shower with flowing water and steam

When you think about solar panels you probably think of producing electricity, but solar thermal may be a good option for you. You also may think that the UK climate is unsuitable for solar thermal panels, but they can make a big difference to your energy bills and they still operate during winter.

How does solar thermal work?

Solar thermal panels work by using energy from the sun to heat the water that circulates through the panels. Contrary to belief solar panels require light not heat from the sun and so they continue to work in colder temperatures. However, the number of daylight hours will impact when they can generate hot water. The output from the panels only make them suitable for heating hot water and not for heating your home.

The hot water is stored in a cylinder which is connected to your heating system where the temperature is increased to the desired temperature. This is economical as the temperature increase required is much lower than heating mains water. The ability to heat the water in the cylinder acts as a back-up when there is not sufficient light to create enough hot water.

There are two types of solar thermal systems. Evacuated tube panels use glass tubes around the water pipes to create a vacuum which allows the system to operate better at lower temperatures. Flat plate panels are surrounded by insulation to help retain the heat, these can be installed either on your roof or within the roof tiles.

Is solar thermal compatible for your home and family?

Firstly, you need to consider if your roof is suitable. You need a reasonable about of roof space that is facing the right direction to get plenty of direct sunlight.

You will also need to have enough space to house a hot water cylinder to store the heated water or have an existing hot water cylinder. Unless you are upgrading your heating system, your existing system would need to be compatible. Most hot water cylinders and conventional boilers are compatible. Combination boilers or those with no hot water cylinder are unlikely to be compatible.

Solar thermal panels also suit larger families who have a greater need for hot water as they benefit more from the savings that can be made and the payback period is shorter.

Incentives to support you

Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) is a government incentive available to those installing renewable technologies to produce heat and hot water. The RHI pays the system owner a fixed rate for the energy they produce for seven years based on an estimation of the system output.

Next steps

You should ensure your home is well insulated before you install solar thermal panels as it may impact your eligibility for the RHI. It will also help reduce your energy bills. If you need help in insulating your home visit our guides.

When looking for a solar thermal installer you need to find one that is Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) registered. To assist you we have built a quoting tool to enable you to get three quotes from certified installers.