Solar Hot Water Systems

Evacuated Tube solar collector Solar flat panel collector

Heat water for your home using energy from the sun

Solar water heating systems use free heat from the sun to warm domestic hot water. A conventional boiler or immersion heater is then used to make the water hotter, or to provide hot water when solar energy is unavailable.

See how solar water heating systems work

 

  • How do solar water heating systems work?
  • The benefits of solar water heating
  • Is a solar water heating system suitable for my home?
  • Costs, savings and maintenance
  • Find out more

See how you can use solar hot water and solar electricity together

 

How do solar water heating systems work

Solar water heating systems use solar panels, also called collectors, to collect heat from the sun and use it to warm water. This water is stored in a hot water cylinder until it is needed. These panels are usually fixed to the house roof but can be fitted to gable ends, patios or the garage roof.

There are two types of solar water heating panels, they are evacuated tubes and flat plate collectors. The picture on the left at the top of this page is a evacuated or vacuum tube panel, that on the right a flat plate collector. Flat plates collectors can be fixed on the roof tiles or integrated into the roof tiles. There are even systems that mimic roof tiles.

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.)

Larger solar panels can also provide energy to heat your home as well - though usually only in the summer months when home heating is unnecessary.

 

The benefits of solar water heating

  • Hot water throughout the year: the system works all year round, though you'll need to heat the water further with a boiler or immersion heater during the winter months.
  • Cut your bills: sunlight is free, so once you've paid for the initial installation your hot water costs will be reduced.
  • Cut your carbon footprint: solar hot water is a green, renewable heating system and doesn't release any harmful carbon dioxide or other pollutants

Is a solar water heating system suitable for my home?

To tell if solar water heating is right for you, there are a few key questions to consider:

  • Do you have a sunny place to put solar panels? You'll need around 5 square metres of roof space which faces east to west through south and receives direct sunlight for the main part of the day. Alternatively, if you do not have a south facing roof and if you have space, you could install two panels, one facing east and one facing west - but this will make installation more costly. The panels don't always have to be mounted on a roof, they can be fixed to a frame on flat roofs.
  • Do you have space for a larger, or an extra, hot water cylinder? If a dedicated solar cylinder is not already installed then you will need to replace the existing cylinder, or add a dedicated cylinder with a solar heating coil.
  • Is your current boiler compatible with solar water heating? Most conventional boiler and hot water cylinder systems are compatible with solar water heating. If your boiler is a combination boiler (combi) and you don't currently have a hot water tank then a solar hot water system may not be compatible.
  • Do you need planning permission? In England most solar water heating systems don't need planning permission, but it is always best to consult your local planning office if you live in a Listed Building, or a building in Conservation Area or World Heritage Site. If you live in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland you will need to consult your local authority.

Read more about planning permission for renewable energy technologies

A competent accredited installer will be able to assess your home and help you choose the best set-up to meet your needs.

To find out if a solar hot water system is suitable for your home use our energy selector tool - coming soon.

Cost and savings

Costs for a typical solar water heating system range from £3,000 to £5,000.

Savings are moderate - a solar water heating system can provide about a third of your hot water needs, reducing your water heating bill by between £50 and £85 per year. It will also save up to 580kg of CO2 emissions, depending on what fuel you will be replacing.

Maintenance costs are very low. Most solar water heating systems come with a 5-10 year warranty and require little maintenance. You should take a look at your panels every year and have them checked more thoroughly by an accredited installer every 3-5 years, or as specified by your installer.

Fuel Displaced £ Saving per year CO2 saving per year
Gas £50 260 kg
Electricity £85 580 kg
Oil £50 320 kg
Solid £65 530 kg

All savings are approximate and are based on the hot water heating requirements of a 3 bed semi detached home with a 3.5m squared panel.

Solar water heating systems tend to require little maintenance

 
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