How to buy solar panels How to buy solar water heating panels
Solar water heating costs and savings
Solar water heating panels typically cost between £3,000 and £5,000, and will potentially save you between £55 and £80 a year on water heating costs, with bigger savings to be made if you have an electric heating system.
Solar heating systems qualify for the Renewable Heat Premium Payment scheme which runs until 31 March 2014. This provides a grant of £600 towards the cost of installing a solar thermal system.
Solar water heating and the RHI
A more generous incentive is expected when the government introduces the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme, which could be similar to the feed-in tariff scheme for solar PV and pay consumers for generating 'low carbon' heat.
We recommend that you first make sure your home is as energy-efficient as possible, then think about which types of renewable energy technology – including solar panels – might suit you.
You can use the Energy Saving Trust's home energy generation selector tool to see which types of renewable energy might be appropriate for your home.
Video: Which? investigation into solar water heating sales
In 2010 we went undercover to investigate solar water heating companies and posed as householders wanting to buy a system. In our probe, 10 out of 14 companies exaggerated the potential savings.
Here's a clip from our undercover video of the Ideal Solar Energy salesman in action. Identities have been disguised to protect our researcher.
Solar water heating sales tactics
Here are the key points from our investigation:
- Everest and Ideal Solar Energy potentially broke the law, using dodgy sales tactics and hugely overstating the potential benefits of installing a solar thermal system.
- An independent expert calculated such a system would cut about 10% from our householder's annual gas bill, but Ideal Solar Energy quoted savings of 50%, and Everest quoted a 43% cut. Everest also claimed the homeowner would save £35,000 over 20 years – a huge exaggeration.
- Not one of the 14 companies tested identified all the important technical challenges before providing a quote. Key checks they missed included inspecting the roof from the ground, inspecting the existing gas boiler, the cold water tank in the loft and the hot water cylinder, and checking the water quality and whether the washing machine and dishwasher could use solar-heated water.
- Five gave a quote over the phone without even bothering to visit the property. Just one company, Southern Solar, was helpful and provided sensible advice.
Finding a good solar company - things to look out for
Our investigations showed some salesmen using dodgy sales tactics and exaggerating the financial savings that could be made, so we strongly recommend that you do your own research first. Then compare the estimates of costs and savings you are given by salesmen against other sources of advice.
There are many solar panel installers out there, so we recommend that you always collect a range of quotes to compare. Visit Which? Local to find recommended solar panel installers, or search for a certified installer on the Microgeneration Certification Scheme website.
Solar water heating installation
Before you install your solar panels you should see our guide to installing a solar water heating system, which has advice on planning permission and maximising efficiency.