Solar Panel Grant
There is a grant available for installing thermal solar panels in Ireland, the grant is capped and fixed at €1200 per house/installation and is not dependent on the number of solar panels you install. However, there are a number of criteria in order to achieve the grant. These criteria include:
Registered and Certified Installer: The person or company who installer who fits your solar panels must be certified and listed on Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland’s (SEAI) Better Energy Homes Scheme register. For an installer to get listed on this register the installer must:
Have completed and passed an approved training course on the installation of solar panels
Have a Tax clearance certificate from the Department of Revenue
Have the necessary insurance policies in place
The other requirements that the installer must ensure are correct are:
Certified Solar Panels
House Size Vs Size of Solar Panel System
Year House was built
Certified Solar Panels: The solar panels that will be installed are registered on the Sustainable Energy Authority of Irelands approved solar panel product list. For a product to get on this list the company who imports the solar panels must supply the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) with the relevant test reports for the product which meet all the test criteria set down in EN12975. Some of the products on the list may also have a ‘Solar Key Mark’ which is a certification document attained by-products which meet the highest test criteria.
House Size Vs Size of Solar Panel System: The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) has broken out house sizes into 3 categories, less than200 square meters, between 200 square meters and 249 square meters and larger than 250 square meters in area. The larger the house the bigger the solar panel system needs to be in order to get the grant. The thinking behind this is that if you have a large house you have a dwelling that will have the capacity for a larger number of occupants; therefore the dwelling will require more solar panels.
To give a good indication on the number of solar panels required on different house sizes can be categorized into 2 groups these are detailed in the table below
|House Size||Sq mt of panels||Solar Cylinder Capacity (lt)|
|<190 square meters (2050 sq ft)||5 Square Meters||300|
|>190 square meters||7.5 Square Meters||400|
Year your house was built: The grants for solar panels to administered under the Better Energy Homes Scheme ran by the Sustainable Authority of Ireland (SEAI). One of the requirements for grant eligibility is the year the house the solar panels are being fitted to was built. Basically, if your house was built with your ESB meter number (MPRN) and based on the date that this was installed determines if you qualify for the grant.
Wiring: Your hot water cylinder is usually located in your hot press and as per the ETCI wiring regulations your plumbing system should be correctly earthed/bonded. The plumbing system is bonded using a copper wire covered in a green and yellow plastic sheet. This bonding should be to a particular specification, in order for your solar panel installation company to sign off the grant approval forms they must confirm that the plumbing system in the hot press area is bonded to the appropriate specification. Don’t worry if this is not to the required specification we can engage an electrician to carry out this task if required. You will be informed if this is required during the initial site survey.
Size of the solar cylinder fitted: The size of the cylinder being fitted versus the size of the house the solar panel system are being fitted to has a major impact on whether you achieve the grant criteria, if you have a big house and a very small cylinder the output from the system will fail to meet the grant criteria. Table #1 earlier in this article shows the correct sized cylinder for various size houses. Ultimately the size of the cylinder should be large enough to supply the number of occupants of the house with about a day and a half to two days hot water.
Basically, the most important input into determining the appropriately sized cylinder is the daily hot water requirement of your home, this figure is calculated by the number of people who live in your home. When we are determining the appropriately sized solar panel system many people will say that we have 10 people staying for 2 weeks during the summer, we generally don’t take this into account when designing the solar panel system, it’s about the long-term occupancy of the house i.e. the number of people who live in the house over the 12 month period.
The basic rule of thumb for the correct size cylinder is to specify a hot water cylinder with a capacity with as close to 75 liters of water as possible.
E.G. 4 person occupancy = 75 litres x 4 people = 300lt Cylinder capacity. This gives a 100lt surplus for day #2
6 person occupancy = 75litres x 6 people = 450lt Cylinder Capacity (in that instance we usually install a 400lt cylinder as each person’s hot water usage is 50lt / day give a 100lt surplus for day #2
The old adage of ‘better to be looking at it than looking for it’ applies for the size of your cylinder and surplus hot water!
One other factor to take into account is the space within your hot press, the 300-litre cylinder has a diameter of 56cm while 400-litre cylinder has a diameter of 66cm. Both are 165cm in height. A good rule of thumb is if you have a hot press that is 100cm x 100cm we will fit a solar hot water cylinder in your hot press, we can also fit them into smaller areas with a bit of imaginative plumbing.
The orientation of the solar panels: should be positioned as close to due south as possible to maximize the solar gain. However solar panels will also work effectively on an east or west facing roof. Actually, very few houses have the perfect due south orientation, the difference in efficiency between a perfect south facing roof and one that is positioned due south-east or south-west is marginal in terms of annual output. In the instances of houses with a due east or west orientation
How to apply for the SEAI Solar Panel grant
All the information relating to applying for the solar panel grant is on the SEAI website. When you go into the site you should look for a section called ‘grants’ or the ‘better energy homes scheme’ (the Better Energy Home Scheme is the name given to the grant incentive program covering domestic grants for solar panels, attic insulation, cavity insulation, interior wall insulation, external insulation, and heating controls).
The grant can be applied for online or by printing off a hard copy of the grant application form, filling it out and returning it to SEAI. The online application is a little finicky but is probably the quickest way to apply for the solar panel grant. If you choose to do your grant application online you will need the following pieces of information:
Your postal address
The postal address of the dwelling where the work will take place
Homeowner Bank account details
Your email address
Your contact number
Your electrical meter number (MPRN) (found on your electrical bill)
Your installers name and Better Energy Homes Installer Identification number (for us that’s ‘Solar Home Ireland Limited’ and ‘15116’).
Once all this information is populated into the required fields of the online application form you will receive immediate confirmation that your online application has been successful, this is followed up with a hard copy of the grant application forms being sent to your home by post. You should keep the hard copies of these forms safe until the company doing your installation has completed its work. Once you are happy with the work carried out by the installation company and they are paid for their work the forms should be signed by both you the homeowner and the installer. After this is complete a Building Energy Rating Assessor (BER Assessor) should be engaged to perform a detailed energy assessment of your home. When this assessment is complete your assessor will also sign the grant application forms (note the BER assessor should also be paid for his work at this stage).
Once your solar panel installer, your BER assessor and you the homeowner have filled in and signed the SEAI grant application forms in full, the completed forms can be sent back to SEAI. SEAI will then process the grant application paperwork and usually within a 6-week window have the grant amount (€1200) transferred to your designated bank account initially detailed in the grant application process.
If this was your first Building Energy Rating assessment on the building you will also get an additional €50 grant towards the BER assessment.
Importance of cylinder efficiency
While not always recognized by the homeowner (and some installers!) the quality of the hot water solar cylinder is a very important aspect of the overall solar panel installation. Traditionally Irish homes have a copper cylinder with no insulation and are covered by a lagging jacket that resembles an ill-fitting coat or a pre-insulated copper cylinder (usually green or blue in colour) that is moderately successful in retaining the heat within the hot water cylinder.
When we fit a solar panel system as part of the installation we remove and replace the hot water cylinder with replacing it with a stainless steel solar cylinder. These cylinders have a high-performance insulation sprayed onto it reducing the heat loss on the cylinder to <8C over a 24 our period.
This has obvious benefits for you the home owner as you will always have a hot water cylinder always full of hot water for use on demand. A less recognised benefit of the high performance cylinder but one that is equally as important is that because the cylinder is losing very little heat it allows the solar panels to be more effective. How? I hear you ask! Because if the average temperature of hot water cylinder is higher because of its own heat retention capabilities it means the solar panels are working at a higher average temperature therefore they are heating the water to a higher average temperature every day of the year.
If you have a poorly insulated cylinder installed with your solar panels and the solar panels heat the cylinder to 60C on Monday, by Tuesday morning the cylinder temperature may only be 35C, this means that the solar panels have to heat the water from 35C.
If you have a high quality stainless steel solar cylinder with minimal heat loss installed in conjunction with your solar panels and the solar panels heat the water in the cylinder to 60C on a Monday the cylinder will still be at 56C the following morning. Now on Tuesday morning, the solar panels are heating the water from 56C. This makes it possible for the cylinder to hit its maximum temperature of 75-80C quite easily, therefore allowing the system to reach its maximum output on a more frequent bases and gives you the home owner a better performing system and as a result more hot water.
Maximum Cylinder temperature
Water turns to steam at 100C, solar panels can bring water to this temperature but it would be neither practical or safe. For this reason, we set the temperature of our solar panel systems as close to this point that is considered safe. The maximum temperature heating point on our German flat plate solar panel systems is 80C. Often times we set the temperature less than 80C, usually in cases where the water pressure of the house is not compatible with such high temperatures (I’ll explain this in another blog article).
The minimum temperature that you set a system to is 60C, but we always try setting this as close to 80C as possible. This is done by fitting a thermostatic mixer valve to the hot water pipe leaving the hot water cylinder it mixes cold water with this very hot solar heated water (80C) and once mixed is cooled down to 45C so when it reaches all taps, baths and showers it is only slightly hotter than what is the correct temperature used for bathing and the general hot water requirements throughout your house.
The benefit of heating the water to 80C is that a high quality hot water cylinder retains the heat so if heated to 80C it effectively gives you double the amount of hot water. The reason I say double is you bath at around 40C, if the hot water cylinder tank is 80C you most mix an equal amount of hot water with cold water to cool the solar heated water down to 40C.
So if we install a 300lt solar cylinder in your house at the end of a hot day you have a 300lt cylinder of water at 80C which is 600lt of water at 40C when used for bathing or showering. The average shower is 50 litres meaning that you can have up to 12 showers from one tank of water if heated to 80C!
So you see that the installation of a thermostatic mixer valve really does improve the performance of your solar panel system.
Difference between solar panels and a thermodynamic solar panel system
Thermal solar panels work using daylight to heat the actual solar panel(s) this heat is transferred to the hot water cylinder indirectly heating the water within the cylinder (the liquid heated by the solar panels (usually ethylene glycol)) is pumped to cylinder passing through a coil heating the water around it. It continues to do this during daylight hours and typically generates 65-70% of the homeowner’s hot water requirements for free, with the remainder being derived from your oil or gas heating system.
A thermodynamic solar panel system works in a very different way and technically is not considered a solar panel. The thermodynamic system is based on heat pump technology heating water 24 hours a day 365 days a year. A heat pump uses electricity and the easiest way to describe it that it is a refrigerator that works in reverse. The system contains on a refrigerant liquid/gas who’s ambient temperature is -22C and turns into gas form at -15C. When the gas reaches the heat pump electricity is used to compress the gas thereby creating heat and is used to heat water (indirectly).
Essentially the difference between a thermodynamic solar panel system and a normal solar panel system is that a normal solar panel system heats up to 70% of your hot water for free from sunlight while a thermodynamic solar panel heat 100% of your hot water using electricity. It is worth nothing that the amount of electricity used by the thermodynamic system is less than a normal immersion water heater because of the in built efficiency of the heat pump. But the amount of electricity used varies greatly depending on the time of day the system is working, the time of year and the ambient air temperature. Obviously, midday in the summer months the heat pump will be working at its most efficient while evening time in the winter the amount of electricity required will increase greatly.
When deciding on which system to go for its worth remembering that a kw of energy from electricity is twice as expensive as a kw of energy from oil, basically it is twice as expensive to heat water using an electrically based system as opposed to an oil or gas based source (gas or oil boiler). What that means is if the efficiency of the heat pump isn’t more than twice as efficient as an oil/gas boiler its cheaper to heat water using a oil/gas boiler than a thermodynamic solar panel system.
Bottom line is the cheapest way to heat water is using a conventional solar panel system which give up to 70% of your hot water for free and you get a grant for the conventional solar panel system, the thermodynamic solar panel systems were not deemed efficient enough to get the SEAI solar panel grant. I think that says it all!
Why do thermodynamic solar panels not get a grant
The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) is a government body involved in the supporting and development of energy efficiency in Ireland commercial and domestic economy. One of the incentive programs that the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) is involved in is the improvement of the energy efficiency of the domestic housing stock of Ireland. One of the ways that SEAI support the domestic home owners of Ireland improve the energy efficiency of their homes is by giving grant incentives for the installation of measures which reduce the use of energy in the running of your home.
One of those measures is a grant of €1200 for the installation of thermal solar panels which heat water for free from the sun. These systems generate up to 70% of your homes hot water requirement and eliminate the use of either electricity, gas or oil for the generation of hot water from March to October and pre heat the hot water in the winter months meaning the electrical, gas or oil heating system expends less energy to heat water.
Only solar panels of a certain level of quality and efficiency are considered acceptable to be used as part of this incentive program (Better Energy Home Scheme) and the independent test results associated with each make of the solar panel must be submitted and assessed by SEAI and meet strict criteria to get on the approved product list for the Better Energy Homes Scheme.
None of the thermodynamic solar panel systems for sale in Ireland are on this list as the solar panels are not deemed efficient enough to meet the acceptable product list criteria. Not getting a grant for the thermodynamic solar panel system means that people who install them end up paying at least 40% more for their solar water heating system therefore greatly reducing the pay back on the thermodynamic solar systems. This in conjunction with the fact that the thermodynamic solar panel system uses electricity 24 hours a day 365 days a year to heat water the payback on the thermodynamic solar panel system is pushed out even further and way beyond the point of the warranty on the system. Basically, the thermodynamic solar panel systems life expectancy is less than the point of payback, making it a financially negative investment costing you money instead of saving you cash!