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How to buy solar panels

Rhodri Andrews

What are solar panels?

Solar panel electricity systems, also known as solar photovoltaics (PV), capture the sun’s energy using photovoltaic cells. These cells don’t need direct sunlight to work – they can still generate some electricity on a overcast day in winter. The cells convert the sunlight into electricity, which can be used to run your electric appliances and lighting.

Solar panels take advantage of a powerful yet free energy source – the sun. In a single hour the sun transmits more energy to the earth’s surface than the world uses in a year.

  • Advice and tips on how to choose, buy and install the best type of solar panel system
  • Understand the difference between solar water heating and solar photovoltaics

The benefits of solar panel electricity

  • Cut your electricity bills. Sunlight is free, so once you’ve paid for the initial installation, your electricity costs will be reduced.
  • Get paid for the electricity you generate. The UK government’s Feed-in Tariffs pay you for the electricity you generate, even if you use it.
  • Sell electricity back to the grid. If your system is producing more electricity than you need, you can sell the surplus back to the grid.
  • Cut your carbon footprint. Solar electricity is green renewable energy and doesn’t release any harmful carbon dioxide or other pollutants.
  • A typical home solar PV system could save over a tonne of carbon dioxide per year – that’s more than 30 tonnes over its lifetime.
  • Maintaining a PV system is simple. You usually don’t need to do anything at all. While it may seem like your panels are getting very dusty, the affect on power output is much less than you’d think.

Solar Panel Guide

Our little guide give you an overview of how you can use solar panels to make use of this free source of energy to generate electricity and hot water for your home.

Types of solar panels
The two main types of active solar panel systems are solar water heating and photovoltaic (PV) solar thermal panels.

While they might look similar, and both consist of panels on your roof, solar water heating and solar PV are quite different.

Solar PV or solar electricity uses the energy from the sun to produce electricity, which you can then use in your home and/or export onto the grid. Solar PV can be an expensive technology (from £5,000 for an average system) but financial support is currently available under the feed-in tariff scheme.

Solar water heating, also referred to as solar thermal or solar heating, uses energy from the sun to heat up water. It is mostly used to heat up your domestic hot water system, so you will need a hot water cylinder to benefit. Solar water heating costs between £3,000 and £5,000, so is usually cheaper than solar PV.
Get paid for generating electricity with solar panels
If you generate your own electricity (eg with solar panels or a wind turbine) your energy supplier might pay you money. This is called a ‘Feed-in Tariff’ (FIT)

You’ll get a set amount for each unit (kilowatt hour or kWh) of electricity you generate.
The export tariff – selling surplus energy
As well as the generation tariff, you can also sell any extra units you don’t use back to your electricity supplier. This is called an ‘export tariff’.

You’ll get 4.5p per unit of electricity: for solar panels where you applied for FIT on or after 1 August 2012

Find out more about solar panel feed in tariffs at

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