With EU directives calling for a reduction in emission of harmful gases, and the rise of carbon-efficient alternatives such as electric cars, eco-conscious households are looking to do their bit.
By installing solar panels atop our homes, the incentive stretches to more than just consideration for the environment. Through using the power generated from solar panels, it’s possible we could save money on our electricity bills, and even make money by selling excess energy produced to the Grid via the Feed-in Tariff scheme1 Best of all (and fortunately for this country), a solar panel or photovoltaic cell doesn’t require constant direct sunlight to be able to produce power.
You should consider the following before deciding whether or not it’s worth undertaking this home improvement:
Building regulations – you may require special permission from your local authority before you can think about installing solar panels on your rooftop.
Roof space – panels typically require seven square feet of space; solar panel providers will be happy to discuss any further requirements.
Price – the cost of purchase and installation tends to run into thousands of pounds.
A reputable dealer – the Home Insulation & Energy Systems Contractors Scheme (HIES) is a regulatory body overseeing the national rollout of solar panelling. You should only deal with HIES-accredited contractors to ensure a quality job.
If you choose to install PV cells on your home, then depending where you’re based in the country, they will generate differing amounts per year – more sunshine in the South means more kilowatt peak (kWp) produced.
One energy price comparison site states2 that a ‘medium’ user of electricity – a family in a three-bedroom house that works and is at school full-time – is about 3,100 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity a year.
Taking that estimate into account as the average UK household, it’d be possible to power it entirely using an area of 28 square metres’ worth of solar panels – one 4kW system – which would generate 3,400 kilowatt hours. According to the pricing3, this would cost between six and eight thousand pounds to install.
Despite the massive benefits to the environment – it’s estimated that a 4kW system installed over 28 sq m would save on 40 tonnes of harmful emissions in a 25-year period – the potential savings and earnings may not be seen as worth the investment. But imagine if we could power every UK household using solar power alone – how many solar panels would it take? And how much space would they take up?
UK Energy Requirements
There are an estimated 26.7 million households in the United Kingdom. Given the assumed average of 3,100 kWh needed to power each one, this means that the UK needs to generate 82 billion, 770 million kilowatt hours (82,770,000,000kWh) of electricity via PV cells every year to run every single household’s appliances and gadgets.
As one 4kW system is more than enough to power one household, we would therefore estimate that:
4kW x 26.7 million households = 106,800,000kW
A system the size of 106.8 million kW would be sufficient enough to power the UK’s households – hypothetically speaking of course, as this system would be rather difficult to build.
The Cost Of Powering UK Homes
According to the price estimates given earlier, the most generous cost of installing a 2kW system on your roof is £3,000. So by our count, for the princely sum of £160 billion, enough PV cells could be built to power every UK home.
Solar Square Footage
In terms of square footage, a system of solar panels comprising 106 million kW is no small potatoes. The same pricing used earlier4 has it that for every kW you want your system to boast, you need seven square metres of space on your roof for a panel to be installed.
Given that calculation:
106.8 million kW x 7 = 747.6km2
It would take an area of almost 750 square kilometres to build a powerful enough system of solar panels to generate enough power for every UK household.
To put that into context:
- The largest of the Channel Islands, Jersey, measures 120 square kilometres5
- The Greater Manchester Built-up Area (Manchester, Bolton, Stockport, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, and Bury) measures 630.3 km2
- Measuring 776.1km2 in total area (land and sea), the American city of Charlotte in North Carolina is the country’s 27th-largest.
In order to have enough space to power every UK household, an area of solar panels about the size of Jersey and Greater Manchester combined would just about do the trick – and even that amount of space would barely scrape into the top 30 US cities by size.
Solar power is becoming an increasingly used money maker for those who choose to install panels on their homes, not just by powering them but also in selling back power to the Grid. Investing in solar energy may be expensive at first but with a predicted profit6 of £3,800 for a 2kW system, it might be worth considering.
The information in this article is provided for education and informational purposes only, without any express or implied warranty of any kind, including warranties of accuracy, completeness or fitness for any particular purpose. The information in this article is not intended to be and does not constitute financial or any other advice. The information in this article is general in nature and is not specific to you the user or anyone else.