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Solar Hot Water
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Using solar hot water
Solar hot water systems trap the sun’s heat in panels or tubes and are used to provide a hot water supply. A solar hot water system can save 50-70% on hot water heating bills over the year. Up to 100% of hot water needs can be provided during the summer months and a significant proportion can still be provided during autumn, winter and spring.
You may immediately benefit from lower fuel bills. At some stage you will also be paid for the heat you produce under the Renewable Heat Incentives (RHI) programme.
Phase 1 was opened to applications from the non-domestic sector on 28 November 2011. Phase 2 details for the domestic sector – houses and flats – are still being worked out. In the mean time householders will still be able to receive a one-off payment through the Renewable Heat Premium Payment scheme to cover part of the installation costs.
The renewable Heat Incentive is a world first for the UK. It is hoped that it will stimulate the whole renewable heat industry and create new jobs. A similar incentive, Feed-In Tariffs (FITs) already pays participants for energy from PV solar panels, wind turbines, anaerobic digesters and hydroelectric technologies and also enables selling back surplus energy to the grid.

Integrating solar technology
Solar hot water systems usually take 1-2 days to be professionally installed and integrated into an existing hot water system. The systems generally work alongside standard boilers. The standard boiler acts as a back up system, firing up automatically at any times when the solar system isn’t providing enough heat. Usual controls are included, such as timers and temperature controls, making the system as easy to use as any other modern heating method.

photo - solar thermal panel with tubes photo - flat solar thermal panel

Solar hot water systems can be made up of tubes or panels. Both convert energy from the sun into heat for hot water.

With a well designed system, there should be no need to use a solid fuel boiler at all during summer months. Even during the autumn, winter and spring, the system will still make a significant contribution to hot water needs.

Cost effectiveness
Solar hot water systems can make significant savings on hot water heating bills (50 – 70%). Systems currently cost from around £2500, but a good quality, well installed system is more likely to cost between £3500-£4500 for the average 2 or 3 bedroom property. This price includes standard installation charges.
The savings achieved depend on the size of the installation and on which fuel you are currently using. Replacing peak-rate electricity, oil, coal and LPG with solar will achieve the most dramatic savings. This does not take into account the RHI payments that will come into effect once phase 2 details for domestic properties have been decided. Furthermore, gas and electricity costs are expected to increase dramatically in the next few years as fossil fuels become increasingly scarce. These factors, combined with the RHI payments, will make switching from gas to renewable sources much more attractive in the medium to long term.
Although the exact amount payable by the domestic RHI scheme has yet to be finalised, any eligible system installed after 15th July 2009 will qualify for the incentives from 1st April 2011. You will earn an amount based on an estimate of how much heat your system can produce. The tariffs will be index linked to allow for inflation. The payments will be made annually for twenty years.
There are a number of factors that can affect the cost effectiveness of the system. Installations at bigger houses or that involve complications of some kind, may be less cost effective as they are likely to incur higher installation costs. Things which might affect this are:

  • Access issues to the roof, loft or plumbing system
  • Mains pressure or “unvented” cylinder replacement
  • Very long pipe runs or a complex building structure
  • Requirements for contributing to an under floor heating system.

Costs can be reduced by self installing or if installing the system as a house is being built. If buying a professionally installed system, it is advisable to get three quotes, read the small print and never to sign up for anything on the spot.

photo - the sun

Are there any restrictions?
As with Feed-in Tariffs for electricity generation you will  have to use a registered supplier and/or installer under the MSC scheme to qualify for RHI payments.

You will generally not need planning permission for solar installations unless you live in a conservation area or listed building, but you should check with your planning authority.

photo - solar thermal panel canopy

General information
Energy Saving Trust - 0800 512012 -
Centre for Alternative Technology - 01654 705950  -
Solar Trade Association - 01908 442290 –

Suppliers and installers
Please note this is not an exhaustive list and is not an implied recommendation of any product or service
T4 Sustainability - 0845 4561332 -
Southern Solar Ltd - 0845 456 9474 –
Bredondale Solar - 01386 561133 –
Energy Engineering - 01694 731648 
Green Earth Energy  - 01981 241399 –
Solar Dawn - 01588 680469
Solar Twin Ltd - 0845 1300 137 –

Information from Marches Energy Agency –

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