Energy Savings Trust misleads the public about the benefits of solar systems

Anyone in the renewables industry has to devote a large part of their work to education. We deal in technologies and concepts that are relatively unknown to the public (and the governmental agencies) especially in the field of solar thermal technology.


The United Kingdom does not have any facilities for testing solar thermal collectors. These tests have to be carried out in one of the several testing houses in Germany, or in Austria, or in Prague or in Greece and Spain. In this country we seem curiously reticent in learning from the experiences of our European partners about solar thermal technology; the government thinks that it should re-invent the wheel and so those of us in the industry have to educate the government and the public which is no easy task for a small but dedicated industry.


I have already highlighted the incorrect information about solar thermal published by the Daily Telegraph, in my post dated 18th April, the kind of misleading information that we get about solar in the newspapers. You will remember that the Telegraph’s “expert” claimed that the temperatures generated by a solar system in April would be too cool for a hand to feel.


Genersys has had a lot of feedback from its installers about this; I will set out a typical response from Dragons Breath, in Pembrokeshire:


We as a company have installed 6 systems between December 07 until Jan 08.  They are working very effectively, not only just producing hot water, but exceeding all of my expectations. I have been told that the oil ran out on one of the houses, & they have three young children, with out any external heating to the cylinder, the family were having three hot baths a day. But as a bonus they said in quick succession, with each other. 


H20Solar in Sussex also say that with Genersys panels they are getting temperatures of around 50°C (which is the default temperature for domestic hot water) and mid 40s on cloudy overcast days.


These are common experiences for users of solar thermal systems, but there seems to be little publicity. Unfortunately my readership is not as large as that of the Telegraph.


Apart from the press the solar thermal industry also has to contend with misleading information from the Energy Savings Trust about the financial benefits. The EST website claims that solar thermal systems only save around £40 a year; that is in direct contradiction to real life experiences, which are well documented showing savings of around £280 a year when oil or electricity is displaced.


I have asked the EST to remove their misleading figure from their website. I hope by the time this is posted it will be corrected. If they do not know the true figure for certain then why provide a misleading one?


They have explained to me the methodology they use to get to £40 a year but it doesn’t make sense to me. They deal in concepts not relevant to the field of solar thermal technology (such as home SAP ratings and collector performance factors). They say that they are retesting and organising independent field trials (here we go again, re-inventing the wheel) but in the meantime the misleading message remains. They also understate the carbon emission savings quite significantly.


It is odd that the organisation that receives £75 million of taxpayers money each year (much more than the whole turnover of the UK solar thermal industry) to advise people on saving their carbon dioxide emissions cannot get their sums right on what is the most popular form of microgeneration in the United Kingdom. I can understand the need to avoid misleading people, but when they seem to think that the cause is right they do not always deal in facts.


Today there is an item on their website claiming that 2 out of 3 people cannot tell the difference between low energy lightbulbs and tungsten ones. That statement is based on market research; but it runs in the face of the science which measures the luminousity of lighting scientifically.


The EST does a great deal of good work, but when it comes to solar thermal I am afraid they are not helping people reduce their carbon footprint by encouraging the installation of the easiest and most effective and most popular low carbon means of generating energy, but rather marginalising it as a hobby instead of appreciating its sophistication and the fact that there are good economic and environmental reasons for its deployment all over the world.


They have already developed sound advice in relation to small wind turbines and heat pumps, but these are much smaller and less popular technologies than solar thermal. Let us hope that they get their act together soon.