Solar water heating

Solar hot water panels

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 can be used to make the water hotter, or to provide hot water when solar energy is unavailable.

See a pop-up animation of how solar water heating can work in your home

Already know this is what you want? Download our buyer's guide to solar hot water.

The benefits of solar water heating

How do solar water heating systems work?

Costs, savings and earnings

Is solar water heating right for your home?

 

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 can reduce your carbon dioxide emissions.

Real-life users talk about generating their own energy:

 

How do solar water heating systems work?  

Solar water heating systems use solar panels, called collectors, fitted to your roof. These collect heat from the sun and use it to heat up water which is stored in a hot water cylinder. A boiler or immersion heater can be used as a back up to heat the water further to reach the temperature you want.

There are two types of solar water heating panels:

  • evacuated tubes (as in the picture above)
  • flat plate collectors, which can be fixed on the roof tiles or integrated into the roof.

Larger solar panels can also be arranged to provide some contribution to heating your home as well. However, the amount of heat provided is generally very small and it is not normally considered worth while.

 

Costs, savings and earnings  

The cost of installing a typical solar water heating system is around £3,000 to £5,000 (including VAT at 5%). Savings are moderate - the system could provide most of your hot water in the summer, but much less during colder weather.

 

Maintenance

Maintenance costs for solar water heating systems are generally very low. Most solar water heating systems come with a five-year or ten-year warranty and require little maintenance. Once fitted your installer should leave written details of any maintenance checks that you can carry out from time to time, ensuring everything is working properly.

Perhaps the most important thing you can check for yourself from time to time is whether there are any leaks. If there are any leaks of anti-freeze (even if you can’t see any liquid) this will have a strong smell. If you notice this you should contact your installer. In general you should keep an eye on your system to check that it is doing what it has been designed to do. If you are not getting hot water or the solar pipework is cold (when the pump is running) on warm, sunny days then again you should contact your installer. For peace of mind some installation companies offer an annual service check.

You should have your system checked more thoroughly by an accredited installer every 3-7 years, or as specified by your installer. It is likely that after this period of time the anti-freeze that is used to protect your system in the winter months will need to topped up or be replaced as it breaks down over time reducing the performance of your system. Anti-freeze lasts better if the solar water system is used throughout the year and not left unused during the warmest weeks of the year. This cost of replacing the anti-freezer is usually around £100.

The other thing that your installer should check is the pump.  In a well maintained system, pumps can last for ten years plus and usually cost around £90 to replace.

 

Savings

Solar water heating systems can achieve savings on your energy bills.  Based on the results of our recent field trial, typical savings from a well-installed and properly used system are £60 per year when replacing gas heating and £70 per year when replacing electric immersion heating; however, savings will vary from user to user.

Existing system

Savings per year

Carbon dioxide savings per year

Gas £60 275kg
Oil £90 350kg
Coal £80 610kg
Electricity £70 490kg
LPG £130 325kg
 

Earnings

You may be able to receive payments for the heat you generate from a solar water heating system through the government’s Renewable Heat Incentive. 

Household size

RHI income per year

2 person household £190
3 person household £260
4 person household £330
5 person household £425
6 person household £460

From August 2011, you may be able to get help with the installation costs of a new solar water heating system through the Renewable Heat Premium Payment scheme, payments will vary according to the number of people living in the property.  Find out more about how we made these calculations.

Green Deal finance and renewables

This technology is an eligible measure under the UK government’s Green Deal which is a financing mechanism that lets people pay for energy-efficiency improvements through savings on their energy bills.  

Further information on Green Deal.

 

Is solar water heating right for your home?  

 

Do you have a sunny place to put solar panels?

You'll need around five square metres of roof space which faces east to west through south and receives direct sunlight for the main part of the day.

The panels don't have to be mounted on a roof: they can be fixed to a frame on a flat roof or hanging from a wall.

 

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 usually 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. But if your boiler is a combination boiler (combi) and you don't currently have a hot water tank, a solar hot water system may not be compatible.

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

 

Before you start...

If you're thinking about installing a system to generate your own heat, make sure your home is as well insulated as it can be so your heat-producing system can be most efficient.

Focus on improving insulation and tackling draughts.

Generating energy – what suits your home? Use our online tool to find the technologies that will work for you.