The 12 Most Common Solar Panel Questions - Answered!

As new initiatives provide extra funding for high-efficiency, low carbon heating systems, learn about the solar panels that can power your home.

1. How much do solar panels cost?

Solar panels were first demonstrated to work in 1954, but have been prohibitively expensive for lots of that time. In recent years the price has dropped massively – an 82% reduction between 2010 and 2019.  In practical terms, a 3.5 kilowatt-peak system will cost you less than £5,000 now.

2. Do I need planning permission for solar panels?

Solar panels, like heat pumps, usually come within the category of ‘Permitted Developments’ and therefore don’t need specific planning permission usually. The noteworthy exceptions to this only apply if it’s a listed building or you live within a conservation area. This is always worth double checking for your property though!

3. How do solar panels work?

Solar panels work via utilising a process called the Photoelectric effect. This refers to a process whereby electrons are released by a semi-conductor (such as silicon) when they’re exposed to electromagnetic radiation (sunlight). This can be used to provide a continuous flow of electrons that form the electricity to run your home.

4. My house doesn’t face south, can I still use solar power?

Although a south-facing roof is ideal as this will get the most sun-time, east and west-facing roofs will only lose approximately 15% of their efficiency by comparison. Because of this, it’s likely that most properties will have at least some eligible roof-space for solar panels. Solar panels can also be pitched against the slope of the roof if necessary, meaning that even a north facing roof could be used, however this is avoided where possible as it detracts from the look of your home.

5. Will solar panels work over winter?

Solar panels rely on ambient light, not necessarily direct light. This means that solar panels will continue to work on cloudy days, albeit maybe with a slightly lower efficiency. One thing that technology can’t solve is the number of daylight hours over winter – this is unavoidable and unfortunately does mean a drop in energy generation. To avoid any unexpected issues over winter, the Warmaway engineers will make sure to fully explain all potential options to you during your free consultation. If you plan your solar panels around your January usage and the average solar energy available at this time year, you’ll have a surplus of power that you can sell back to the grid over summer months, and you’ll never have shortages.

6. Can solar panels heat radiators / water?

Solar panels are integrated with a solar inverter that converts the DC current from your panels into an AC current that can then be used throughout your home. Because of this, you’ll be able to power anything electric, including electric radiators, with the output from your solar array.

7. Can solar panels charge an electric car?

Of course! Your solar panels can be used to power anything that runs off electricity. As long as your solar panels have the capacity, you shouldn’t encounter any issues.

8. Can solar panels be recycled?

Silicon based solar panels have achieved recycling efficiencies as high as 96%, after which the reclaimed materials can then be turned into new solar panels. This means that the potential for innovation in this field is massive as there will be an estimated £11 billion in recoverable value by 2050 . Unfortunately, to date, the 25-year lifespan of these panels means that the attention to recycling has been somewhat limited for this progressive energy source.

9. Is there government funding or incentives?

The Smart Export Guarantee offers money-back when homeowners sell their solar-generated electricity back to the grid. A mandatory offering for all large energy companies (more than 150,000 customers), the rates available differ between suppliers. You can find more information here.

Solar panels have typically been publicised as last 20-25 years before their efficiency drops below 80% and therefore renders them in need of replacement. Newer models coming onto the market now have an expected lifespan of 40 – 50 years with warranties that prevent against an efficiency below 80% in the first few decades.

Whilst the heat pump itself will not produce any carbon emission on-site, however it does require electricity to run which means an external power source is needed. The way that heat pumps differ from a more traditional combi boiler is from the efficiency of the different systems – while a gas/oil boiler can provide 90-96% efficiency, a heat pump manages 300% and can even push to 400%. In more practical terms, this means that for every kilowatt of electricity that you’re drawing from the grid, you’ll be able to produce 4kilowatts of heat whereas a boiler would produce less than one kilowatt of heat.

11. Are solar panels permanent once attached to your roof?

No – these are not fitted in a permanent fashion, this ensures that they can be removed if necessary at a later date.

12. How long does it take to install solar panels?

Solar panels are a simple installation task, this means that they can usually be fitted within 1-3 days depending on the size of the solar array.

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