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5 unexpected ways you can use solar panel energy at home

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You may already have an array of solar panels installed, or you may be contemplating a solar photovoltaic (PV) system to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, but, despite common assumptions, solar energy possibilities go above and beyond powering appliances, and there are some surprising ways that you can put the power generated to good use.

As well as saving energy (and money) every time you go to use the washing machine or make a cup of tea, here are some unexpected ways you can use solar day-to-day.

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1. Warm your immersion heater

An immersion diverter is a great way to put excess solar energy to good use. It works by monitoring your solar power production and appliance use and, if there is surplus energy, it will be diverted to power your immersion heater and provide hot water around the home. With the typical immersion heater running at 3,000W (costing an average of £1.02 an hour), it’s a no-brainer to make use of every drop of your renewable energy.

2. Charge your electric vehicle

If you’re thinking of joining the 1.1 million Brits with an electric vehicle (EV) on the road, it’s likely you’ll consider installing an at-home EV charging station, too. Solar-compatible chargers can power up your EV when it’s not in use, giving you the ability to go further without relying on the grid. EVs could also be used as informal and portable solar batteries in the future, storing excess energy generated for the average UK home’s use for 4.8 days.

brick house with solar panels charging electric vehicle
Solar panel energy can be used to charge an electronic vehicle – giving you free miles to go further. (Image credit: Adobe)

3. Power underfloor heating

If you have a dry underfloor heating system that runs on electricity, you can easily power this through your solar PV panels. If you have a “wet” underfloor heating system installed, solar thermal panels, or the addition of a water cylinder with PV panels, can be used instead.

4. Light up the garden

Energy generated by solar PV can easily be directed outside, too. Solar-powered lighting can make a nice addition to a patio or garden room, while you can use excess stored solar energy to heat an outbuilding or greenhouse. Solar thermal panels can also be used to heat swimming pools and hot tubs passively.

5. Top up a solar-assisted heat pump

If you have a smaller home that doesn’t need much in the way of heating, you could consider a solar-assisted heat pump. This combines an air source heat pump with a solar collector panel to absorb heat energy into a refrigerant gas that is then transferred to heat water in a hot-water cylinder. This type of combined heat pump system has the added benefit of being able to produce heat even at night or when the sun’s rays aren’t very powerful, as they extract warmth from the air.

Understanding solar panels

Knowing how solar panels work will help you get the most out of them. Using solar panels for homes comes with some complicated vocabulary but, simply put, they generate energy from sunlight. In a home setting, you will typically rely on a PV production system, which converts light into direct current (DC) electricity, before it goes through a solar inverter that turns this into alternating current (AC) electricity, for use around the home.

What can you run off solar panel energy?

Solar is a great option for those that want more energy independence. A typical 4kW solar power array will produce around 3,400kWh over the course of a year while the average two- to three-person household will use around 2,900kWh of electricity per year. These savings will eventually off-set the costs of solar panel installation and you will break-even. Here, is the energy usage and associated cost with some typical household appliances:

Household appliance Energy consumed Cost per hour
Electric shower 9000W £3.06
Immersion heater 3000W £1.02
Kettle 3000W £0.03
Tumble dryer 2500W £0.85
Electric space heater 2500W £0.85
Oven 2100W £0.71
Washing machine 2100W £0.71
Oil-filled radiator 2000W £0.68
Hairdryer 2000W £0.02
Hob 2000W £0.61
Grill 1500W £0.51
Iron 1500W £0.51
Toaster 1000W £0.01
Microwave 1000W £0.34
Electric mower 1000W £0.34
Vacuum cleaner 900W £0.31
Dehumidifier 500W £0.17
Plasma TV 350W £0.12
Fridge-freezer 350W £0.10
Desktop computer 40W £0.05
Laptop 50W £0.02
TV box 40W £0.01
DVD player 40W £0.01
Extractor fan 20W £0.01
Broadband router 10W £0.01

Costs from the Centre for Sustainable Energy are based on a unit price for electricity of 34p per kWh (average direct debit rate) which is the price cap after 1 October 2022 as announced by the government on 12 September.

Although it seems solar power would cover your household needs, almost like for like, it’s not that simple and going completely off-grid is quite difficult. Unless you have solar battery storage, any solar power generated must match your actual energy consumption. In summer, when solar energy generation is at its peak, without a battery any excess energy that is not used will be exported into the grid, while in winter, when generation is at its lowest, you might have to rely on the grid to import energy. Most households successfully use solar to power everyday appliances during the day and then rely on energy from the grid at night or when there is limited solar power available.

How to make the most of your solar panels

Solar power is strongest around midday, so, to optimise use of solar energy you might need to adjust your energy consumption patterns – especially if you’re not including a battery in your system. For instance, instead of running appliances such as washing machines and the dishwasher at night when it is cheaper from the grid, you might want to consider using them during the day to utilise solar power. 

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Cam is an experienced writer and editor who has been creating content for more than 10 years. She studied English Language and Italian at The University of Manchester, where she started out blogging and copywriting on fashion and travel.

She’s worked for Groupon and its partnerships – including <em>The Guardian</em> UK and US, the <em>HuffPost</em>, and Today.com</i> – and has covered a plethora of topics, from kitchen design trends to the best ways to score a good deal on home insurance. S

Swifty tapping into her love for everything home decor-related, she moved into the interior design space and edited realhomes.com, part of Future plc, for three years, where she worked with a tonne of DIY and renovation experts.

She currently lives in North London and is passionate about helping others perfect their surroundings with stunning interiors and functional home additions, whether they own or rent.