Solar thermal to take centre stage in 2014

After waiting four years for the introduction of the domestic RHI, solar thermal installers can’t be blamed for possessing a healthy dose of cynicism when it comes to the effectiveness of the world’s first renewable heat incentive.

However, now that the majority of the details ahead of the scheme’s introduction have been fleshed out, a number of industry insiders are predicting a positive outlook for solar thermal in 2014.

Paul Barwell, CEO of the Solar Trade Association (STA), explained to Solar Power Portal in the video below why the opportunity presented by the domestic RHI makes it an exciting time for the solar thermal market sector:

The most pertinent question for renewable installers remains: can the domestic RHI do to solar thermal what the feed-in tariff did for solar PV?  

First of all, the current solar thermal market is disappointingly small. After installation rates more than doubled from 2008-2010, the number of solar thermal installations carried out in the UK has declined sharply.

The current support mechanism, Renewable Heat Premium Payments (RHPP), has failed to stimulate any real significant demand. The latest figures published by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) reveal that from 1 April 2013 to 31 December 2013 just 1,063 RHPP vouchers were issued for solar thermal installs.

Contrast that to the 84,000 solar PV systems installed under the feed-in tariff in the same period and the importance of the domestic RHI becomes clear.

Recent research has revealed that, not only are the British public unaware of the RHI, most are not even aware of what renewable heat options are available to them. A fact made even more bizarre by the fact that, for the average household, heating represents the largest component of their household bill by a long margin. Around 78% of a domestic energy use is spent on heating homes.  

With the continued escalation of energy bills (despite green levy reviews and Big Six spin) it makes eminent sense to tackle the largest component of bills – the cost of heating. With solar thermal installations set to receive 19.2p/kWh the decision becomes even simpler.

There remains a number of significant barriers facing mainstream adoption of solar thermal, however, the domestic RHI can provide the foundation for significant growth.

The STA predicts that a tenfold increase in the solar thermal market could drive system prices down by 29.2%. And as for the lack of public awareness, DECC has confirmed that it will be launching a ‘substantial’ marketing campaign ahead of the RHI launch.

All signs point to 2014 being a critical year for the UK’s solar thermal sector and the outlook is positive.

The introduction of the domestic RHI and the opportunity it presents renewable installers will be discussed in the upcoming Solar Energy UK roadshows, which will visit six locations across the UK in February.

Full details and booking information can be found on the Solar Energy UK roadshows website.