Everyone’s fuel bills have been climbing steadily over the last few years - making some people’s thoughts to alternative ways to heat their home or hot water. One option that catches the eye is the use of solar energy.

But for most people their knowledge doesn’t extend much further than the thought that it has something to do with solar panels on the roof.

So what do you need to know before you go along the road of generating your own power? To ensure that we covered the points that most people want to know about - we asked some householders just that - what would you like to know?

These pages are based on their responses, we hope it helps them and you.


Q What different types of heating are there?

Q Can it be used for central heating and heating the water supply?

A The answer to these two questions are - there are two types of heating systems.

One heats water the other generates electricity which can be used for heating, cooking, or powering electrical equipment in your home.

Let’s take a look at both options.


This uses a technique called solar thermal (or thermodynamics).

No electricity is generated in this kind of system. Heat from the sun is collected through solar panels.

There are two types of solar panels - flat plates or evacuated tubes.

Tests by the Department of Trade and Industry favour evacuated solar tubes as being more efficient especially during the winter months.

Indirect systems:

Some technology, known as indirect systems, use a mix of chemicals (best compared to anti-freeze) and uses these indirectly to transfer warmth through heat exchangers to warm the water supply.

They take the warmth from the sun and heat water in a cylinder with a solar heating coil.

Direct systems:

Newer direct systems heat the water directly. This makes them more efficient as energy is not lost through transfer. This type of system is also less problematic after installation, as less technology is used.

Q Is there a tank for hot water?

Q Will I still need to use my immersion heater?

Q Is there instant hot water or do we have to plan for baths?

A Water heated from a solar system needs to be stored so yes you will need some way to store it.

It could be that an existing water cylinder in your home could be converted, so it is worth checking.

Using either a direct or indirect system to harness solar energy will give you hot water throughout the year, although it will probably need to be boosted by more conventional systems in the winter months.

It is estimated that a solar water heating system will provide around a third of the hot water needed in a household.

So just to underline the answers to the questions - yes you will still need an immersion heater, or heating from your central heating system, and no you don’t have to book a date for a bath!!

And there is the bonus that it will save considerably on your water heating bill as sun light is FREE. Once installations costs have been covered it will mean savings all the way.


Evacuated tubes - source a system which uses as double liner - more heat will be retained as it works like a vacuum flask.

Combi boilers:

You need to check that if you have a combination (combi) boiler - using a solar water heating system is compatible. These systems don’t use a water cylinder and work on a different rate of pressure, than those that do use cylinders.


Q Does a solar system store energy?

Q Does it work with existing radiators?

To heat your home using solar energy you need a system which actually generates electricity.

This technology is called Photovoltaics (PV) - it is a more expensive system to purchase than those used for water heating, but like many things advances in knowledge and production has seen the price drop steadily since they were first introduced.

Domestic systems tend to come as solar panels, slates or tiles which are installed on the roof.

Generating your own electricity supply is quite literally that.

It will not only help heat the home, it can be used for lighting or to run appliances.

PV systems sound complex but the principal is quite simple. Each cell has two layers of a material such as silicon which is semi-conducting. Light shining on the cells create an electric field across the layers.

As the current your system generates with be DC an inverter is need to convert it to AC the supply your home uses. A battery storage system is also often required to store electricity.

How much power will a solar system generate? It is estimated that it can account for up to 40 per cent of a household’s annual needs.

To underline the answers to the questions - yes it stores electricity. Once converted to AC you can use the electricity generated to power heating or appliances as you would use the supply entering your home from a power company.

An added bonus is that if you produce more than you need, for example during the summer, you can sell it to the national grid. The best way to learn more is to consult an expert at any electricity supply company about how energy is transferred to the grid and payment rates.

Government legislation introduced this April also pays for electricity you generate and use in your home see the Feed-in Tariffs section on this website.

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