In the UK alone the sun emits between 900kWh and 1200kWh of solar energy per m2 of land per year. In fact, worldwide, that’s over 8000 times as much energy as we consume.
Solar thermal panels, also called collectors, capture thermal energy from the sun to generate free, environmentally friendly thermal energy. This energy is then used to heat water stored in a hot water cylinder, which can then be used for day to day use.
The Benefits of Solar Thermal
Low Running Costs
Solar thermal can provide approximately 60% of the energy required to heat your hot water throughout the year. In the summer months, it can provide 100% of your hot water needs meaning your boiler or electric immersion heater isn’t needed at all!
Lower Carbon Emissions
The energy absorbed from the sun is 100% renewable and carbon free, meaning you could lower your carbon footprint by over 20% compared to using gas or electric to heat the equivalent amount of hot water per year.
Eligible for Financial Support
Most solar installations are eligible for financial incentive payments through the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme. The solar thermal tariff is currently 19.74p per kWh of renewable heat production. RHI is only available to installations completed in accordance with the current MCS standards completed and certificated by an MCS accredited installer.
Very little maintenance is required for solar thermal installations which have been designed and installed to a high standard. It is recommended that the solar system is checked annually however and you may need to replace the solar fluid every 5-7 years.
Things to Consider
Solar panels are normally mounted onto a roof using a specialist mounting system, although they can also be installed onto a ground mount system. In order to get the maximum benefits of a solar thermal system, you’ll need to position the solar panels on a south-facing roof, or as close to south as possible. A pitched roof is best but there are options for mounting on to flat roofs also.
Solar panels should be used to heat a hot water storage tank, so if you don’t already have one you’ll need to have space to put one of these. Solar cylinders feature an extra heat exchanger coil which indirectly heats the hot water. This means that you’ll normally need to replace an existing hot water storage cylinder.
Solar thermal offers the biggest savings to those who use a lot of hot water. If you currently have electric showers it is worth considering replacing these for a thermostatic mixer type shower to make full use of the free hot water!
Typically, the cost of a solar thermal installation for an average 3 bedroom house using high-quality products and including a new unvented hot water cylinder ranges between £3,500 – £5,500.