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Solar Thermal vs Solar PV for Installers

Posted by Christos Panayiotou on 30th June 2011

The rise of Solar Energy in the last few years has been almost meteoric. Solar PV has been all the rage with Feed in tariff’s providing the incentive for many home owners to take the plunge and install solar PV technology on their roof’s. However with most people having fairly limited roof space there is another alternative that is not only cheaper but will also soon be able to generate a return on your investment.

Solar Thermal has actually been around for much longer than Solar PV but it has been eclipsed by its electric generating cousin because that has been the main focus of Feed in Tariff’s. However the introduction of the first phase of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) (which rewards Industrial, commercial, public sector and community buildings for the heat they produce) will produce a surge in demand for Solar Thermal, Heat pumps and biomass boilers.

The second phase of the RHI will be launched in October 2012 and will reward homeowners for the heat they produce. As yet the tariffs have not been finalised however it is very likely that that at the end of next year demand for Solar Thermal is set to rise.

Until the Tariffs are announced it is hard to say which solar solution will be best for you and your home, however I have tried to layout the pro’s and Cons below:

Solar PV cons

Less Energy Efficient than Solar Thermal

More Expensive Than Solar Thermal to Install

Because it’s less efficient Solar PV requires more roof space

Solar PV Pro’s

Feed In Tariff already live

Guaranteed return for 25 years

Rates are currently very good! 43.3p per kilowatt even if you use the energy.

Can outperform solar thermal at colder time of year

Solar Thermal Pro’s

More energy efficient than PV

Cheaper than solar PV to install

Requires less roof space

Solar Thermal Cons

RHI tariffs yet to be agreed

Return will only be guaranteed for 20 years

Payments are likely to be 18p per KW or less

Less efficient in winter when you need hot water the most

Requires a dedicated boiler / tank

It is hard to say which technology is better as it really depends on your needs. What is clear is that although solar thermal is more energy efficient, the weight of the incentives currently lay with PV and as such this is where financially it makes most sense to invest.

Ideally if you have the roof space installing both would make a lot of sense from both a financial and an environmental perspective. It is also clear that we are currently in a boom time for PV. Many people are still unsure about installing PV, however the current feed in tariff’s are only applicable to installations completed before April 2012. As we approach that time it is likely demand for PV installations will continue to grow as people realise what a good deal is currently on offer.

Very few investments can boast a 10% tax free return for 25 years and deal is not going to hang about.

As an installer Solar PV is likely to be a very wise addition to your skill set, however it is definitely worth looking into being able to fit solar Thermal too. It would be rare to find someone that could fit both PV and Solar Thermal and this could be a winning combination of skills. If you are a qualified plumber it would be worth preparing yourself for the surge in demand that is likely to hit in October next year by training now and getting ahead of the competition. In fact plumbers will be the winners next Octobers as a whole range of technologies will be in increased demand including ground source heat pumps, air source heat pumps, unvented hot water systems, biomass boilers and solar thermal all gain a boost.

Don't forget we offer solar PV installation courses and solar thermal training in our renewable energy training centre.


Categories: solar thermal, renewable energy, solar pv