Heating your home using energy from the sun is becoming hugely popular in the UK today. The solar water heating systems available now use free heat from the sun to warm domestic hot water, sometimes supplemented with a conventional boiler or immersion heater to make the water hotter and provide hot water when solar energy is limited. The benefits of solar water heating include hot water throughout the year, reduced bills (sunlight is free, so once you've paid for the initial installation your hot water costs will be vastly reduced), plus of course you can reduce your carbon footprint by cutting carbon dioxide emissions. Solar water heating systems use solar panels, called collectors, which collect heat from the sun and use it to heat up water in a hot water cylinder. The two main types of solar water heating panels available are evacuated tubes and flat plate collectors, both of which can be fixed on the roof or even integrated into the roof design.
The cost of installing a typical solar water heating system is around £5,000 and the system can provide most of your hot water in the summer, but much less during the winter. Maintenance costs are generally very low with most solar water heating systems having a five or ten year warranty and requiring very little in the way of maintenance. The most important thing to check for is whether there are any leaks. This is an easy check to carry out yourself as any leaks of anti-freeze will have a strong smell. Many solar water heating installation companies will also offer an annual service check, but you should have your solar system checked more thoroughly every 3 to 7 years by an accredited installer, as over time the anti-freeze used to protect the system will need to topped up or replaced. Typical cost of replacing the anti-freeze n a solar heating system is around £100. In a well maintained heating system, the pumps should last for ten years or more, they usually cost around £90 if replacement is required.
Solar water heating systems can achieve savings on your energy bills by around £60 per year when replacing gas heating and £85 per year when replacing electric immersion heating, this equates to a typical carbon saving of around 230kg to 500kg per year. Plus it may be possible to receive payments for the heat you generate from a solar water heating system through the government's Renewable Heat Incentive. You may also be able to get help with the installation costs through the Renewable Heat Premium Payment scheme.
Ideally you need have a sunny place to put solar panels, around five square metres of roof space which faces east to west through south, which will receive direct sunlight for the main part of the day. However, panels don't have to be mounted on a roof, they can be fixed to a frame. In addition you will normally need space for a larger, or an extra hot water cylinder with a solar heating coil. Most conventional boiler and hot water cylinder systems are compatible with solar water heating, unless your boiler is a combination boiler and you don't currently have a hot water tank, in which case a solar hot water system may not be compatible.