Wednesday, 16 March 2011 7:22 PM
Emphasis is increasingly being placed on eco-friendly homes in the UK, so you could be looking for ways in which to improve the green credentials of your house.
There are a wide range of options open to you, from small-scale wind turbines to combined heat and power boilers but one of the most versatile is solar energy.
Solar photovoltaic - or PV - cells can be installed on a range of different properties, allowing you to generate your own electricity and also heat your own water.
The technology behind solar PV panels is, in theory, very simple. The cells installed on your property - usually on the roof - will capture energy from the sun and then convert this into electricity.
Solar heating systems work in a similar way, except that the energy captured is used to heat water rather than to produce electricity.
The panels used in this case are linked up to your home's water supply, as the liquid passes through the solar thermal panels it is heated by the sun's energy before being transferred to a hot water cylinder. Your boiler can then be used to heat the water to a higher temperature if needs be.
One of the best things about solar energy is that you do not need a large number of panels to benefit from the technology - just two solar panels could be enough to make a significant difference to your energy bills.
In addition to helping you save on your heating and electricity costs, solar panels are a great way to reduce the carbon footprint of your home and make it more environmentally friendly.
The Energy Saving Trust estimates that a typical solar PV system could reduce the carbon dioxide emissions of the average home by approximately one tonne per year.
So, if you want to do your bit for the environment then solar power is certainly an option you should consider.
But what do you need to think about when it comes to installing a solar PV system in your home?
Firstly, you need to make sure that you have a sunny place to install the panels. This may sound like common sense, but it's certainly worth checking your property thoroughly to find the best place for your solar panels.
Your roof or wall will need to face within 90 degrees of south and you should check that trees or buildings won't overshadow them, even for part of the day, as this will reduce its efficiency.
Secondly, you need to make sure that the roof or wall you intend to install the panels on is strong enough to support them.
Although they may not look like much, they are surprisingly heavy and you need to ensure that your home can safely support them.
Your builder or solar panel installer should be able to check this and tell you before you begin the installation process.
Thirdly, you should always check whether you need planning permission for a solar panel system on your home.
While many councils in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales will not require you to apply to install this technology on your home as long as it is below a certain size, it is always better to check.
This could be particularly applicable if you live in a listed building or if your house is located in a conservation area.
When it comes to the advantages of using solar PV systems, there are many!
As well as reducing your carbon footprint, you will also be able to cut your electricity bills.
The Energy Saving Trust estimates that a 2.2 kWp system can generate approximately 40 per cent of a household's annual electricity and you could also be able to take advantage of the government's Feed in Tariff scheme to make some more money.
This enables you to sell-back surplus electricity generated to the national grid, which could bring in about £900 per year.
Although the cost of installing solar energy systems may seem prohibitive, do not forget to check whether your scheme is eligible to receive a government grant towards the start-up costs.
Of course, if you decide to install solar panels on your home, you will want to be sure that the technology will work and is safe.
Hiring a trained professional to set up your solar energy system is a must, whether you decide to use a local builder with experience in this area or a specially-trained solar installer.
This is where ratedpeople.com can help. You simply post details of your job on their site and they search their network of recommended tradesmen in your area. They do all the hard work for you, and you'll be contacted by interested local tradesmen who want to quote on the work. Read ratings and recommendation by previous customers to help you make a decision.