A solar heating system is a great way to use solar panels to heat your domestic hot water.
If it all sounds too good to be true, there is a little pain involved with solar hot water systems in the form of the initial outlay.
The supply and installation of solar thermal panels can seem expensive, although the prices of the various types of panels are coming down all the time. A typical 3 panel solar thermal system should cost in the region of £2,500 - £3,500.
As with any renewable technology, the more people who install them, the cheaper they'll get. However the day when you can install a hot water system for a few hundred pounds is still some way off.
Although the initial install cost is substantial, you need to think long term. A solar heating system (as with any green technology) is an investment. So you need to consider the following:
Whichever type of solar heating panel you choose (there are two main types) you will also need to budget for installing a larger twin coil hot water cylinder to transfer the heat from the panels to the hot water cylinder.
In the UK's climate solar panels will not provide all of your hot water requirements.
If sized correctly your solar hot water system can provide up to 70% of your hot water needs, so you'll need to boost it with a secondary heating system (oil or gas boiler, a wood burning stove or a heat pump etc.)
There are two main types of solar thermal panels on the market and each has it's own pros and cons. Although truth be told they both do the same thing so it's entirely down to personal opinion as to which you go for.
Depending on who you talk to, you'll get differing opinions on the two types.
Many people say the flat panels can be affected by condensation (although some manufacturers have addressed this by drilling ventilation holes to help reduce this).
Others will say the evacuated tubes heat the water too much in the summer months. However if you take an average of both systems over a full year, there isn't a huge difference between them.
Of course you could fit photovoltaic solar panels (produce electricity as opposed to hot water) and then link them to your electric immersion heater to achieve the same domestic hot water in addition to free electricity.
Now all you need to do is decide which type of solar thermal panel is right for you..