The Base Guide to Energy Saving – Harnessing the Power of the Sun
As the cost of energy soars and climate change fears grow, what practical changes can you make to help you to save money and help the environment?
Whether you have an existing property or are planning a new build or extension, there are actions you can take to reduce your energy consumption. In part one of this series, we shine a light on harnessing the power of the sun:
Solar power is a long-established form of alternative energy that can provide power even when it isn’t sunny.
One of the most popular ways to harness the sun’s power is to fit solar panels, ideally to a south-facing roof. Solar panels use photovoltaic cells to convert the sun’s energy into electricity, which can either be used to power your property or fed back into the National Grid.
This means that not only would your bills reduce as you use your own renewable energy, you will be reducing your reliance on environmentally-damaging fossil fuels.
PV cells can convert the sun’s energy even on cloudy days but will generate best on days of full sun. The electricity they generate is direct current (DC), so an inverter will be included into the system to convert it to alternating current (AC) which can then be used in your property.
A solar system, which can be retrofitted or installed as part of a new build – can power all the electrical appliances in your property if it is big enough or can be tailored for a specific purpose. PV systems to power electric vehicle chargers are becoming increasingly popular through the use of solar battery storage.
If you are thinking about solar power, there are a few things you need to consider.
Space – the average solar scheme takes up about 25m sq of space. Ideally it should be south-facing, although east and west-facing surfaces can also do well – north-facing is not really an option. Ideally, the space should be unshaded by other buildings or trees, although a level of shading can be compensated by the addition of optimisers.
Permission – in most cases, you won’t need planning permission to add solar panels as they are part of permitted development. If your property is a listed building, or if you are in a conservation zone, your options might be restricted – it’s always best to check with your local planning department before starting work.
Registration – your solar system must be registered with your distribution network operator – the company responsible for supplying energy to the property. Your installer should be able to complete the paperwork for you.
Solar water systems are also an established technology which can reduce your energy bills. These systems use “solar collectors” to convert infra-red light from the sun into heat, which is then pushed through the hot water cylinder to heat the water for taps, showers etc.
These systems are unlikely to meet all of your hot water needs, especially in the winter, but over a year they can help reduce the amount of traditional energy you need to use and pay for. You might also need to add a hot water cylinder if you have a combi boiler.
Using solar gain
Solar gain is where you use the sun coming into a building to heat it. This is a cost-effective option to make the most out of a natural resource and something that we factor into our building design by looking at things including the orientation of a building or extension on a plot.
Whilst solar gain is a great way to gain passive heat in a building, you do need to look at ways to control how much sunlight comes in – no-one wants sun glaring into a room making it unbearable and too hot to use.
This design for a new office development featured large elements of open glass to create a bright, light working space. This could have led to the building being too hot or too bright so we incorporated canopies to manage the solar gain during peak months of the year and reduce computer glare.
This new build home that we designed used a protruding canopy over the balcony with a brise soleil – horizontal slats of wood that reduce the glare and prevent overheating to the master suite.
If you’d like advice on how to save energy in your residential or commercial extension or build project, get in touch.
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