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HPM August 2013

Got a story? Ring us on 01732 748041 or e-mail twood@unity-media.com RENEWABLES Now is solar thermal’s time to shine The UK solar thermal market has been overshadowed by more popular green technologies. However, with new changes to the Renewable Heat Premium Payment scheme, Jerry Studden, Alpha Heating Innovation MD, explains why promoting solar thermal hot water shouldn’t be at the bottom of an installer’s list... Solar thermal technology has long been hailed as a great advancement in its ability to provide renewable energy in one of the simplest forms imaginable, yet it’s a technology that has struggled to make a real impact in the heating market, despite it offering a very efficient and usable solution for end users. But, while roofs decorated with PV panels are common sights across the country, solar thermal panels have seemingly failed to capture the imagination of homeowners. Certainly, in terms of the vouchers available through the amended Renewable Heat Premium Payment (RHPP), solar thermal falls well under the £2,000 offered for a biomass boiler, for example, at just £600. However, it is a much more economic technology to implement and neither does it have many ongoing costs to run. This is because, unlike the generation of electricity through solar PV, hot water can be stored until it’s needed. The way such technology works is relatively simple; for example, a flat plate solar panel fitted to the roof of the building collects solar energy from daylight via a layer of aluminium that absorbs the solar radiation. This energy is then transferred to the water that runs around copper pipes laser welded to the underneath of the main plate generating hot water ready to be drawn off. FUTURE POTENTIAL This straightforward technology of solar thermal is key to its future potential as a source of domestic hot water. As free power sources go, the sun is perhaps the largest and simplest choice to provide renewable energy. Using the sun to harness power dates back hundreds of thousands of years, but only in recent times has technology advanced to such a level that we can use it to our maximum advantage. So why has solar thermal remained fairly static in terms of popularity as a renewable source? Lack of awareness, or confusion over how the technology works and what qualifications heating engineers need to install such systems is a likely factor hampering this progression. This won’t be helped by the added stipulation of homeowners requiring a Green Deal Assessment before they can apply for the money back voucher under the latest revisions to the RHPP. From an installer perspective, solar thermal can be a bit of a grey area. While installers don’t need to be Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) accredited to fit solar thermal systems, in WWW.HPMMAG.COM order for the homeowner to qualify for the delayed Renewable Heat Incentive scheme, the system must have been fitted by an MCS accredited installer. For this reason, many installers may not be comfortable installing or recommending such systems to their customers. However, training is relatively simple and can be completed in one just one day at a course such as Alpha’s high efficiency and renewables training day. There is also still the misconception that all solar thermal units use glycol, which can be deterring for both installers and homeowners due to the maintenance aspect. However, products like Alpha’s SolarSmart, don’t use glycol as the water is stored in an insulated drainback unit, thereby removing the risk of damage from freezing and associated maintenance costs of a glycol based system. Another aspect that has changed significantly is the payback period. As costs have come down and efficiency levels have risen, a solar thermal system will typically pay for itself in around four to eight years, based on average use and correct installation and maintenance. When you compare this with other renewable options this becomes a much more viable and appealing choice, plus as it can be included as part of a modern retrofit or a new build situation Has solar thermal remained fairly static because of a lack of awareness, or confusion as to how it works? 44 AUGUST 2013 HEATING & PLUMBING MONTHLY it’s a perfectly flexible solution for the current UK housing market. A solar thermal system working in combination with a modern, high-efficiency boiler can dramatically reduce the work the boiler needs to do as it only fires up when the stored water level drops below a certain point. Even then, the water entering the boiler is significantly warmer than cold mains water that would otherwise been used. As a free and low-carbon option to supply domestic hot water, solar thermal is perhaps one of the most underused technologies currently on the market but, with a huge 75% of domestic energy consumption committed to heating and hot water, and with ever increasing numbers falling into fuel poverty, we need to find a more feasible solution to supplying domestic hot water to millions of UK homes. Given that high-efficiency gas boilers still dominate the UK market for home heating solar thermal can be an ideal way to not only bridge the traditional versus renewables heating dilemma. There are many practicalities and benefits of solar thermal systems need to be better presented by both manufacturers and installers in order to bring solar thermal to its full potential in the UK market. enquiry number 133


HPM August 2013
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