Solar thermal in the UK – Opportunities and Developments

Kathy McVeigh from Cool Sky argues that solar thermal has a bright future not just for individual buildings, but also as part of district heating schemes.

As pressure grows to meet renewable heating targets within the EU, there are growing opportunities for solar thermal to play an important part in decarbonising heating. While great progress has been made in Europe and the UK with renewable electricity, which now provides 27% of all power generation, renewables still contribute only 17% of the total demand for heating and cooling, according to the European Solar Thermal Industry Foundation. Heating and cooling demand makes up 49% of all energy demand in Europe, while renewable electricity represents only 42% – the figures speak for themselves in terms of opportunity. Back in 2011, the solar thermal industry seemed to have an immediate bright future, with the much-heralded introduction of the UK’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheduled for the summer of that year. Cracks began to appear however, when the Domestic RHI was postponed by the incoming Coalition government, and further delayed by the Conservative government before finally being launched in December 2015. While this should have been a time for the industry to breathe a sigh of relief and sail out of the doldrums, an announcement followed shortly that there was to be a consultation on the RHI. One of the issues was whether or not to retain solar thermal in the RHI scheme. Hardly an environment to encourage the general public and industry to invest in solar hot water. Confirmation from the UK government in late 2016 that solar thermal will remain in the RHI was welcome news and followed an intensive lobbying campaign by the Solar Trade Association (STA) and other interested industry bodies.While slow to react to the changed market conditions in the first half of 2017, there are many opportunities now for solar thermal to boom again in the UK.


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