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Solar Photovoltaic and Solar Thermal

Information on Solar Photovoltaics and Solar Thermal systems

Solar power is the fastest growing energy technology in the world, and works exceptionally well even in the UK’s northern climate. Many thousands of people in the UK are now using solar photovoltaics (PV) to generate electricity from their roof, or using solar thermal (ST) to create hot water for their washing or space heating needs.

Solar Photovoltaics

Solar radiation emitted from the sun can be used to generate electricity through a PV system. Sunlight is made of a stream of photons which are absorbed and interact with electrons found in the cells to ‘upgrade’ the electrons to a higher energy level which can be exploited as an electric current. These currents are conducted by wires to the electrical system of the building to be used on-site, exported to the grid or stored in batteries for later consumption.

Some of the common types of panels used are:

Mono-crystalline silicon
Poly-crystalline silicon
Amorphous silicon thin film
Thin film cells of other materials such as copper indium diselenide (CIS) and cadmium telluride
Organic solar cells
The great attraction of PV technology is that it delivers electricity at the point of use. Solar PV cells can be used for a wide range of applications such as watches and calculators, individual houses and buildings, right up to large grid-connected solar PV farms. Providing that there is a suitable place to mount the system, PV is ideal  for domestic as well as larger industrial or commercial applications and has various cost-effective applications to suit specific needs.

An additional benefit of PV is it can be installed in areas where grid connection or other forms of generation are too expensive or not feasible. This may be in remote locations, but could also be in a city centre where grid connection may be impractical. For example, it can be cheaper to power parking meters with solar energy than with power from the grid. PV costs are falling fast and by 2030 PV may well become one of the cheapest methods for generating electricity.

Solar Thermal

Solar thermal systems, or solar hot water systems as they are often called, are a simple and well-proven technology producing low-carbon energy. A solar water heating system uses solar collectors, normally mounted on a roof, to capture the energy released by the sun to heat water for domestic and industrial uses. Electrical energy is consumed to run a pump circulating a fluid, which is heated in the solar collector by the sun’s energy. Some systems incorporate a PV panel that enables them to dispense with the parasitic load of a grid connected pump.

For more information please visit the Solar Trade Association (STA) website. The STA is affiliated to the REA.



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