Easier, better or both?


Running on Sunshine

Solar thermal and solar PV panels

Our solar technology has worked amazingly well throughout the sunny UK summer this year.
– The solar thermal panels have provided us with hot water  on all but ~two days since April. And that’s heating  a 250 litre water tank to between 55 to 70 degrees Celcius each day.
– The solar PV panels have done their job too. The electricity meter runs backwards when the sun shines. The current meter reading is only 300kWh higher than it was at the end of March.  At 12.4p/kWh, that works out at a cost of £37.20  for all our electricity/hot water for the 4 months from April to July (or £9.30 per month) (excluding service charge). We don’t have gas or oil, so this will be our total spend on energy this summer.

Our usage will go up once the days get cooler and we start to heat the house. Generation will decrease once the clouds re-appear. But the performance of the system has surpassed our expectations. It’s wonderful to be running on sunshine!

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Washing on the Line

Washing basketI grew up in a warm sunny climate where, on most days, it was possible to hang washing on the line to dry.

Then I moved to the United Kingdom and had to purchase my first tumble drier. This was essential, as I worked long hours during the week, and it always seemed to rain on precious weekend days when I had a chance to do the washing.  If it didn’t rain, the local pyromaniac would invariably decide to burn his garden waste just as I was taking the washing out of the machine. There’s nothing worse than smoky washing.

I have accepted the presence of a tumble drier in the house somewhat reluctantly, as it does get the washing dry when it’s wet outside. However:

  • It uses a lot of electricity
  • No matter how careful I am, and no matter what temperature I use, the tumble drier seems to accelerate the deterioration of fabrics.
  • It increases the risk of sock-pair-divorce.  (Where do socks go? And why do they always take off alone??)
  • Clothes that contain elastane shrivel.
  • Worst of all, duvet covers seem to get in a major, “soggy-in-the-middle”, twist, unless I baby-sit the process.Pegs

I’d far rather dry my washing in the fresh air on the line any day. It’s only a pity it’s such a rare treat here in the U.K. I spent a few weeks in California recently and was sad not to see many washing lines while I was there. Such a pity when the climate is so warm and dry. Laundry could be dried so easily there, without wasting all that electricity by tumble drying.

Fortunately, I get to use my washing line more often these days. I have a less hectic job and am no longer constrained to doing the laundry on weekends. So I can wait for those precious, dry, sunny days to get the washing out in the fresh air. After a dull, damp winter it’s such a joy when spring arrives and I can bypass the drier and head straight into the garden with a load of clean goodies.

It’s amazingly therapeutic spending a few minutes pegging the washing on the line, listening to the birds and watching the clouds scudding across the blue sky. For the next few hours I can look out the window and see the laundry gently floating up and down in the breeze. It is also satisfying knowing that I’m harnessing energy from the sun and the wind rather than using electricity. Drying washing on the line is also free!

On the line, bedding and clothes dry evenly and wrinkles seem to disappear. There’s something special about washing that has been dried in the sunshine. It’s warm, crisp, smooth and smells wonderful. We love jumping into bed and smelling the sunshine on our freshly laundered sheets – like for Dharma and Greg, “Clean sheets day” is one of the highlights of our week.

Washing on the line


Our amazing solar thermal panels

We love our solar thermal panels and have been blown away by their performance. They were commissioned in late winter this year, so we have been able to monitor their output through the dull, cool spring and sunny, warm summer.

Solar thermal panelsWe use the solar thermal panels as the primary source of heat for our hot water.

(Technical details: Worcester Solar Lifestyle 2 Panel Retro-fit Solar System. Bosch Thermotechnology Ltd. Total capacity 2.2 kW. System filled with glycol.)

An air-to-water heat pump acts as the secondary heat source and also provides on-demand heating when necessary.

P1030309Our hot water is stored in a highly insulated Kingspan 250 litre unvented solar cylinder.

  • Cold water feeds into the bottom of the cylinder
  • During daylight hours heat is generated by the solar thermal panels and is used to warm the water via a coil in the lower part of the tank.
  • The heated water rises within the tank.
  • By the end of the day the thermal panels have heated the water throughout the tank.
    • On cold, grey winter days the water is generally heated to between 20-40°C (depending on the starting temperature and the number of hours of sunlight that day).
    • On clear sunny, summer days, the water is heated to 70°C, which is the maximum allowed by the system.
  • The heat pump is controlled by a timer, and comes on after sunset, if supplementary heating is required. The fluid in the heat pump circuit flows through a coil in the upper part of the cylinder, to raise the temperature to 55°C. This is a comfortable temperature for baths, showers, etc. Once a week a 65°C pasteurisation cycle is run to prevent legionella infection.

Since late winter we have barely needed the heat pump. The solar thermal panels have harvested energy from the sun to provide almost all of the heat for our hot water. Even on overcast days, the solar thermal panels have contributed some heat, so the pump has never had to heat the water from “cold”. Those two little panels have heated 250 litres of water to over 60°C almost every day for the last 3 months – amazing!!Energy from the sun