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With just five years until the EU 2020 carbon target needs to be met, adding a solar thermal direct electric water heater is a valuable route to cutting carbon while fulfilling hot water demands. With that in mind, electrical wholesalers will need to ensure they are stocking a range of options if installers are to have access to everything the market has to offer. Jon Cockburn, head of marketing at Heatrae Sadia, discusses the options.

The European Union (EU) target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 -part of the EU 20-20-20 target - looms ever closer. However, with EU leaders having pledged to cut carbon by 40 per cent by 2030, and with a global deal on reducing emissions beyond 2020 expected at a United Nations meeting later this year, the targets won't stop there.

Meanwhile, demand for hot water can only grow. A KPMG Construction Pipeline report published earlier this year concludes that 'increases in activity in the new non-residential building sectors should strengthen significantly this year, as demand for new office, leisure, distribution and logistics facilities in particular benefit from robust economic growth'. Growth is good news for the whole industry, but more building means we can expect an increase in hot water systems to match. As a result, building engineers will face increased pressure to fulfil the surge in demand while being mindful of the need to cut carbon emissions.

One of the most appropriate options is to employ solar thermal technology. This is more than a seasonal solution - although there will be more solar gain on hot, sunny days, solar collectors are designed to harness the energy from the sun even when it's cloudy. And because solar thermal systems work in tandem with traditional sources of fuel, there is no risk to supply even when there is little solar energy available. What's more, as solar thermal is a renewable technology, it's eligible for the government's Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), available for both domestic and non-domestic applications.

Designed to encourage property owners to invest in renewable energy solutions, the RHI provides long-term financial support in the form of a quarterly payment, calculated in line with the amount of renewable heat their system has produced. Payments are made for up to seven years, with the current tariff for solar thermal being 19.2 pence per kWh generated.

To be eligible for the RHI, products must have been Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) certified and fitted by an MCS certified installer. MCS is designed to reassure customers that the product and installation will meet the minimum standards and performance. The MCS certified installer will need to provide both the MCS certificate and compliance certificate before the property owner can complete their application.

Launched just over a year ago, the domestic RHI has received nearly 1,000 applications for solar thermal installations. However, with the budget for the scheme only allocated until April 2016, the window for new applications could soon be closing - making now the perfect time for electrical wholesalers to discuss solar thermal with their customers, in turn equipping installers with the information they need to sell the technology to their customers.

Flat plate or evacuated tube solar thermal collectors fitted on the roof transfer the heat they have collected to a circulating solar fluid, which transports the energy to a special coil located in the base of a solar hot water cylinder. After leaving the coil, the now cool fluid returns to the solar panel, where the process starts again.

A solar thermal coil will work in tandem with an immersion heater to ensure an uninterrupted supply of hot water. However, within that set up there is a range of capacities available, providing a flexible solution whatever the size or needs of the property in question.

When it comes to specifying a system, installers should carry out a thorough assessment of each property in order for the collectors and the cylinder to be sized correctly. This ensures that the system will pay dividends both in terms of reducing electricity bills and recouping the cost of the initial outlay through the RHI.

Installers should remain vigilant as to the overall quality of the cylinder, paying particular attention to energy efficiency and longevity. For instance, stainless steel cylinders will be resistant to corrosion and high-performance insulation will guard against loss of heat.

Heatrae Sadia's Megaflo Eco Solar is constructed from Duplex stainless steel, and high-performance polyurethane foam between the inner vessel and outer casing and an insulated case for the exposed temperature and pressure relief valve result in a reduction in heat loss of 14 per cent. It is available in both direct (170-300 litre) and indirect (190-300 litre) versions. Installers working in commercial environments can help clients achieve efficiency targets with Megaflo Commercial, which offers 400 to 2,500 litre solar thermal models.

Manufacturers like Heatrae Sadia offer a range of solar thermal collectors to cater for any domestic or commercial property. Evacuated tubes and on-roof collectors are suitable for most applications. A-frame panels are ideal for mounting on flat roofs, while in-roof panels fit flush to the roof, making them more aesthetically pleasing and ideal for major refurbishments or new build projects.

For a simplified installation, there are packages like Heatrae Sadia's Megaflo Eco SolaReady comprising an unvented hot water cylinder, a factory wired and plumbed pump station, and a selection of collector arrangements to suit a variety of requirements. Installers can complete the installation in two easy steps - firstly connecting the solar flow and return to the unit, and secondly connecting one sensor to the collectors.

Wholesalers can help installers to capitalise on the carbon reduction commitments of their customers by ensuring they are stocking the full range of solar thermal products, thereby improving access to renewable technologies. In turn, installers should seek out training opportunities that will help to position them at the fore for customers searching for an energy efficient solution.

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