STA fights to keep solar thermal in the RHI

Published:  02 May, 2016

The solar industry has pledged to continue its push to keep solar thermal eligible under the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme, following the closure of the government's consultation on plans to cut off support for the technology.

If the plans outlined in the consultation go ahead, solar thermal heat technology could be removed from the RHI entirely as of early 2017. It is thought the final decision is likely to be made in July this year.

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

Thanks to support from the RHI, 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 (STA) has conducted an industry survey that shows 83% of the industry backs its proposals for reform of the scheme to boost take up and provide more value for money.

The domestic RHI scheme currently supports four different heat technologies – biomass, air source heat pumps, ground source heat pumps and solar thermal.

Mike Landy, head of policy at the STA, said: "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 STA showed there has been an 88% increase in solar thermal sales enquiries during the first few months of 2016, compared to the same period in 2015.

The STA believes 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. According to the STA, it 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.