Solar Thermal Panels

a diagram showing how solar thermal panels work

What is Solar Thermal?

A solar thermal system uses specially designed solar panels which absorb energy from the sun. This energy is then used to power things like hot water heating systems, under floor heating and swimming pools. Solar thermal panels are usually made up of tubes, known as collectors, that are filled with a fluid similar to anti-freeze, that warms up when exposed to the sun. The warmed up fluid is then pumped to a cylinder containing heated water. The cylinder is usually connected to a normal electric immersion heater which can top up the temperature of the water if it is not high enough.

Depending on the size and location of your property, solar thermal systems can provide up to seventy percent of an average sized household's hot water needs. This means that you can potentially save a lot of money on fuel. It is also possible to claim certain grants which pays you for the energy your produce in this way, so as well as providing an environmentally clean form of energy, a solar thermal system can benefit the consumer in a multitude of ways.

Cost of Installing a Solar Thermal System

To have a solar thermal system installed can cost an average of between four and six thousand pounds. This, however, depends on a number of factors such as the location of your property, the size of the system, how many people are in the household, the exact inclination of the roof and whether or not the property is partially covered by trees or other overhanging features. As previously mentioned, there are grants available from the Department of Environment and Climate Change (DECC), to help with the cost of installation, though solar thermal systems are much cheaper to install than normal solar panels.

Renewable Heat Incentive and Potential Savings

The Renewable Heat Incentive is a government backed scheme which pays users of solar thermal panels for every unit of energy they produce in this way. Under the terms of the scheme, the user is paid around 9p per unit, and with the scheme lasting for the lifespan of the panels (around twenty years), this means that, on average, the initial cost of installing the system can be recouped within around six to eight years. As well as solar thermal, the RHI also covers ground source heat pumps and biomass boilers.

Given the fact that solar thermal panels do not require any electricity to run, you can save a lot of money on your energy bills. The DECC estimate that the average home can save between five and six hundred pounds a year from switching to solar thermal.

Environmental Benefits

In terms of environmental benefits, solar thermal panels possess a host of green credentials as they an environmentally clean form of energy production. They do not produce any harmful emissions and do not require any electricity to run. They rely on a completely natural resource for their energy (the sun) which is one hundred percent renewable.

So by switching to solar thermal, you have the security of knowing that you are contributing to the sustainability of the planet's energy resources. Additionally, they require very little maintenance as they contain no moving parts. All that is needed is a standard check up every three to five years by an MCS certified installer. Your supplier will usually provide this service at no extra charge.

Finding an Installer

As you might imagine, there are many installers of solar thermal systems in the UK. The sector has grown substantially in recent years due both to government incentives and the increased interest in renewable energy. You should, however, check that whoever installs your panels is MCS certified as this is a guarantee that they have the necessary knowledge and expertise. A full list of MCS accredited installers in the UK can be found on the MCS website.

Often you will find that you have a better chance of finding a cheaper deal if you are in a big city or town because there is greater competition for business which tends to push prices down. But whatever your location, you could try using a comparison site as they allow you to compare installers in your area and the deals they have to offer. They also provide impartial information due to the fact that they are not acting on behalf of any installer or manufacturer in particular.

Hopefully you now have a better idea of what solar thermal energy is and how it could help with your energy requirements.

Spread the Word!