Could installing solar panels to your businesses premises be a beneficial investment?
Why Install Solar Panels?
Although the investment in solar panels may seem a lot up front, they will pay for themselves over time and they have many other benefits to your business which include:
- Generating your own energy to reduce your electricity consumption costs
- Generating an income from the Feed-in Tariff (FIT)
- Increase your environmental credentials
- Reduce your business’ carbon footprint
How Do Solar Panels Work?
Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels turn UV light into electricity. The panels can either be mounted to your roof or be placed in an array in open areas.
Solar panels are formed from a collection of cells that are that are made up of several thin sheets of semi-conducting silicone which contain metal contacts that are designed to absorb UV light. When these metal contacts absorb UV light it causes the electrons in the panel’s cells to move around which generates electricity.
The solar panels generate electricity in DC (direct current) format, not in AC (alternating current) which is what the electricity grid supplies and the electricity is consumed as. So, the DC electricity generated needs to be converted by being put through an inverter which switches it into AC.
Solar PV systems include a generation meter that enables you to track the amount of electricity generated, used and exported to the grid. The solar panel system is also connected to your electricity consumer unit to enable you to export any unused electricity to the grid.
The Feed-in Tariff (FIT) scheme is a government scheme to promote the adoption of renewable and low-carbon electricity generating technologies in the UK, which was introduced on 1st April 2010. It requires participating electricity suppliers to make payments to eligible renewable energy installations which includes solar panels up to 5MW.
The FIT is made up of two elements:
1) a generation tariff which pays for every kWh of electricity generated,
2) an export tariff which pays per kWh for the electricity exported to the National Grid.
For more information about the FIT visit our guide to the FIT.
Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS)
To be eligible for the FIT the solar panels and the installer must be MCS accredited. The Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) is a quality assurance that certifies both the system technology and the competency of the installers. It covers electricity generating technologies up to 50kW and heat generating technologies up to 45kW.
The MCS website has a search function to enables you to search for installers and products that are MCS accredited. This helps consumers to select the most appropriate system and be aware of any additional requirements to make the system they are installing meet the MCS accreditation and be eligible for the FIT.
How Long Do Solar Panels Last?
Solar panel manufacturers give their panels warrantee guarantees of 20 or 25 years. These warranties state that the solar panels should produce a minimum of 80% of the initial peak output for 20 or 25 years. This infers that the solar panel performance may decrease each year by no more than 1% per year but it is unlikely that this decrease will occur initially and more likely in the later life of the panel.
Solar panels are still very much in their infancy in terms of seeing how long they generate electricity for and how much the efficiency decreases by as there is very little research on solar panels that have been installed for long periods of time to assess this.
A study by the University of Applied Science of Southern Switzerland examined solar panel arrays that had been installed for significant time and found encouraging results on the panels they tested. One 10 kW solar system had been installed for 20 years and they found that the output had decreased by 11% from its initial peak output, this meant that the decline in efficiency rate was 0.5% per year which and is much lower than expected.
Solar panels can suffer from wear and tear such as yellowing and laminate peeling off which can be expected when the panels are exposed to the elements for 20 years. This physical decay though only has a minimal effect on their performance efficiency.
Apart from the solar panels, the other piece of the system that needs consideration is the inverter. The inverter converts the electricity generated into AC electricity and these only have manufacturer’s warranties for 10-15 years and therefore you may want to factor in the cost of replacing the inverter as part of lifetime costs of your system.
Does the UK’s Weather Conditions Affect the Solar Panels Output?
The UK is not known for having the warmest climate, but it does not massively reduce the benefits of solar panels.
As the UK has a significant number of daytime hours the UV exposure that the solar panels receive is sufficient to generate significant electricity, as the sun does not need to be out for the solar panels to generate electricity, it is UV light that they require.
The intensity of the UV light will impact the amount of electricity generated but this should be considered when a calculation of the system output is being done as part of the installers assessment. So, it is important that you assess what the anticipated level of electricity generation would be for your circumstances and location before purchasing it.
How You Can Maximising the Amount of Electricity Generated
Where you locate the solar panels has a big impact on the electricity that they generate, this includes the direction that they face, the angle of the panels, and any shading issues in relation to the sun’s position throughout the day.
Be sure to get a technical survey to gauge these impacts and assess the amount of light expected where you live to give an accurate picture of what the system could generate.
Can I Store the Electricity Generated?
Solar panels generate electricity during the day, so they suit businesses as they can consume more of the electricity generated whereas domestic solar panels often export more electricity than is consumed as the home is not necessarily occupied at the times energy is being generated.
However, you may still not use all the electricity generated and you may wonder whether you can store the electricity, but at present, there is not a viable or cost-effective electricity storage solution available.
Advancements in energy storage solutions are happening and there is a lot of investment in this area, so it is likely that storage solutions will become viable during the lifetime of a solar panel system that is installed today as experts predict it is only a matter of 5-10 years before this will occur.