Solar Heating Panels – What, How & In The UK?!

Of course we can all visit the eco-show houses to see them, but it’s not until you hear someone you know talking about installing some, that you wonder if it is something you could do too?

Well, an internet fact that I’ve found reads: “The UK receives 60% solar energy of the equator, so solar panels work even on COLD CLOUDY days in the UK climate”. Now I’m sure they wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true, would they?!

So, how do they actually work?

Well, for heating there are 2 types of solar panels for, or ‘collectors’ as they are often referred to. Flat Plate Systems and Evacuated Tube Systems.Flat Plate Systems.

These are the most common type of ‘collector’.

They’re made up of an absorber plate (the dark flat plate you will recognise) which has a transparent cover that lets the solar energy pass through.

They will also contain a fluid to transport heat, removing it from the absorber, and finally an insulating backing. There are then of course variations depending on where they will be used.

In the UK for example where freezing is an issue, polymers would replace metal to guard against freeze damage.

You should be looking at a lifespan however of over 25yrs, so they are hardy things!Evacuated Tube Systems.

These are glass tubes containing absorber plates which feed into an insulated heat exchanger (manifold) that transports the heated fluid. In colder conditions these are more efficient than flat plate systems.

This is because of the vacuum that surrounds the outside of the tubes; this vacuum reduces heat loss to the outside (through conduction / convection).

So a possible option for UK users!The debate between which is better is long standing; however you may need a scientific phrasebook if you want to research this yourself!

If not then there is of course plenty of consumer opinion to be found on the net, however you’ll soon see that as any opinion, they are subjective, so you will have to make your own mind up.

What’s the benefit?With solar water heating you can have pretty much all of your summer hot water taken care of, and on average about 50% year round.

This, on an average domestic system can reduce CO2 by about 350 – 400kg a year. For this, on an average house, you would need around 3-4 square metres of roof that faces a southeast to southwest direction and for it to receive direct sunlight for the most part of the day.

However there are of course a range of factors to consider prior to installation – the south facing area of the roof, the current water heating system, budget, expectation etc. Obtaining a couple of quotes is always a good idea.

Expensive?Well, it depends on your point of view and how much value you place on using renewable energy and being more energy efficient.

You’re looking at an average cost of between £3k-£5k. Evacuated tube systems may be more expensive too.

Of course that should be all your pay, they require very little maintenance and most will come with long warranties.

So if you’re looking to become greener, save on energy costs in the long run, already have double glazing and are about to buy insulation, then this could be worth a little investigation.