Solar Panels Pros and Cons
Why use Solar Power?
Solar power belongs to those energy forms classed as renewable energy, so-called because they rely on a natural, renewable source. Other renewable forms of energy include tidal, wind and rain powered energy. Solar power is one of the most popular.
In recent years, governments around the world have increased their funding for these alternative forms of energy as interest in finding alternatives to conventional fossil-fuel based forms of energy has increased. The main reason for this is that renewable forms of energy are environmentally 'clean' and do not involve the production of any harmful greenhouse gases. In the UK, certain financial incentive schemes have been introduced in recent years like the Renewable Heat Incentive and the Feed-In Tariff with the intention of attracting people to the use of renewable energy. This article will look at those incentives as well as the advantages and disadvantages of switching to solar power.
The Feed-In Tariff
This was introduced in the UK in early 2010 and is a scheme whereby users of solar power, both domestic and commercial, are paid by their energy provider for every unit of electricity they produce using this method. The user is paid 43p for every unit of electricity they produce, whether it is used or not. A further 3p is then paid for every unit that is not used and can be sold back to the energy provider and ploughed back into the national grid.
As the average lifespan of most solar panels is around twenty to twenty five years, you can see how, once the initial cost of the panels has been recouped, that it can be a decent source of income. However, in early 2011, the government announced that the scheme would be cut back for installations above 50KW because there had been a flood of interest from foreign investors looking to build huge solar farms in the west of England and take advantage of the subsidy. This would have sapped disproportionately large amounts of the fund and making this cut has meant that smaller, domestic users of solar energy can still take advantage of the scheme.
The Renewable Heat Incentive
The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) is similar to the feed-in tariff in that it pays the producer of energy from renewable sources a set amount for the energy they produce. It was introduced in late 2011 as part of the same legislation that brought in the Feed-In Tariff (the Energy Act 2008). Under the terms of the scheme, producers of electricity and hot water through renewable means (including solar) are paid 8.5p/kWhr.
The renewable heat incentive is available only for solar thermal heating systems which provide heat for hot water within a building and in places like heated swimming pools. Like the feed-in tariff, the RHI lasts for the lifetime of the panels, around 20-25 years.
Advantages to Solar Power
The main advantage of having solar panels is that they provide a free source of electricity. Some energy providers like British Gas will even provide a free panel system and installation in return for taking the payments from the Feed-In Tariff as well as the surplus electricity. This means that you get the benefit of the free electricity at no initial cost. During the summer months, a solar panel system can provide up to eighty to ninety percent of your home's energy needs.
Another major advantage of using solar power is the environmental benefit. Solar panels do not emit any harmful greenhouse gases as a by-product of the energy they produce and the source of their energy, the sun, is one hundred percent natural and inexhaustible. For commercial, large-scale users of solar, this can be an important consideration because it can improve a company's 'green' image.
Solar panels are also very low maintenance as they do not contain moving parts. All they need is a routine maintenance check every three to five years, which your supplier will usually provide free of charge.
Disadvantages to Solar Power
One quite big disadvantage to solar power is that the panels are relatively expensive to purchase and install. A system capable of providing enough energy for a family of four will cost between seven and ten thousand pounds to have installed. The payments from the Feed-In Tariff take an average of seven to eight years to pay off this initial investment.
Another disadvantage is that solar panels produce significantly less energy during the winter months when you will have to rely on conventional sources, for which you will have to pay. Also, solar panels require quite a large amount of space to produce a decent amount of energy, so this could be a drawback in places where roof space is limited.
Lastly, in inner-city locations, surrounding buildings and trees can often cause obstructions which can block out light and severely limit the effectiveness of the panels.
Still, despite these disadvantages, for many, solar power does provide a viable, attractive alternative to conventional sources of energy.