Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Solar energy

Solar energy for power and heat

Solar energy can provide both electricity and heat. It's unlikely to supply all the energy a business needs but can provide a significant percentage.

Photovoltaic (PV) panels convert sunlight into electricity. They are available in a variety of formats including cladding, roof tiles and custom glazing. The panels are generally positioned on an unshaded, pitched roof. This allows them to receive as much sunlight as possible.

Solar hot water systems absorb energy from the sun and transfer it, using heat exchangers, to heat water. Solar water heating can heat water to temperatures of up to 65°C. There are a variety of solar water heating collectors available, which are commonly mounted on roofs in the same way as PV panels.

Advantages of solar energy

  • Solar water heating can be a very economical system for businesses that need large quantities of hot water, such as canteens.
  • Many people find solar panels a relatively attractive addition to a building. They also make it clear you run a sustainable business.
  • Planning permission is not always required, although you should always check with your local area planning office.
  • Solar panels require little maintenance.

Disadvantages of solar energy

Solar energy is an intermittent technology as it is dependent on sunlight. Panels can generate some energy when conditions are cloudy but not at night.

Solar energy can be expensive to implement, usually with payback periods of more than 8 years. The cost of solar PV has dropped recently so payback periods are shorter than before. Fitting solar systems on existing buildings can be costly. It is better to install solar energy at the build stage.

Further information

Carbon Trust: Renewable energy technology guides (requires registration)

Solar Trade Association:

Microgeneration Certification Scheme: Accredited installers and renewable energy products

In this Guideline

Benefits of using renewable energy

Generating income from renewable energy

Renewable energy considerations

Wind energy

Biomass and anaerobic digestion

Solar energy

Geothermal energy and ground source heat pumps

Hydroelectric power

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