What are Solar Panels?
By Beth Askham
Article 1 of 12
What are Solar Panels?
You can use the sun to generate electricity and hot water for your home. Find out the difference between solar electricity and solar hot water.
Wondering if it's worth installing solar panels or solar water heating in your home? Keep reading to find out what you need to know about solar energy - from how much it costs to install, to how much it will save you on your energy bills.
Types of solar panels
The two main types of active solar panel systems are solar water heating, and photovoltaic (PV) solar panels.
Both consist of panels on your roof. However, while they might look similar, solar water heating and solar PV are quite different.
Solar PV or solar electricity?
Solar PV uses the energy from the sun to produce electricity, which you can then use in your home and/or export to the national grid. Solar PV is an expensive technology (about £7,000 for an average system), but financial support is currently available under the government's Feed-in Tariff (FIT) scheme. This provides cash payments to households that produce their own electricity at home using renewable technology.
Find out more about photovoltaic (PV) solar panels
Solar water heating (also called solar thermal or solar heating)
Solar water heating uses energy from the sun to heat water. It is mostly used to heat up your domestic hot water system. Solar water heating costs between £3,000 and £5,000, and is eligible for a financial incentive called the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). This financially rewards those who use renewable energy to heat their homes.
To learn more, see our guide to solar water heating
Before you install solar panels
You should ensure that your home is as energy efficient as it can be before considering installing solar panels. Energy-efficiency measures you can take include:
- installing or improving loft insulation
- installing or improving solid or cavity-wall insulation
- installing floor insulation
- draught-proofing your house
- fitting double glazing
- installing an efficient, reliable Best Buy boiler.
Buying and installing solar panels
We have found evidence of solar panel salespeople mis-selling. To make sure you don't get caught out, you can see videos of our undercover investigation into the kinds of tactics salespeople use, plus read advice on how to buy panels, by clicking the links below:
- Interested in installing panels that generate electricity? See our solar PV buying advice guide.
- If you want to install solar water heating that uses the sun to heat up water, then click to read our solar water heating panels buying advice guide.
Finding a solar panel installer
You can use Which? Trusted Traders to find a trustworthy local solar panel installer.