed on your roof?

PV arrays can easily be installed on A-frames or ground-mounted.

Why solar, not wind?

Installing a domestic-scale wind turbine for most homes in the UK is unsuitable because of:

1. Planning restrictions
2. Unreliable urban wind speeds and poor outputs.
3. Structural issues with attaching a wind turbine to a home.

Wind power is great on a large-scale basis or around coastal areas and windswept hills, but your average common-a-garden urban locations mean performance and efficiency will be low. You need a large sized turbine to make a dent in the average home's utility bills. This has been confirmed by government testing. Urban locations simply don't have high enough wind speeds with vibration problems that could lead to structural property damage occurring when high speeds are reached.

"The output of domestic-scale wind turbine on a pitched roof house in a large city such as Manchester as an example would be less than 150 kWh a year; which is 2% of the energy consumption of an average house."


"Photovoltaic panels installed in the 1960's are still going strong in Japan today."


Solar panel jargon

"Solar panels come with technical terms used within the industry. Do you know polycrystalline from monocrystalline?"

KW.

A unit of measurement of the 'peak output' of a PV system. A KW (Kilo watt) is made up of 1000 kWh (Kilo watt hour).

PV.

Refers to 'Photo-Voltaic'. Photo refers to ' Photon' which is a particle usually emitted from the sun. Voltaic refers to 'Volt' of electrical current.

Monocrystalline.

A type of PV or photovoltaic panel system. Usually the most efficient of the three types of PV converting up to 15% of the photons hitting the panel into usable electricity. This is the peak performance rating.

Polycrystalline.

A type of PV or photovoltaic panel system. The most widely used types of PV system which can convert up to 12% of the photon's hitting the panel. Panel sizes range from 120 - 180 watts per panel. This is the peak performance rating.

Thin-film.

A type of PV or photovoltaic panel system. Once dubbed as the savior of solar technology because it is cheap to produce, this gives a convert rating of only 7% of the photon's hitting the panel and polycrystalline panels that have come down in price. This means consumers prefer the higher convert rate of these systems over thin-film options.

Peak output.

The maximum amount of energy produced when the system is fully producing. This is usually in the United Kingdom when the sun is directly above without cloud cover in the summer months. The panels produce energy with or without cloud cover.

Inverter.

An integral part of a PV system which switches the current from DC (Direct current) in a more useful AC (alternating current), which can then be used by your appliances or sold to the National Grid.

DC Isolator.

A widely used on or off switch' in most large-scale electrical machinery which can prevent the system being used.

Generation meter.

A smaller domestic or larger commercial display unit to record your daily, monthly or annual PV technology production rates.

Mains board.

The distribution part of an electrical system, routing the power around the house and usually contains fuses to prevent a current overload.

A-frame.

Usually manufactured in Aluminium to save weight and corrosion, the a-frame allow panels to be installed on a flat-roof or ground-mounted.

Anti-reflex coating.

The last you want is to reflect light away from your collector. Anti-reflex coating gives a protective coating with anti-reflection properties.

Roof rails.

The mounting area which comes between the roof anchors and the panels themselves. The roof rails are required to be exactly parallel with each other for a perfect alignment of the panels.

On-grid/off-grid.

PV panel systems can be used alongside the National Grid (on-grid) or separately while storing any excess power to a battery (off-grid). The most common type is on-grid systems because they allow you to be paid a tariff for your excess power.

Feed-in tariffs.

A financial reward for the production of electricity or heat by alternative technologies. Most common with solar panels, the feed-in tariff is paid to the home or business owner for the excess power relayed into the National Grid.

National Grid.

The network of power aligns which span the entire country. Usually associated with Pylons, the network or grid systems also spans the underground urban environments right up to your front door.

Solar-cell.

PV panels are made up of individual cells. Each cell converts sunlight to Electrons and all those of Electrons are directed into channels and wires. A collective array (panel) increases the watts generated and the amount of power produced.

Array.

An alternative technical phrase for a collective of.

Photon.

Particle emitted from light. The sun is the largest emitter of photons and can be used to power and heat our homes with alternative technologies.

Electron.

An electrical current is made up of these. Electrons are always attracted to Earth, which can be manipulated to create electricity and power our appliances.

Part P.

An electric qualification required by law to install solar panels. This is why most PV installers come from an electrician background.

MCS.

The 'Micro Certification Scheme' (MCS) was set up in 2010 to regulate the quality of alternative technologies and the installers whom install them.

Survey.

As part of the process of installing, an inspection of the property will be required to assess suitability, roof access, wire/pipe routing and other technical potential issues. This should take no longer than half and hour and with the correct information an installation can then be designed.

SAP.

A form of calculation which allows a solar company to accurately work out the potential productivity of a solar installation.

Photovoltaic.

A type of electricity generating solar panels which include and monocrystalline and polycrystalline modules. 'Photo' refers to the Photons emitted by the sun and 'Voltaic' refers to the Volts of power produced by this technology.

Solar heating panels.

A type of solar panel for heating water (thermal) and in some cases space heating. These types of technology come in three types. Evacuated tubes, thermodynamic and flat-plate glazed panels.

Thermodynamic panels.

A concept in technology, which embraces the benefits of solar and heat pump technologies. This (thermodynamic) hybrid technology allows the user to gain heat for heating and hot water all the year round and even on rainy and wintery days.

Evacuated tubes

A type of thermal heating panel, which use vacuum tubes (evacuated tubes) to accumulate heat from the sun. This type of technology comes in two types, 'direct-flow' which circulate the Glycol anti-freeze solution through the actual glass tubes and 'heat pipes' which heat up a copper tube within the tubes and heat up the Gycol mixture in the header section. 'Direct-flow is the most efficient of these two systems.

Flat-plate.

A type of thermal heating collector (flat-plate panels), which use a flat glazed appearance to gather the sun's energy. Flat-plate panels can be sub-categorised as 'on-roof' and 'in-roof' panels which can be added to various different types of roof coverings. A-frames can be used for ground-mount and flat-roof installations. In-roof installations are popular because they are designed to give the appearance of a Velux style window.

Collector.

An industry term for a panel or array of evacuated tubes.

Pump station.

An integral part of a solar heating system which contains the pump and necessary valves to fill, maintain and alter the settings of the Glycol flow.

Glycol.

A specialist anti-freeze mixture with a balanced pH level to transfer the heat collected in the collector down to the storage tank. The flow of the glycol mixture is usually set to '3 bar' pressure.

Expansion vessel.

A small tank, which is designed to allow expansion of the Glycol mixture. The breathable ability allows the system to reach very high and low temperatures without breaking any of the system components.

Controller.

A digital box which records the daily, weekly or annual yields of your system. The controller also allows you to change the settings. Consult with your original installer.

Solar-tank.

Traditional hot water tanks are very inefficient and unsuitable for this technology. A solar-tank has much better heat preservation properties than a standard tank and incorporate a solar coil to route the heated glycol inside the tank.

Solar coil.

A special finned coil which resides inside a hot water tank. This is used alongside a traditional immersion heater coil, but if you are heating your water tank with the sun, then your immersion heater coil will be used far less, thus saving money on expensive oil, gas or electricity.

Un-vented tanks.

The most commonly used hot water tank when installing alternative technologies, un-vented or pressurised tanks conserve the heat input much better than a standard vented system. Most people prefer a pressurised system because it gives quicker fill times in the bath.

Vented tanks.

Vented tanks work alongside a cold refill tank in the loft. Gravity feeds the hot water tank. This type of system is unsuitable for these types of technologies.

Low-iron.

This refers to the special glazing used in higher quality panels and tubes. The low iron content of the glass allows more of the sun's energy to absorb rather than reflected in standard glass.

Renewable Heat Incentive.

An incentive scheme which rewards the adopters of solar heating technology with a feed-in tariff style financial payments. The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme is a pioneering and world first for the adoption of alternative heating technologies and gives a great return on investment.

Clean Energy Cashback Scheme.

An incentive scheme designed to reward adopter of solar electric technology with the Clean Energy Cashback Scheme (feed-in tariffs). The payments are given to the householder or business or the electricity they produce. This gives financial incentive to install and with the savings on the energy bills, it gives a great return on investment.

G3 qualification.

An installer who works on pressurised or un-vented tanks or cylinder needs to be G3 qualified to do so. Do not let anybody without this accreditation install a pressurised tank in your home.

Pressure meter.

An integral part of the pump station, this gauge allows the installer to set the three bar pressure and the homeowner to check in the future.

Flow meter.

An integral part of the pump station, which allows the installer to set the flow rate of the pump and the homeowner to check in the future.

Non-return valve.

Some heating systems use a variable flow pump, which alternate the flow according to the amount of heat generated by the collector. A non-return valve prevents gravity flow and only forward only flow.

Safety relief valve.

Prevents over pressurisation of the system. Excess Glycol can be safely expelled into a bottle similar to your sink overflow system.

Compression joints.

There are two ways to connect the pipes together in a solar heat installation. The old fashioned way is brazing/soldering. We would recommend that your installer uses the 'compression' style of connecting pipework to prevent future leaks and poor workmanship that may become a problem later.

Armoflex.

Armoflex is the insulation sleeves that wraps around the pipes of your heating system. This protects the pipes from external weathering and keeps the heat from escaping down the length of your pipes.



Get a quote

All our MCS solar panel installers are RECC scheme (Renewable Energy Consumer Code) members and work throughout England, Scotland and Wales.

Quotes from installers. Get quotations



Author.

"Feel the pride."

Stuart Lovatt
Founder of Heat My Home.



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