Solar power

Solar power is a type of renewable energy that comes from sunlight. It can be installed on roofs or in rows or clusters on land. Solar could provide up to 70% of clean, cheap electricity for homes in the UK.


Solar power harnesses energy from the sun creating clean, renewable energy. 

Solar panels make electricity from the sun using photovoltaic panels. In many parts of the world, solar energy is the cheapest form of energy – cheaper even than dirty fossil fuels. Because of this, expanding solar power is one of the best ways to tackle climate change.

Types of solar power

There are a few different ways to produce energy from sunlight. 

  • Solar panels can be installed on the roofs of buildings, to provide electricity or hot water.
  • Transparent solar panels can be used as windows.
  • Solar panels can be arranged in rows on land.
  • Concentrated solar power systems use big circles of mirrors or lenses to angle sunlight towards a central receiver which gets very hot.

New ways of harnessing solar energy are being invented all the time. Companies are even testing putting solar panels in outer space, and sending the energy back to Earth.

Is solar a reliable source of energy?

Solar panels don’t produce energy all the time, because they take energy from the sun, and the sun doesn’t always shine. But with some supporting technology they can still be a reliable source of power.

Batteries are the most common method of storing solar energy for electricity. In home solar thermal systems, solar panels are used to heat water, which is also a form of clean energy storage.

Solar power in the UK

The UK isn’t an especially sunny country. Even so, UK government targets suggest that solar could generate just over a fifth of electricity. This is around 70% of what homes need, although some of it would need to be stored for when the sun isn’t shining.

Solar power in the UK a valuable complement to wind power

Pupils at Georgeham Primary in Devon play football in front of the school's new solar panels

Pupils at Georgeham Primary in Devon play football in front of the school's new solar panels Possible (Creative Commons Attribution license)

The UK government has in recent years been blocking solar power on land – for example on farms. They claim it might affect food production. But the UK uses productive agricultural land for lots of other non-food things like biofuels.

And solar farms are often compatible with farming. For example, grazing sheep are known to fare better on land with solar panels. The sheep also help keep the grass and solar panels free of weeds. The solar energy produced can also help farmers’ incomes, and help with UK energy security.

Greenpeace is campaigning to get solar panels onto more roofs across the country. This might be by making sure all new buildings are built with solar panels as standard, or government tax rewards for companies installing solar power.

Sheep stand next to ground-mounted solar panels

Solar panel production and recycling

To be a cheap, clean and accessible solution to climate change, the world is going to need a lot of solar panels. Solar panels are made from a variety of materials, including glass, silicon and metals like aluminium and copper. 

The energy that comes from solar is clean and the cheapest available. But sourcing these materials and producing solar panels does require mining, which can be harmful to the environment and workers.

To avoid these harms, the solar panel industry needs to be well-regulated – including mining and production. Recycling old solar panels can help avoid mining more than necessary.

Keep exploring

Renewable energy

Clean renewable energy is a vital tool for tackling climate change. Discover how it works and understand the advantages of wind, solar and water power.

Farming and solar panels can work together – here's the proof

From sheep and chickens to bees and berries, these farmers are producing food and clean energy from the very same fields.

Wind energy

Wind power is produced using wind turbines on land or at sea. In the UK, both onshore and offshore windfarms offer cheap and plentiful clean, renewable energy.

What is the UK doing about climate change?

All countries need to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. So how’s the UK doing on combatting climate change?