Although not used a lot in the UK, solar power is a truly excellent way to cut electricity prices on your home utility bills and help reduce the impact of your carbon footprint.
Solar power comes in two broadly distinct forms: solar thermal heating systems and photovoltaic (PV) electricity generating systems. The first is a measure to provide constant hot water in the home, whilst the second provides electricity which can be used to run appliances.
Solar thermal water heaters are the more common of the two systems, certainly in the UK, but also throughout Northern Europe. Solar thermal technology has been in operation since the 1920s but as time has moved on, so technology has improved in order to make solar thermal systems more efficient and less expensive.
The thermal system can provide up to 85 per cent of a domestic hot water supply without having to rely on electricity or gas to maintain high temperatures in the home. Passive or compact thermal heating systems work off a single chassis to heat the water in a tank providing a constant supply of hot water for a family home. Active or pumped thermal systems are more complicated but more efficient than passive systems as they circulate hot water as and where it is needed around the home.
Thermal heating systems can also be used in underfloor heating and space heating, which can help to reduce electricity prices on your heating bills by up to 25 per cent. Although thermal heating is very useful for saving money on high electricity prices, the real savings can be made using photovoltaic systems.
PV cells generate electricity using the energy from the Sun to be converted into direct current at an efficiency of around 30 per cent. Although PV cells are expensive, the power generation after they have been set up is completely free and a single cell can last anything from 25-30 years.
A reasonable PV system could easily provide a quarter of the power needed to run a family home, further reducing electricity prices and the burden on fossil fuels. Last year there was just 6MW of solar PV cells installed in the UK, whilst Germany installed 1,500MW last year of solar panels. Not only will PV help reduce electricity prices in the UK if they are used more expansively, by 2050 they could cut carbon emissions by 15 per cent.
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