Have you ever directed rays of sunshine through a magnifying glass to make something melt or burn? Yes? Well that is solar power!
The power of the sun can be harnessed and used in two different ways - as a heat source, and as an energy source. In fact, the sunlight that shines on the Earth in just one hour could meet world energy demand for an entire year.
Solar collectors, those big shiny panels you see on some roofs, heat the water in your home using tubes that are fitted within the panels. You’ll get hot water throughout the year because the system works all year round but you may need to heat the water further with a boiler or immersion heater during the winter months.
We can also use solar energy to make electricity. The process is called photovoltaics. If you have a Solar-powered watch or calculator, they use photovoltaics! Photovoltaic cells turn sunlight into electricity to power your house or then sell back and feed into the national grid.
The benefits of solar electricity
It cuts your electricity bills: sunlight is free, so once you've paid for the initial installation your electricity costs will be reduced.
You get paid for the electricity you generate: the government’s Feed-In Tariffs pay you for the electricity you generate, even if you use it.
You can sell electricity back to the grid: if your system is producing more electricity than you need, or when you can't use it, you can sell the surplus back to the grid. If your system is eligible for the Feed-In Tariff scheme it could generate savings and income of around £670 per year.
Solar power will cut your carbon footprint: solar electricity is green, renewable energy and doesn't release any harmful carbon dioxide (CO2) or other pollutants. A typical home solar PV system could save over a tonne of CO2 per year - that's more than 30 tonnes over its lifetime.2
2 Feed-in-Tariff Scheme
This is based on a 3kWp solar PV system eligible for a generation tariff of 21p/kWh. For more information on the different generation tariffs for solar PV and when they might apply, see UK Government changes to solar PV Feed-in Tariffs – new and proposed.