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Solar Thermal Heating - The Basics

Most of us know about solar panels and have seen them even if we are not fortunate enough to have them. But not as many people know that solar power isn’t just used to create electricity, it can be used to heat water, too. Here’s what you need to know.

What is solar water heating?

Just as solar PV turns the sun’s photons into energy, solar thermal systems, or solar water heating systems, use the sun’s energy to warm up water, which is then stored in a cylinder or thermal store.

How do solar water heating systems work?

Solar water heating systems are made up of solar collectors, which are panels or tubes that harvest solar energy. Solar collectors are filled with a mixture of water and glycol. The infra-red part of the light is converted to heat, and the hot glycol/water mix then circulates via pipes through the hot water cylinder to heat up the water.

Can solar water heating be used instead of a boiler?

Nobody knows better than someone living in the UK that the sun can’t always be replied upon to put in an appearance! The amount of heat generated by a solar thermal system will vary throughout the year, so a boiler or immersion heater will be needed as a backup.

Can solar water heating heat my home?

Although bigger, more powerful solar water heating systems can be used to heat the home, they generally produce a very small amount of heat; solar water heating systems are designed to provide hot water to the kitchen and bathroom.

Do solar water panels have to go in a sunny spot?

As with Solar PV panels, solar water systems don’t require direct sunlight, but they are more efficient with stronger sun. A south-facing position is preferable for water heating panels, although east or west are fine, too; north-facing locations are not suitable.

How much space do I need for solar water heating?

Solar heating panels don’t have to go on the house roof; a flat roof, wall or good area of ground can work, too. As well as needing space for the panels, you will require a hot water cylinder to store the heated water.

Do I need planning permission?

As with the more conventional Solar PV panels, installing heat panels is usually considered a permitted development.

Are solar panels hard to maintain?

As with any investment, you need to take a little time to look after your solar panels. Watch for debris from nearby trees as well as a build up of dirt; dirty panels will be less effective and may cease to work entirely. Before you commit to getting any type of solar panels, speak to your solar power installer to find out how long you can expect your panels to last, estimated savings in terms of money and carbon reduction, and any specific measures you need to take to optimise the performance of your panels.

In general terms, solar panels are a good idea from a financial and ecological perspective. If you want to find out more, get in touch with a trusted solar energy specialist, or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

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