Solar Radiation in the UK: Do Solar Panels really work in Scotland?

by Solar Selections on October 30, 2012

Solar panels work in ScotlandA common question among those considering the purchase of solar panels in the UK is the weather. Do the sunlight hour differences from Cornwall to Scotland make significant enough of a difference to their effectiveness? The answer may surprise those who are interested..

The message is if you’re in the North of the UK solar panels are not affected by the weather as much as you might think. In fact, installing a solar power system on your roof in Aberdeen, Scotland will take only a year longer to pay off than if you were to install one in Brighton, England.

When you consider energy bills are rising everywhere, this is welcome news to those who were unsure about solar panel effectiveness in the North of the UK.

Solar Radiation Figures

The Met office statistics outline some fairly down the line statistics about the actual amount of sunshine difference between the North of the UK and the South. In short, there is only some 20 minutes difference between the two; far less than most would expect.

In addition, the Joint Research Centre’s (JRC) European Commission has a PV Potential Estimation Utility that is used to calculate the average amounts of energy generated from solar panels installed in various geographical locations. The data from this PVGIS program is widely heralded as accurate by people that have installed solar panels in the UK. This has been verified by Solar Selections through our prior customer follow ups.

This table outlines some locations in the UK, detailing the average solar radiation through Kilowatt Hours (kWh) generated for 1 Kilowatt peak (kWp) of installed solar systems.

Table: Solar Panel Generation in the UK by Location*

Location Solar Energy Generation (kWh/1kWp) Approximate Payback Terms on a 4kWp
Plymouth 2.61 6 years & 2 months
Brighton 2.48 6 years & 5 months
Bristol 2.46 6 years & 5 months
Norwich 2.44 6 years & 10 months
Birmingham, Hull & Liverpool 2.31 7 years
Newcastle 2.29 7 years & 1 month
Carlisle 2.23 7 years & 3 months
Dumfries & Aberdeen 2.21 7 years & 5 months
Glasgow 2.13 7 years & 8 months
Isles of Skye 2.10 7 years & 9 months
Thurso 2.04 7 years & 10 months

 *All data taken from the European Commissions PVGIS Database which has been recently updated. This has then been cross checked with actual generation rates from Solar Selections customers and the University of Sheffield website. Reviews from Solar Selections’ installer network have also been included for further verification. Please do not use this information as a beyond question source of data; instead cross referencing thoroughly and asking a Solar Selections broker for assistance if desired.

Assumptions - installation on a standard pitch and Southerly orientation along with a 50% export and energy price of 12pence per kWh and a 4kWp installed price of £6,000 inc VAT. PVGIS does not discriminate between types of solar panel and this is an important distinction.

As can be seen, the differences in solar radiation from Plymouth all the way to Thurso in Scotland amount to a year and 8 months difference in the payback on a 4kWp system. Thurso has the lowest solar yield of anywhere on the mainland UK for a solar panel according to the PVGIS, so can be largely considered a worst case scenario.

The Truth about Solar Radiation

Hard to believe that those located in Aberdeen will only experience one years difference to those in Brighton, but it must be remembered that solar radiation levels are more complicated than can be taken based on casual concepts of rainy or sunny regions. It is a measurement of the photons in the light that reaches an area of land, with clouds and rain affecting the photon levels less than might be expected. Weather patterns and the difference from East to West coasts are also factors.

Overall this really puts to bed the confusion over whether being located in the Northern regions of the UK make installing a solar panel array useless due to the energy generation levels. Whether you’re considering a domestic system or a solar farm, the UK as a whole is less unappealing than you might have thought.

Written by Jarrah Harburn

jarrah@solarselections.co.uk

020 7205 2267

© 2012 Solar Selections Ltd

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