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Solar panels are not dependant on direct sunlight. They are heated by solar radiation and therefore can gain some heat on a cloudy day and in the winter. Obviously solar radiation is at its strongest in the summer months, but useful amounts of energy can be obtained at other times as well.
They work best facing a southern sky. Evacuated tubes can gain heat throughout the day as their rounded profile collects solar radiation from all angles as the sun tracks across the sky.
Solar panels provide a strong boost for domestic hot water systems, reducing conventional energy usage by the normal heating boiler as they bring the hot water cylinder up to temperature more quickly and keep the water hot. Not only do energy costs come down, but the working life of the conventional boiler is extended as its workload decreases.
Solar is great for swimming pools. Solar provides a constant free source of warming for pools throughout the summer months keeping the water warmer even during a 'chilly' spell and extending the period that they can be used each year.