IS SOLAR ENERGY THE ANSWER TO HOME HEATING?
Is solar energy the answer to all home heating? Well not quite, but it can make a big dent in your annual hot water or electricity bills.
You would have to live on the moon not to realise that conventional fossil fuels, such as coal,gas and the electricity generated from them are not an infinite source.
As well as becoming harder to gather, and therefore more expensive, burning the fuels to generate heat is adding to the carbon emissions said to cause global warming.
Solar heating, the sun, has been with us since time began, but it was in the 18th century that a way to harness it was discovered. Over the last few decades homeowners around the world have looked to it for domestic heating, as advances in technology has made it a viable option.
THE UK DOESN’T GET ENOUGH SUNSHINE TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Well actually the UK does get enough sunshine to make a sizeable difference to producing domestic solar energy.
It is claimed that enough sunlight falls on the earth every minute to satisfy the world’s annual energy needs. In the UK we receive enough solar radiation (the part of the sun’s energy that produces the power needed for solar energy systems) annually to match the typical output of around a 1,000 power stations.
Don’t be concerned that solar systems need direct sunlight to operate. They can still gather the solar energy needed even on cloudy days.
WHAT IS SOLAR HEATING?
Solar energy has two uses in the home - to heat water or to generate electricity.
The technology to generate electricity uses what are known as photovoltaic (PV) cells. The word is derived from photo meaning light and voltaic which means electricity.
In simple terms, the photovoltaic cells convert the power from the sun to electricity. The cells are often made from silicon and their purpose is to work as a semi-conductor.
PV cells have two-layers of semi-conductors, one positive the other negative. Light shining on these semi-conductors produces a flow of electricity which is harnessed for your use.
Bright light isn’t necessary for this to occur - and in these environmentally-friendly - times a great advantage is that no greenhouses gases are produced.
Water heating uses a technique called solar thermal. In this instance water travelling through a solar panel takes its warmth from the heat of the insulated panel.
HOW DO I DECIDE ON WHAT TO USE
Your choice will depend on what you want the system to do, heat water or provide electricity for the home.
The photovoltaic systems come in the form of panels, tiles or slates.
Water heating is produced from panels or solar tubes.
Panels can be installed into your roof or stand on top of existing tiles.
It is worth bearing mind that solar panels are not light - your roof needs to be strong enough to take their weight, especially if they are to stand on existing tiles. Gaining professional advice from a qualified installer or a builder is a must.