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Push to keep solar thermal set to continue as consultation closes

Solar thermal only technology threatened with removal from renewable heat scheme.

Solar thermal (C) Norfolk Solar

The solar industry has pledged to continue to push to keep solar thermal as the Government’s consultation on plans to cut off all support for the technology closes today (Wednesday 27 April).

If the plans go ahead the long established and strategically important heat technology would be removed from the Renewable Heat Incentive entirely as of early 2017. It is thought the final decision is likely to be made in July.

Solar thermal panels use infrared solar irradiation from the sun’s rays to heat water which can then be fed into a hot water cylinder. There is currently 350GW of solar thermal capacity installed around the world – considerably more than solar PV. Thanks to support from the Renewable Heat Incentive, investing in solar thermal can currently provide a 5-8% return on investment for a typical homeowner and in summer months can provide almost all of a home’s hot water needs.

The Solar Trade Association is set to publish its submission to the review in full later today. A survey conducted by the body over the last week shows that 83% of the industry back their proposals for reform of the scheme to boost take up and provide more value for money.

The domestic Renewable Heat Incentive currently supports four different heat technologies – biomass, air source heat pumps, ground source heat pumps and solar thermal – but the Government is planning to strike just the latter off the list. The same is true for the scheme for bigger installations, which supports a wider range of technologies.

Mike Landy, Head of Policy at the Solar Trade Association commented:

“Everyone gets the sense of using heat from the sun to meet our hot water needs. So it’s hard to understand why the government is proposing to remove solar thermal from the country’s toolkit to fight climate change, especially when the UK is also struggling to meet its renewable heat target.”

“Recent months have shown renewed market interest in solar thermal from consumers, so we call on the Government to reinvigorate its support, not cut it off. Otherwise the country risks losing a strategically important option to reduce emissions and our reliance on fossil fuels”.

Analysis conducted earlier this year by the Solar Trade Association has shown that there has been an 88% increase in solar thermal sales enquiries compared to the same period in 2015 for the first few months of this year.

The Solar Trade Association argues that the Government’s proposals are contradictory, on the one hand seeking to extend renewable heat to less-able-to-pay homes, but removing the best technology for those households with the other. It only costs £7 per year to operate a domestic solar thermal system, and solar thermal is the only renewable heat technology suited to urban areas. The technology is popular with social housing associations in the UK to tackle fuel poverty.

Solar thermal can also contribute to industrial process heat, as well as hot water in hotels and hospitals. Analysis by the International Renewable Energy Agency has shown that solar thermal could technically provide nearly half of heat demand in the industrial sector, much of which requires low to medium temperatures. Solar thermal is already used for cleaning purposes in British dairy and fruit farms, and a swimming pool in Bristol gets 70% of its hot water from solar thermal. A new district heating scheme in Exeter that uses 2,000m2 of solar thermal panels. The potential for solar thermal is considerable.

The UK is currently ranked 44th in the world in terms of installed solar thermal capacity per capita.

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