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Solar PV – Harnessing today’s energy for tomorrow

What is Solar PV?

Solar PV (or Photovoltaic) cells generate electricity using light energy from the sun. The solar panels are mounted on or ‘in’ the roof of a property.  Each panel is made up of cells using one or two layers of a semiconducting material.  When the light shines on the cell it creates an electric field across the layers.  The strength of a PV panel is measured in kilowatt peak (kWp).  That's the amount of energy the cell generates in full sunlight.

How does Solar PV work?

Solar panels and solar tiles generate electricity using the light energy (not the heat energy) from the sun.  The panels produce energy from daylight – it doesn’t have to be direct sunlight, they still produce energy on cloudy or overcast days.  An inverter converts the electricity from direct to alternating current, for use in the home.  The electrical energy produced is either used directly in the home, or when the system is producing more power than is needed, it is exported to the grid.  At night or at other times when more energy is needed than is being produced, power is supplied from the grid in the normal way.

How easy is a Solar PV System to fit?

The solar panels are mounted on the roof of a building or can be fitted ‘in roof’.  In order to benefit from the Government incentives, the Solar PV Panels must be approved by the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) and an MCS accredited installer must fit the system.

Is a Solar PV System connected to the grid?

Yes, most systems are connected to the national grid.  A Solar PV system generates free electricity which you can use yourself straight away if it is needed, and you will be paid under the Government’s Feed-in Tariff Scheme for all electricity you generate, whether you use it or not.  If you do not have a requirement for electricity as it is being generated, the electricity is exported to the national grid through your normal electricity provider; you would be paid an additional 3p per unit of electricity you export.  

Is there enough sunlight in the UK for a Solar PV System to work?

It is a myth that there is not enough sunlight in the UK to generate electricity from a Solar PV System.  The Solar PV System runs off the sun light, not the heat of the sun.  Even on a dull day, the system will still generate electricity. The Solar PV System can operate at its maximum efficiency when on a south facing roof at a 30 degree angle, without any shading from trees etc. This is the optimum but a Solar PV System can still be successful on an east or west facing roof. 

Can I benefit from the Feed-in Tariffs if I install a Solar PV System?

The Feed-in Tariff Scheme was introduced by the Government in April 2010 as a measure to encourage the installation of small-scale, low carbon technologies up to 5MW.  The Feed-in Tariff Scheme will make it worth your while to install renewable energy technology.  The Feed-in Tariff actually consists of two parts.  The Generation Tariff is a fixed amount your electricity supplier pays you for every unit of electricity your eligible renewable energy system (eg solar PV or wind turbine) generates for up to 25 years, which you are free to use yourself or export to the grid.  The second part of the Feed-in Tariff is the Export Tariff, which is an additional payment you would earn for any electricity you don't use and then export back to the national grid through your electricity supplier.  You will also benefit from savings on your electricity bill, as you will be generating part of your electricity requirements on-site, so will need to buy less electricity from your supplier.

How much will I be paid through the Feed-in Tariffs?

The Generation Tariff is currently set at 14.9p/kWh for retro-fitted Solar PV for systems no larger than 4kW registered by Oct 2013.  The Export Tariff (the amount you earn in addition to the Generation Tariff for any electricity you don't use and export to the national grid) is fixed at a minimum of 4.5p/kWh.  These rates will be paid for 20 years. The Government has set these levels to encourage people to install renewable energy systems sooner rather than later.

For how long are the Feed-in Tariffs paid and are they guaranteed?

From the date you register your eligible Solar PV System, you will be paid the Feed-in Tariffs for 20 years.  The rate is guaranteed for the 25 years and will be increased in line with the Retail Price Index.  To receive a high rate for the electricity you generate from your Solar PV System, it would be beneficial to install and register your System before Oct 2013.

Which Solar PV Systems are eligible for the Feed-in Tariffs?

In order to qualify for the Feed-in Tariffs, the Solar PV System you install must be less than 4 kilowatts in size and must be MCS certified.  The company installing your system must also be accredited under MCS. 

Will I save money on my electricity bills if I install a Solar PV System?

Yes, under the Feed-in Tariff scheme, you are paid a fixed rate (currently 14.9p/kWh), depending on the type of installation and its size, for every unit of electricity you generate, whether or not you use it yourself.  This part of the Feed-in Tariff is known as the Generation Tariff.  You are free to use the electricity you generate, which will then reduce your energy bills as you will not need to purchase as many units of electricity from your normal supplier.  In addition, you will be paid a minimum of 4.5p/kWh for any electricity you generate that you do not use yourself and export to the national grid (this is known as the Export Tariff).

Calculate potential profit with the Feed-In Tarrif Calculator