The aim of this article is first to dispel any myths that you may of heard about solar energy, and also to remove any polish from the smooth sales talk of the company intent on selling you their product. Of course, no manufacturer or installer would be biased towards their products and would ever exaggerate to you about the efficiency of solar energy, nor mislead you about what solar production actually will do and their capabilities… would they?. However the one thing that the manufacturers and sales people probably won’t do, is to voluntarily describe the negatives and limitations of solar panels either.
Many householders have a very rose tinted optimistic view of what a difference solar energy will make to their lives and their household energy bills, and whilst fitting solar panels will reduce your energy bills by a proportional amount, it will not totally free you from the grid, or remove your need for a connection to the Gas and Electricity utility suppliers. In short, Solar energy is not an alternative form of producing electricity or a means of living ‘off the grid’, solar energy is just a means of reducing your electricity bills.
Many householders are under the illusion that investing in solar energy will heat their house during the winter months. This is actually almost impossible to do, just consider for one moment the time of year where the days are coldest and shortest, and the sun is at its weakest and low in the sky. Inevitably, this occurs during the October to March periods, which inevitably are also the times of year where your household will consume more energy. Its kind 3km.ca of ironic that the time of year when you need the most energy for heating and lighting, is also the time of year when your solar panels output is the least, and are probably outputting a fraction of that magical figure which the nominated photo voltaic salesperson promoted to you.
An average household array of photo voltaic panels will produce up to 3900 watts (3.9kw) of usable energy, although this is a maximum figure under ideal conditions, such as during a strong cloudless sunny day in mid summer. Photo voltaic panels will still produce an impressive amount of energy on a cloudy day in the height of summer, although highly unlikely to produce 3900 watts continuously all day, every day. The real life figures are likely to be much less than that, and will certainly be constantly variable depending on the local conditions and of course the strength of the sun.
I often read on the internet, ludicrous ideas of panel owners wanting or thinking of running space heaters and radiant heaters during the winter months entirely from solar panels. At 6.00pm on a freezing cold December night, your photo voltaic panels will be providing zero electricity, certainly not the 2kw / 3kw required to power a single Electric space Heater!. Even during a typical winter day, with a weak sun in the sky, solar panels will only be producing a fraction of their summer output. Its actually quite perverse that photo voltaic panels produce the most Electricity and are at their most efficient during the baking hot peak summer months, often when household energy use is at its annual lowest. Of course you can still make back money from selling this unused energy back to the national grid during the summer months by using the feed in tariff system, however to gain the most from this, you need to have actually bought and own your panels, rather than ‘rent’ them from an alternative energy company.
Suffice to say, that in order to get the most from your Solar Panels, you actually need to buy them outright, rather than become one of the ‘rent a roof’ schemes, where in the United Kingdom the alternative energy company gets the lions share of the profit, and you only save around £70 – £100 ($150 to $180) a year from your Electricity bill, for a period of 25 years.
Consider also that most Electricity Costs are also rising every year in response to the feed in tariff hand outs to those who own their panels. Believe it or not, households with photo voltaic panels are actually, to some extent, subsidising themselves because the payouts they are getting back from selling their energy back into the grid are being clawed back by the energy companies increasing the cost of the Electricity which they sell to you, and of course even with solar panels, you still need to use electricity, especially during the winter months, and your bills will continue to rise, just like households without any form of Green Energy production.
If you can afford it, then buying these panels outright will always be the smartest and most profitable option, as opposed to letting a company rent your roof for 25 years in return for a small saving on your annual electricity bill, especially as that saving is likely to decrease each year as the electricity that you need to buy gets more expensive, largely as a result of more and more people fitting photo voltaic panels.
Another thing to consider when buying this type of product, is the length of guarantee which the panels come with. Its OK for the panel companies to promise a return on your original investment after 10 – 20 years, if their products work reliably and are at peak efficiency for the same amount of time. But what happens if the product fails or goes wrong outside of their guarantee period, and before that original ‘investment’ has been returned?.
Looking at the warranty period of some of the common brands of photo voltaic panels, I find that there are two commonly used expressions when referring to solar panel warranty periods, and these may be of some confusion to the householder. Therefore I will do my best to explain what these warranty terms imply.