Solar Water Heating

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Information About Solar Water Heating

Solar energy is a great natural resource: it is free, green, reusable, and efficient. The good thing is that we can harness the energy of the sun with different technologies. Usually, people associate solar energy with solar panels, which convert the energy of the sun into electricity. However, there is a different technology, known as solar water heating, that makes it possible to use the energy of the sun for heating purposes.

Both technologies are green and after the systems are installed, the resulting energy is free. Here we will give you some relevant information regarding solar water heating that will be very useful if you are considering investing in this renewable source of energy.

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What Is Solar Water Heating?

A solar water heating system, also known as a solar thermal hot water heating system, uses sunlight to heat water for domestic or commercial purposes. Since this technology relies on a clean source of energy, switching to solar water heating will lead to a reduction of your domestic carbon footprint. There are different varieties of solar thermal panels: you can choose a flat plate or an evacuated tube collector, mounted on your roof or wall. Generally, the solar heating system is incorporated into your existing hot water system.

Typically, a solar water heating system would meet approximately a third of the hot water demand of a family of four. More specifically, if you invest in a solar water heating system for a three-bedroom semi-detached house would save you from £55 to £80 on your annual water-heating bills. Owners of a solar water heating system are also eligible for the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme, which is designed to financially reward households using renewable energy to heat their buildings. If you are interested in reading more about RHI, you are welcome to visit our blog and read 'The Renewable Heat Incentive Application Guide,' where we explain what the RHI scheme is, who is eligible to apply for this programme, and what are the earnings one can expect to receive when applying for such a scheme.

How Do Solar Water Heating Systems Work?

Solar water heating systems collect the heat from the sun with the use of solar collectors. Collectors are generally fitted to the roof (pitched or flat), where they receive the most sunlight. They can also be mounted at ground level or even on a south-facing wall, but the best option will always be the location where the collectors are most exposed to the sun. An immersion heater or a boiler can be used as an additional option to increase the temperature of the water when necessary.

There are two types of solar thermal collectors, which mainly differ on their aesthetics but have a very similar performance: flat plate collectors and evacuated tubes.The first type consists of hot water solar panels with a flat glazing which is mounted on a roof and the evacuated tubes consist of several “vacuum tubes” fixed into a manifold mounted onto a roof.

Apart from the collector, you need to route highly insulated pipes from the collectors to a hot water cylinder (either existent or a new one). Cold water from the bottom of this cylinder is then pumped through the collector, which heats the water and then sends it to the top of the hot water store.

The video below explains how the solar water heating system works:


Benefits of Solar Water Heaters

Using solar powered hot water in your home has many benefits. We listed a few of those below. 

  • Solar hot water heaters provide hot water all throughout the year.
  • It reduces the utility bills as it can provide a third of your hot water needs.
  • It reduces your carbon footprint by saving between 230 kg and 510 kg of carbon dioxide (CO2) every year.
  • Contrary to other renewable energy solutions, solar water heating has low maintenance costs and high durability, proven by their average warranty of five to ten years.
  • Solar water heating uses the sun’s heat, so once you have covered the initial costs of investing in an installation, there are very little additional costs, besides the amount of electricity needed to run the pump powering the system.
  • The solar thermal system works together with your existing heating or hot water boiler, or even with heat pumps and biomass. 
  • Solar water heating is eligible for regular Renewable Heat Incentive earnings for producing energy from renewable resources.

Choose a Solar Water Heating System

 Solar Water Heating Systems

When choosing your solar water heating system, you should consider the following factors to optimise your purchase:

  • That your roof faces the south. Or be sure that you select the best location in your house to fit the solar water heating collectors, which will guarantee their maximum efficiency. If this is not possible, consider buying a thermodynamic panel which can be placed on any side of the house.
  • That you have the necessary area of south-facing roof available. In the case of flat plate collectors, you will need approximately one square meter of collector area per person living in the building. This is enough to heat up between 30 and 60 litres of water.
  • It is a good idea to have an Energy Performance survey carried out to check if you are maximising the energy use. If you don’t, you should make the necessary changes before installing the solar water heating system and applying for the FiT, which will guarantee a better FiT rate as well.

Maintenance of a Solar Water Heating System

Unlike the initial solar water heating systems cost, the maintenance costs are usually low. As already mentioned, a typical solar water heating comes with a five to ten-year warranty. Once you have installed solar heating panels on your roof, you will not deal with any additional costs.

However, it is important to note that you need to have periodical maintenance checks to make sure that your solar hot water system is working properly. You should have your solar water heating system checked by a professional installer every three to seven years, which is a sufficient time span for the anti-freeze to be checked, topped up, or maybe even replaced to avoid any possible leaks. The average cost of replacing the anti-freeze fluid in a solar water heating panel is around £100.

Savings on Solar Water Heating

Since there are different types of systems you can choose from, it is hard to estimate the exact solar water heating panels prices. A domestic solar thermal system will generally cost around £3,000 and £5,000 depending on the size of the property and whether you need a new hot water cylinder or you use the existing one.

If you decide to buy solar hot water panels you could save yourself a great deal on your monthly energy bill.  A typical saving on a solar water heating system with a properly insulated building, a proper installation and proper usage can reach up to £60 per year when switching from a gas heating system, and £70 per years when switching from an electric immersion heating. However, savings can vary between solar water heating users.

  Savings per Year CO2 Savings Per Year
Gas £60 275 kg
Oil £90 350 kg
Coal £80 610 kg
Electricity £70 490 kg
LPG £130 325 kg

Earnings on Solar Water Heating

Another thing to remember is that a solar water heating system may enable you to generate earnings due to government grants like the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme. The table below shows average annual earnings that a solar water heating owner can expect. However, this amount may vary between different solar water heating installations.

 Home Size RHI Income per Year
2- person household £190
3- person household £260
4- person household £330
5- person household £425
6- person household £460