Memorandum submitted by the Energy Conservation
and Solar Centre
Solar Thermal, the provision of hot water heated
by the sun, is the Cinderella of renewable energy systems. Overlooked
or dismissed by government, unsubsidised, and often confused in
the public's mind with photo-voltaics, the UK market has remained
small and undeveloped. Yet there is much potential in the technology,
and other countries, including northern European ones, are investing
and installing far more units than here. Our comments in this
submission refer mostly to the domestic sector, with some references
to non-domestic uses, such as public swimming pools.
The advantages of solar thermal are:
It is not "rocket science",
but a mature, simple technology that is low cost
(relative to other renewable energy systems, such as PV).
It is generally installed at point
of use (unlike large wind turbines) and is suitable for installation
on buildings in all areas and at all UK latitudes.
It provides heat cheaply, unlike
other renewable energy technologies which primarily provide electricity.
It is discrete, even when combined
with a conventional heating system. There is no complicated, problematic
or costly connection to the electricity grid.
If installed correctly, a good quality
system should be reliable and last between 20 to 30 years.
It can be retrofitted to existing
properties or built in to new ones.
The materials used in construction
are commonplace and are similar to those used in plumbing.
The training needed to install the
technology is straightforward, indeed some householders can "do
Heat provided by solar thermal can
be a direct substitute for heat provided by fossil fuels such
as oil or gas,
so cutting CO2 emissions.
If the installation was subsidised,
Solar thermal could help with fuel poverty, especially in hard
to heat houses away from the natural gas pipeline.
Despite these relative advantages, solar thermal
continues to be overlooked. The PIU report barely mentions it
and groups it with limited technologies such as small hydro to
dismiss it in a sentence:
"Since most . . . units are small, they
would need to be installed in large numbers in order to secure
a substantial amount of energy".
Of course, solar thermal is ideally suited to
be installed in large numbers of dwellings and commercial and
public buildings. Because it is low cost, reliable and long lasting,
a large number of installations would, over the years, make a
real difference to CO2 output. Various attempts have
been made to estimate the possible CO2 savings for
the UK. In her submission to the PIU report, Professor Susan Roaf
suggests 20 million tonnes of CO2 a year, if 20 million
houses in the UK each saved one tonne of CO2 because
they have solar hot water systems installed. As there are around
50,000 households with solar thermal currently in the UK there
is some way to go to reach the Professor's target.
Unless the Government wakes up to the potential
of solar thermal it is difficult to see how the industry will
break out of its doldrums. The vicious circle of low demand, leading
to small revenues, leading to little advertising, leading to low
demand, will continue for the foreseeable future, unless there
are substantial fuel price rises for heating fuels.
In lieu of fuel price rises through market prices
or taxation, ECSC suggest that the Government institute a number
of measures to encourage solar thermal in the domestic and business
1. Funding for research and development
2. Encouragement/compulsion of installation
in new buildings
3. Advertising and information
4. Including as part of the utilities' EEC
5. Grants to house owners (via local authorities)
7. Grants for public buildings, such as schools
and leisure centres
8. Grants to social landlords
9. Extension of Enhanced Capital Allowances
10. Including the provision of solar thermal
as part of the Government's Fuel Poverty Strategy.
The Government, as customer, could also boost
the industry through widespread installation in its own buildings.
12 "Pay-back" times for domestic installation
is between six to 10 years. Back
A small number of local authorities encourage householders to
install solar thermal through grants or by supporting "solar
clubs" where information is exchanged. Back
Fossil fuels either burnt directly on site for heat or used to
generate electricity used for heating. Back
Especially the proposed 200,000 new homes in the growth areas
of Milton Keynes, Stansted, the Thames gateway and Ashford in