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Solar PV

Solar PV

What is Solar PV?

Solar photovoltaic (also known as solar PV) systems convert energy from the sun into electricity. You can save money by harvesting this free energy. Solar PV systems can be relatively simple, with their main components being solar panels or modules. Read on to find out more about solar PV systems, including which type generates the most electricity, and how they’re made.

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Types of Solar Panels

Solar panels are made of a thin layer of semi-conducting material sandwiched between a sheet of glass and a polymer resin. When exposed to daylight, the semi-conducting material becomes ‘energised’ and this produces electricity. There are four basic types of PV panel: monocrystalline, polycrystalline (or multicrystalline), hybrid and thin film (or amorphous silicon). All are made from silicon but differ in the way the material is cut and treated.

There are four basic types of PV panel: monocrystalline, polycrystalline (or multicrystalline), hybrid and thin film (or amorphous silicon). All are made from silicon but differ in the way the material is cut and treated.

Credit: Which

PV panels differ in efficiency – how much of the sun's energy is used by the system per unit area – and in price.
  • Monocrystalline solar panels are made of silicon formed into bars and cut into wafers. They have the highest purity of silicon making them efficient, with a higher power output than polycrystalline panels. They look dark and uniform.
  • Polycrystalline panels are made by melting raw silicon together to make wafers – a faster and cheaper process than monocrystalline panels. They look blue and speckled and contain many crystals in each cell. They’re cheaper but can be less efficient.
  • Hybrid cells combine crystalline cells with thin film cells. They’re also known as HIT solar cells. This makes the panels even more efficient, but they cost more.
  • Thin film (or amorphous silicon) cells can be the cheapest but also the least efficient. They’re flexible but rarely used for residential projects.

Solar tiles and slates are also available. These are installed in the same overlapping way as ordinary roof tiles and can be more aesthetically appealing than fitting solar panels on top of an existing roof. But solar tile systems are pricey. They can cost double the amount of an equivalent solar PV panel system – so they’re not as cost-effective.

Solar panel efficiency

Solar panel modules and system

A solar PV system usually comprises solar panels, an inverter, isolator switches, a PV-generation meter and cables.

Some things to think about when considering installing a solar system:

  • The more panels you can fit on your roof, the more expensive the system will be to purchase and install. But the more electricity you will produce.
  • The electricity produced by the PV panels is direct current (DC). Before it can be used in the home, it has to be converted to safer alternating current (AC) using a box called an inverter. This is often placed in the loft.
  • It’s worth noting that the inverter doesn’t have the same lifespan as the panels. If it fails, a replacement inverter could cost at least £1,000.
  • For safety, isolator switches are also placed before and after the inverter.
  • A PV-generation meter is connected inside your home, so you can see a real-time display of how much electricity the system is generating. This data is used to calculate your Feed-in Tariff payment, which provides cash in return for generating your own electricity if you are registered for it.Credit:Which

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