The UK solar thermal industry has had several months notice that the new Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) was arriving. On the 28th November 2011 this was finally announced (see http://www.solarthermalworld.org/node/3191) and the industry has now had time to give its reactions, especially since the PV tariffs have almost been halved since 12 December 2011. So now solar thermal has two benefits; lower PV tariffs and a feed-in tariff for solar thermal kilowatt hours of Pound Sterling (GBP) 0.085 (EUR 0.09) for 20 years.
“I now see stimulation to be twofold, first from the introduction of the RHI and secondly from the reduction of FIT”, explains Alan Ward of the British engineering office EnergyWorx2. “During 2010 and most of 2011 interest in solar thermal had zeroed. In fact we moved twice the square metres in 2009 than the following 2 years put together.” Nick Davies at the National Renewable Energy Centre (Narec) is also positive: “The RHI is very welcome. We are already seeing an increased interest in feasibility appraisals for swimming pools, school domestic hot water and biomass heating.” David Hall of renewable energy system provider Grant Engineering is also upbeat about the RHI: “I believe that the RHI is a positive thing which can only help the solar thermal Industry going forward. For so long solar thermal has not been looked upon as a credible renewable solution and now this technology will have a platform to prove its worth”.
Mark Krull of the British training center Logic4training is more cautious and is waiting for some details about synchronisation of other government scheme that might “introduce the same building efficiency requirement as for feed-in tariff, which could make it very difficult achieve. There needs to be some measure of co-operation between the Green Deal scheme for energy efficiency measures and RHI for the technology installation.” UK Government announced the start of the Green Deal Scheme by October 2012 which aims at “make it possible for millions of homes and businesses to have energy efficient improvements at no up front costs”, as it says on the website of website of the programme.
A far more pessimistic view on RHI is provided by Andrew Hodchild, founder of the plumbing and heating engineering service company Eco Heat & Power. His concern is that most customers will seek a “cheaper install by an installation company that is not burdened with accreditation and certification costs. He added: “This will mean that most solar thermal installations will not be registered and may well be installed to varying standards. Can anyone trust the UK government to honour any commitments it makes as it pulls rug from under feet of consumers and solar PV companies and send industry into a spin.” Andrew continued that he did not believe the RHI proposals are enough to stimulate the solar domestic hot water market.
Someone who is at the forefront of government campaigning for solar is Howard Johns, Chairman of the Solar Trade Association and principal at Southern Solar. He does not think RHI will yet help the domestic solar market, however it is interesting for the large scale solar thermal market.
Johns considered that the RHI might drive uptake in the biomass sector: “That is the governments focus, definitely. We had to fight to keep solar in there, whereas in all the modelling done by and on behalf of DECC in the work up to the policy, biomass is very much the lead technology.” In considering a scenario where an increase in biomass could lead to an increase in solar thermal, with the systems installed together, Howard continued: “Yes, I’m sure that’s very likely. The only issue is how the RHI scheme and its budgets are managed, and if they decide to ring-fence parts for pots for each technology then this could be an issue, as perhaps the solar thermal pot would be used up and then they’d be fighting over the money again.”
According to Johns the government’s ambition for solar thermal is quite small, but then, he added,” if suddenly we start deploying it on scale they might say, well hang on a minute, we didn’t design for that, and we’re going to have to chop the support or something. That’s what happened with the PV Feed-in Tariff.”
Stuart Cooper, Managing Director of Solflex Energy Systems considered that “the RHI proposals will certainly help stimulate growth for small / medium scale systems. I think for large scale systems there will also be an uptake, but I think the main focus will be the domestic market, because there is now many qualified installers of small domestic systems compared to fewer skilled solar thermal installers who have the competence to install larger scale say over 50 m2.”
Related to heat metering for small scale systems the interviewed solar thermal experts have different opinions. Stuart Cooper and Andy Hodchild believe that deemed payment is a good solution for the mass market domestic houses. Howard Johns, however, believes that if metering is not to be used for future domestic RHI then it “would be problematic. You’d get the cheapest possible system and get the same RHI as if you were putting a really good expensive system”. Nick Davies again “One criticism of early proposals was it would be difficult to ensure the heat produced was useful, with scare stories of excessive heating and oversized solar collectors abound. We welcome the proposal for heat metering and that it should be fitted at the input to the existing system, rather than at collector output as some have suggested.”