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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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


Our More Sustainable System for Heating our Home and Hot Water

Earlier this year we renovated our house and used the opportunity to revamp our heating and hot water systems.

We live in a rural village where there is no access to mains gas, so the house and the water were heated using an oil (kerosene)-fired boiler.

Our house is a modern (for the UK) detached property, with wall and roof insulation. Windows are double-glazed throughout. While undertaking the alterations, we discovered that there is no insulation under the floors – one explanation for the cold tootsies in winter.

As we both work from home, we needed a system that would keep the house warm during the day and in the evenings, but would cost less to run than the old oil-based system.

Solar PanelsOur new system was planned using the premise that we’d generate our own energy or use renewable energy sources where possible, and that we’d minimise our use of fossil fuels. It was also designed to make us independent of oil.

The wood-burning stove was the first item to be installed and significantly improved our quality of life during the recent long, chilly winter.

We have installed two solar thermal panels that heat our water during daylight hours. An air-to-water heat pump boosts the water temperature, when necessary, on cloudy days. Hot water is stored in a large (250 litre), highly insulated, dual coil cylinder. A bonus of the new system is that we now have mains pressure water for our showers and taps and have been able to remove the header tank in the loft.

Air-source heat pumpThe air-to-water heat pump also heats our home via radiators. As this system runs at a lower temperature than the traditional oil-based system, radiators with larger surface areas had to be installed. Photovoltaic  (PV) solar panels were fitted to generate some of the electricity required to run the heat pump. We import electricity from the grid to supplement what we generate from the PV panels.

We are now independent of oil and so will soon say goodbye to the ugly oil tank in the garden. We no longer have to juggle the timing of oil deliveries against the oil level in the tank and fluctuating (usually rising!) oil prices.

The installation is complete and I’ll keep you posted on our experience with the new system over the next few months.