A Comprehensive Guide To How Solar Panel Systems Work And Smart Home Integration

Table of Contents

Solar power is something that we are seeing in more and more homes and that’s only going to continue to increase. With fossil fuels on the way and a greater understanding of how our activities are affecting the planet, renewable energy is a must.

One of the things that a lot of people tell me is that they’re worried solar panel systems won’t be as reliable. But quite the opposite is true. In fact, with modern advances in technology, solar panels can (and do) provide consistent and reliable energy for homes across the UK.

If you’re totally new to the concept then there are some things that are worth knowing. In this guide, I’ll be walking you through the different types of technology and how modern solar panels can even connect to your smart home system.

What Is Solar Power And How Does It Work?

Solar power is a form of renewable energy, meaning that it won’t ever be depleted. It works by converting light and heat (both types of energy) from the sun and converting it into usable electricity which then runs through your home to power your appliances, lights and devices.

When you have solar panels installed, it’s not just the visible panels you see on your roof that make up the system. There are several components that are responsible for the process of converting power.

Solar Panels

The very first solar technology was invented over 100 years ago but if you want to get picky then you could say that humans have been using solar energy for thousands of years. Way back then, humans would use the energy from the sun to light fires, although admittedly there were no solar panels in sight.

Solar panels, which are sometimes called PV panels, are devices that are placed in a position that allows them to collect energy from the sun and convert it into usable power. They do this thanks to lots of individual solar cells made from materials like silicon, boron or phosphorus.

These cells are able to absorb the sunlight as it hits them and when this happens, an electric current is produced. 

The science behind this involves photons, which are light cells, and a process known as the photovoltaic effect. As the photons hit the surface of the solar panel, they knock any electrons from their atomic orbit which sends them into the electric field that the solar cells have created. After this, the solar cells pull those electrons into a current.

If you’re thinking about having solar panels installed, you may be concerned that they won’t generate enough power but that’s where you’d be wrong. In fact, most homes in the UK have more than enough space on their roofs to install a sufficient number of solar panels.

Not only this, but in most cases, homes will have ample space to install solar panels that can generate enough power to see you through the night; they don’t only work when the sun is shining onto them.

Solar Batteries

In order for your solar panel system to store excess energy which can be used at night or during a power outage, you must also install solar batteries.

These batteries are designed to hold onto excess power and can be installed alongside your solar panels, or you might decide to upgrade down the line.

Solar Inverters

Without a solar inverter, your solar panels are of little use and this part is installed at the same time as the panels and is placed directly underneath them. However, in large-scale installations, it is also possible to use a string inverter which connects all of the panels to one main inverter.

The job of this device is to convert the electrical current generated by the panels (AC – alternating current) to a DC (directional current). The standard flow of electricity that’s needed for the circuits in your home is DC which is why this part of the installation is so essential.

Power Optimisers

If you’re looking to get the most out of your solar panel system then you might consider installing a power optimiser to each of the panels. Now, it’s important to keep in mind that this isn’t something you have to install but it’ll certainly make your system more reliable and will help to generate the most power.

Quite simply, a power optimiser is a device that is attached to each panel, allowing the peak power point to be tracked. As a result of this, these devices ensure that each panel is performing to the best of its ability.

What’s more, in a traditional string inverter set-up, it is possible that one bad panel could interrupt the performance of all the others but that isn’t the case when using power optimisers.

As with solar batteries, you may decide to install power optimisers at the same time as your panels. However, if this is something that catches your eye at a later date, it’s perfectly feasible to have additional work done to include them.

Are There Different Types Of Solar Panels In The UK?

When it comes to purchasing solar panels, there are several different types to choose from. It’s important to understand the pros and cons of each type as this will help you make a better decision. I’d also urge you to consider the cost as each type of solar panel may be more or less affordable than the rest.

In the UK, there are generally eight types of solar panels in use. In the following sections, I’ll explain a little about each.

Monocrystalline Solar Panels

Monocrystalline solar panels are one of the, if not the most popular types of panels. They’re made by melting single crystal silicon into bars which are then given an anti-reflective coating for two reasons; to make the material look darker and to improve the efficiency.

One of the great things about this type of panel is that it has a much nicer appearance than many others with its sleek, black design. What’s more, for domestic installations, it’s known to be one of the most efficient performers.

However, it’ll come as no surprise that, because of these benefits, you can expect to pay a higher price for each panel. Depending on the size of your home and how many panels are required, you could pay anywhere in the region of £4000 to £12,000. That said, it is estimated that you could cut your energy bills by as much as 70% so it would only take around 14 years to break even; that’s just half the expected lifespan of your solar panel.

Polycrystalline Solar Panels

Polycrystalline solar panels are made in a similar way to monocrystalline panels but use multi-crystal silicon which is moulded into squares rather than bars. When you look at the panel, you’ll see this quite evidently in the form of a bluish mosaic pattern.

One of the great things about this type of panel is that it is a more eco-friendly option than monocrystalline as less waste is produced during production. However, the efficiency of these panels is not quite as great and you’ll often find that you have to pay more per watt which can make them a little more expensive.

The reason for this is that you’ll need to cover more of your roof surface to achieve the same results as the monocrystalline panels. On top of this, polycrystalline panels do not have the same aesthetic appeal as monocrystalline.

Transparent Solar Panels

If you have a skylight or glass roof then adding solar panels is going to stop natural light from getting through but that’s where transparent solar panels come in. These are designed to be placed over the top of glass structures without interfering with the light flowing through them.

While this may sound good, and it’s a technology that’s definitely going to advance in the future, they’re currently a very expensive option. What’s more, they’re not currently as efficient as other types for domestic properties.

But in the commercial world, transparent solar panels are being used because they become more cost-effective when installed over a much larger area. What’s more, it’s worth considering that these panels are not 100% transparent and while test models have reached around 86% transparency, the ones available for purchase are only around half of this.

Thin Film Solar Panels

Thin film solar panels are certainly not one of the most efficient options out there but they are ideal if you have complex needs. For example, if you live in a mobile home or your roof space is incredibly limited. This is because these panels have great flexibility and can be installed around other structures; even wrapped around them.

These panels are made by layering photovoltaic material and one of the great benefits is that they’re often a lot cheaper than other solar panels. That said, they’re not as common so not all suppliers will be able to provide you with them.

Solar Thermal Panels

When you think of solar power, you would normally imagine the electrical energy supplied to your home but what if I told you that solar panels can also replace your grid gas supply?

While less common than electric solar panels, solar thermal panels generate power to heat your hot water. If your gas bills are anything like mine recently then this will be a welcome change!

Instead of collecting light from the sun, solar thermal panels contain either a tube or plate that collects heat from the sun. Inside the panel is a mixture containing water and glycol which is then heated by the harvested energy. Once this happens, the heat is transferred to the exchanger which is located in the hot water tank.

These panels are sometimes referred to as solar water heaters and it’s reported that their installation could save you as much as 50% on your current heating bills.

Solar Tiles

A lot of people are reluctant to invest in solar panels because of the way they look. However, solar tiles are a great alternative as they do exactly the same job but are made to look exactly the same as your normal roof tiles, meaning that they’ll blend in.

However, there is one massive downside to these types of panels and that’s that the entire roof will need to be replaced in order to install them. Not only is this a big job but it can also cost a lot of money.

You also need to consider that this type of solar panel is not as efficient as some of the others I have discussed. This means that your energy bill savings will be lower each year so it will take longer to break even.

The only real upside to these solar panels at the moment is their aesthetic appeal. So, unless you’ve got a lot of money to spend or you live in an AONB, it might be best to wait until this technology advances a little more.

Concentrator Photovoltaic Solar Panels

A single household would only need the intensity of one sun to provide sufficient power but when you install a concentrator photovoltaic solar panel, you get the power of 1000 suns!

That’s because this type of solar panel is fitted with curved lenses or mirrors that direct sunlight onto the solar cells, making them incredibly efficient.

Even better is that these solar panels are fitted with trackers which means that they always get the optimal amount of sun throughout the entire day.

They are incredibly advanced and also feature a cooling system so there’s no danger of the panels overheating, which is a worry for many homeowners.

However, this type of solar panel is not widely available in the UK and is something we usually see in countries with a much hotter climate.

Perovskite Solar Panels

Perovskite is a man-made material whose design is similar to the naturally occurring mineral of the same name. This synthetic material is placed on the normal silicon used in traditional solar panels to maximise the rays that hit it.

This is because traditional silicon panels only pick up on the red end of the light spectrum whereas perovskite is able to also absorb the blue end. With this advance, it means that these types of solar panels are far more efficient. In testing, some panels were seen to exceed 33% efficiency which is pretty impressive.

However, in the UK, these panels are not yet being manufactured. If you want to invest in them, you’ll have to wait until the end of this year when manufacturers have estimated they’ll start producing them for domestic use.

Smart Modules: The New Way To Power Your Smart Home

If there’s one thing that’s changed dramatically in homes over the last few years, it’s smart technology. We have everything from smart lights, security systems and heating to the wonderful addition of the smart metre and everything in between.

So, it probably won’t come as any surprise that smart solar panels are also a thing, although manufacturers refer to them as smart modules.

Smart modules are a more efficient way to include a power optimiser in your system because it’s built into the panel. This means that each panel will perform to its best without the need to install any additional equipment. What’s more, you’ll be able to harvest far more energy than you would when using other types of solar panels.

That said, you have to consider that these smart modules are typically a lot more expensive. But it does also mean that you’ll save more on your energy bills due to a more efficiently performing panel.

Connecting Your Solar Panels To Your Smart Home

In the last few years, the UK Government has rolled out the use of smart metres in domestic properties. According to government reports, more than 33 million smart metres have now been installed around the country and that figure is only set to grow.

You may have been under the impression that, when using a smart metre, one would have to be reliant on grid power but this is not the case. In fact, it’s perfectly possible to have solar panels connected to your smart metre so you can monitor how much power you’re using.

With that in mind, not all energy suppliers are offering this at the moment. It is something that will roll out in the future but it’s worth contacting your provider to see whether their smart metres are compatible with solar energy.

Want To Charge Your EV? No Problem!

As well as the accessories I discussed in previous sections such as solar batteries and power optimisers, you can connect other devices to solar power including your car charger.

It’s estimated that by 2050, the sale of all new and used petrol or diesel vehicles will stop so many people are investing in EVs now to get ahead of the game.

If you want to be able to charge your car at home using solar energy then you’ll need two things; a solar panel system and a solar charger for your vehicle’s battery.

It is worth keeping in mind that charging an electric vehicle can consume a lot of power and how much is needed will depend on certain factors. This includes things like the weather and the time of year. For example, in the winter months, there isn’t going to be as much sunlight so there may be a need to use additional power from the grid. Even so, partially charging your car using solar energy is a great way to be sustainable.

Final Thoughts

Installing a solar panel system can feel daunting, especially if you aren’t familiar with the technology. But the great news is that it’s not too difficult to understand and even easier to use.

There are several types of solar panels to choose from and an array of accessories to optimise their performance.

With solar power being the future of energy, there’s never been a better time to get on board and start being more sustainable.

Request a call back

* Required Fields

We hate SPAM and we promise to keep your email address safe. Here are our Terms & Conditions.

By clicking on the link, you are agreeing to go on our mailing list. You can unsubscribe at any time.