Katie Cope of Glow-worm takes a close look at some recent research into what the industry and customers really think about the fast-emerging solar marketplace
RAPID market expansion in the solar thermal marketplace, with heating and plumbing contractors being the major source of installation, was the most important finding of recent research.
More than 22% of those surveyed have already been involved in solar heating installation, with a massive 40% committed to attending training courses in the next 12 months.
The research also showed there is definitely a skills shortage in this marketplace. Nearly 20% said they had turned away solar work as they did not have the necessary technical knowledge. During the next five years, 44% believe it will become an important part of their businesses, and 46% either have or will be attending training courses on solar energy.
The research also found 50% of contractors believed that it was the end-users' desire to be environmentally and energy conscious that prompted them to opt for renewable energy products. Less than 10% of contractors believed that end-users were choosing solar to reduce their bills. This is interesting given the focus on payback periods.
Another positive pointer for the solar market is that, when contractors were asked why they were not carrying out solar installations, only 10% said that it was because they had little or no customer demand.
But there is a wealth of research now available on the solar market. An independent survey of domestic hot-water solar systems installed in the UK between 1970 and 1994 has recently been undertaken on behalf of the Department of Trade and Industry.
It is estimated that there were 42,000 active systems in the UK by 1994. This number has been constantly growing because of advances in technology, consumer demand, and central government climate change policy. The number of installations is now an estimated 80,000.
In the UK, we receive vast amounts of solar energy - up to 60% of that at the equator. Total electricity generation from renewable energy sources in 2006 amounted to 18,133GW/h, an increase of 7.5% on 2005.
Renewable sources provided 4.55% of the electricity generated in the UK in 2006. This leaves a great deal of room for expansion in the market, so the potential for solar power is undoubtedly high.
The graph above shows a steady constant growth in electricity from renewables, and it also shows market growth has accelerated in the last few years.
Unlike hydro, which has stayed generally at the same level, wind, wave, solar and bio fuels have been developing. The UK is investing money in furthering solar energy and photo-voltaics. Currently there are six UK universities and seven companies working together to develop cell technology.
It is a £4.5M project, and is the largest of its kind to have taken place. This ongoing development has lead to solar panels being stocked by a leading high-street electronics store. The sustained ascendance could be due to its practicality for both householders and the commercial sector.
Boiler-maker Glow-worm has entered the solar marketplace with a product and service package for the contractor and the specifier.
Clearly Solar is aimed at giving the installer products which are easy to install and ready for commissioning, says Glow-worm. This is offered together with after-sales technical support, business advice, bespoke training courses and product delivery direct to site.
The company says the Clearly Solar range is a robust flat-plate system that is fully compatible with all sealed-system and open-vent boilers. It can be installed horizontally or vertically, in-roof, on-roof or on an A-frame.
The system consists of four product elements:
A pressurised flat-plate solar collector - this yields an efficiency of nearly 82% and comes with a ten-year warranty
A twin-coil unvented cylinder in 200l, 250l or 300l capacity
A digital solar controller with a graphic display and three channels for auxiliary heating, hot water and temperature sensors
The solar pump station. This is a 6m head pump with integral flowmeter, filling and non-return valves, temperature and pressure gauges and expansion vessel connection
Glow-worm's Clearly Solar comes in one-, two- or three-panel sets, with pipework kits, twin coil cylinders and all other necessary accessories.
The company believes these products are pushing the solar sector forward by creating an affordable, realistic replacement for fossil fuel.
Glow-worm has also placed these products into simple, flexible sets that can be purchased shopping-list style, enabling a contractor or specifier to buy the exact products they need to do the each different job.
Glow-worm also offers direct delivery for all solar products, and a company representative will call in advance to confirm details such as entrance points and door widths.