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17 Dec 2010 04:12:20

Solar thermal best choice for UK homes



The lesser known solar panel solution in the UK is also the best for our climate: solar thermal. Unlike its cousin, solar PV, solar thermal harvests latent heat energy in the surrounding air which is then used within the home to power central heating and hot water systems.

Solar PV uses the sun's light to generate electricity. Contrary to popular belief this DOES work well in the UK, in spite of our temperate and generally overcast climate. However, solar thermal is the renewable energy source of choice as it is not dependent on either the intensity or longevity of sunlight.

There are two types of solar water heating panels—there are evacuated tubes and flat plate collectors. Flat plate collectors can be fixed on the roof tiles or integrated into the roof. A boiler or immersion heater can be used as a back up to heat the water further to reach the temperature set by the cylinders thermostat when the solar water heating system does not reach that temperature. (The cylinder thermostat should be set at 60 degrees centigrade.)

Solar thermal panels can harvest latent heat energy from any air temperatures above absolute zero. This means that even during bitterly cold winters such as those experienced over the past couple of years, renewable heat energy is still generated. Of course, the warmer the outside air temperature the more efficient heat energy collection becomes.

A major concern expressed by potential users in the UK is the question of planning permission. Unless you live in a listed building or in a designated National Park, you are unlikely to need planning permission to install solar thermal panels. Even in restricted areas, planning permission is usually granted.

Solar thermal is probably the most suitable renewable energy source for homes in the UK. Unlike solar PV, solar thermal technology works at night and when temperatures fall below freezing. The majority of fuel energy used within the home is to power central heating and hot water systems. The addition of solar thermal panels should greatly reduce a household's reliance on fossil fuels such as mains electricity and gas. The government's feed in tariffs, confirmed in George Osborne's spending review, mean that the cost of installation will be more than covered by the income generated by taking advantage of the scheme.


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