Growing up in a compound in a Saudi Arabian desert, extracting water from a well when I lived in Cyprus and then studying Climate Change as part of my Meteorology degree have meant I have always been environmentally aware. In fact, I think I’m rather annoying over it. There’ll be no taps left on whilst teeth are brushed on my watch, and the only lights that might be allowed to stay on would be ultra-efficient low energy LED Christmas lights. And even then only for Christmas. Christmas Day. 😉
But to put my money where my mouth is and actually sign up for solar energy, well, that’s a big financial commitment and not something for the short term.
I knew there were huge variations in the price and quality of solar panel components and the way that they’re installed so I was keen to use a reputable and established local company. If you are toying with the idea of solar power you should take some time to check that the solar modules and inverter that are being proposed to you are of a high quality from a well-known manufacturer. European components are generally considered to be the best.
Fortunately finding the right company was relatively easy. I compered at an Energy Fair in Ashford last year and met some fantastic Eco companies. One of which was Greenman Solar, based in Kent, who have established themselves as THE solar company in the South East and have already fitted over 7000 solar panels in just 3 years and are renowned for not only their competitive pricing and high standards, but also their customer care in making the whole process as easy as pie, which is just what you want when you’re dealing with something as hi-tech as solar panels.
Although solar panels only seem to have sprung up all around us over the last couple of years, they have actually been used since around 1958. Initially they were so rare and expensive that only spaceships and satellites were important enough to use them. If you have a calculator at home it probably has a little solar cell to power it, solar panels are just much larger versions of this bolted to your roof.
The way solar panels work is quite simple; the very thin silicon slices under the glass covering of the units capture some of the suns energy (photons) and convert that light into electricity (called a photovoltaic or PV process).
Solar PV can be considered as your own maintenance free, totally green power station which silently generates free, clean energy for your home year after year. There is another type of solar panel which is sometimes confused with Solar PV; this is known as a solar thermal system, which helps to heat the hot water system in your home.
Once we’d decided to go solar the process was simple. Greenman Solar came to our house and assessed how viable our home was. Ideally it needs to have a roof that faces the sun for a large chunk of the day. A north facing roof is a no no, but if your home stares lovingly towards the sun for at least a few hours a day you’re probably on to a winner. Like many people in the SE I’m prone to a touch of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder – which I think just basically means the winter grumps from lack of sunshine). So I already knew our house pointed her toosh in a SSE’ly direction – perfect for lapping up those leccy generating rays.
Whilst I am obviously not qualified to install a solar array, I got stuck into selecting the panels, learning about the process and of course getting up on the scaffolding to take a good look. Think about it – if you love sunshine now, imagine how it fills you with glee when it is earning you money AND giving you free electricity. Each day when (or if?) the sun pokes her little face through the clouds and beams at you, your solar panels are stepping up into overdrive and you race around getting all your washing, dishwashering, and hair drying done whilst it’s all provided free. It’s seriously cool.
The South East is best placed for a solar array too as we consistently receive more sunshine hours than anywhere else in the UK. Even on a dull winters day, you will still be generating power. Perhaps now those Christmas LED’s can stay on into the New Year too…
How does it make you money?
A typical 4KW (16 panel system) will cost around £6,900 (incl VAT and installation). You are paid for all the energy you produce, whether you use it or not, so you will be paid about £675 cash per year by your electricity company, guaranteed for 20 years. Plus of course, you will be not paying your electricity company for your daily use of electricity as your panels are providing that for free, which will save you hundreds of pounds per year too. Kerrrrching! Any electricity you don’t use (which you will have already been paid for) will go back into the National Grid and help to provide energy for the rest of the country.
A sun tracking system is even more efficient, as the panels actually follow the direction of greatest light in the sky and can generate up to 50% more energy than a standard, fixed roof installation. It also makes quite a statement in your garden, looking like a big solar panel tree!
Want to see my solar array’s electricity production graphs and stats yourself? Click here to see real data from my own array which is connected to the internet and updates every hour.
If you are interested in talking to Greenman Solar about the possibility of your own array, just fill in this form on my site for a no obligation chat with them and a special deal for mentioning me.