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What is solar power?

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Sunlight is a renewable energy source. Solar panels convert sunlight into usable energy. Solar thermal panels use sunlight to heat water for washing and heating, while solar photovoltaic (PV) panels convert sunlight into electricity.

Britain's climate is unsuited to large-scale solar electricity generation. So in Britain solar technology is typically used by individual businesses, homes and even devices such as road signs to generate energy for their immediate needs.

In countries that experience a lot of intense sunlight, PV panels are becoming a cost-effective way to generate electricity. In the UK, however, solar PV is still an expensive way to generate electricity.

Solar panels are most effective in direct, intense sunlight, so the UK's latitude and cloud cover reduce their effectiveness. Additionally, the UK's peak electricity demand periods tend to fall in the early evening and in winter, but the electrical output from solar PV systems tends to peak around midday and in the summer.

The carbon footprint of solar PV is small and shrinking, as the materials used in PV panels are increasingly being recycled.

However, despite various Government tariffs and incentives, solar power currently makes only a modest contribution to the UK's energy mix and is expected to contribute less than one percent to the UK generation mix by 2030.    

Information sources

How electricity is generated through solar power

How electricity is generated through solar power

See how photovoltaic (PV) panels turn sunlight into electricity.

Is it plentiful?

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The UK's climate and latitude make it a less than ideal location for harnessing solar energy. But improvements in the performance of solar panels, and using solar energy wherever possible, could go some way to addressing these challenges.

Is it secure?

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The UK does not have to import solar energy, so in that respect it is secure. But obviously it does not work at night or in cloudy weather.

Is it predictable?

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Solar is an intermittent energy source. The UK does not rely on it for large-scale generation and it is largely confined to microgeneration. In the future, improved storage technologies may mean solar can play a greater role in generating electricity.

Is it affordable?

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By 2020 the cost of generating electricity using household solar photovoltaic (PV) panels should be about 25.3p/kWh. Production costs make solar expensive for generating electricity, but costs are reducing as solar technology is developed and commercialised.

Is it clean?

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Solar energy has a carbon footprint of 72gCO2e/kWh. Solar does not look so green when the carbon footprint of fabricating the panels is included. But lower-carbon manufacturing techniques can help to bring this down in the future.

EDF Energy's approach

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Solar power is part of EDF Energy's mix in the UK.

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