How solar thermal can heat the water in your clubhouse and make you money at the same time

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir October 28, 2011 15:59

How solar thermal can heat the water in your clubhouse and make you money at the same time

Solar thermal heating is nothing new.  In reality, all renewable energy is solar thermal. The sun shines on the ground and that provides the energy for ground source heat pumps. The ground gets warm when the sun shines on it and the air above the ground rises, meaning that other air rushes in to replace this air. This causes wind, which powers wind turbines. The sun shines on a photovoltaic panel causing an electrical current to be produced, which is then collected and used as power in the golf club. The simplest and cheapest form of solar thermal is solar panel water heating.

What is solar water heating?

Solar water heating systems use free heat from the sun to warm hot water. The original designs were little more than radiators painted black with a sheet of Perspex or glass in front of them.  Things have progressed a long way since then. The latest solar thermal panels are extremely efficient. These use vacuum tubes, which rely on solar radiation rather than actual bright sunlight. These tubes contain a very thin tube of almost pure copper with a minute amount of liquid inside them. This liquid then circulates the heat to the heat collector, which in turn transfers the heat to the hot water supply. This heat in the tube is trapped inside a vacuum tube and so can’t be wasted. Another advantage of being in a vacuum tube is that the risk of damage from frost in this country is removed. The other way of removing this risk with non vacuum tube systems is to circulate anti-freeze and glycol through the system.  What you are doing there though is heating the anti-freeze, which in turn heats the water, which reduces the efficiency of the system.  Once the heat has reached the hot water system, it may be necessary to heat the water further with an immersion heater to get it to a safe temperature in excess of 60 degrees Centigrade, especially in the cooler months between October and April. How much hot water you can produce for the golf club depends on the size of the system installed and that in turn will depend on the amount of available south-facing roof space you have.

What is in it for your club?

So what are the benefits of installing solar thermal heating in your golf club? You will have hot water throughout the year. There will not be as much hot water produced during the cooler months but it will help reduce your energy bill and if used in conjunction with other forms of energy conservation and alternative renewable energy systems, can be extremely efficient.


Reduced bills are obviously the main consideration when installing any form of renewable energy. The sunlight is free and once the initial cost of installation has been covered, the running costs are minimal. There is very little maintenance required for the panels.  Cleaning once a year is usually sufficient and the running cost of the pump is very low. If the installation was combined with other forms of renewable energy generation such as wind turbines or solar photovoltaics, then the cost would be nil.

Be ‘green’

Your ‘green’ credentials will be improved immeasurably in the local community.

These days the presentation of all businesses is important. Implementation of ‘green’ initiatives can help planning applications as well as create a more ‘caring’ image of the business.

In addition, these new technologies will reduce your carbon footprint and your carbon dioxide emissions.

Is it suitable for me?

Of course the first question to ask is: ‘is it suitable for our golf club?’ Do you have a south-facing roof? If not, do you have a large flat roof that could support frames containing the panels? The size of installation you require will depend on your own usage. To work this out, you will need to contact a suitable qualified local installer. Make sure that the installer is registered with one of the certified bodies such as Real and Napit. In addition, all equipment must be certified as MCS compliant. Without the MCS certification, you will not be able to claim the Renewable Heat Incentive payments that will start to be paid in 2012. These payments are what make the whole installation financially viable. From 2012, the government will authorise payments for each kW of heat that is produced by renewable heating systems. These payments have yet to be confirmed but it is expected that the payment for commercial solar thermal will be in the region of 8.5p per kW.


Do you have the required space for a larger or additional hot water tank? If you have a combi boiler, then you will have to install a hot water tank and plumb into the existing system.  Most industrial boilers, though, are compatible with solar thermal installations and present few problems.  You might also want to consider installing other methods of renewable heat generation such as air or ground source heat pumps.

Reduced costs

The hot water from solar thermal could then be used in conjunction with this system, further reducing your costs, improving the efficiency of the system and increasing your Renewable Heat Incentive payments.  If you have installed an integrated system with a wind turbine, such as a C&F turbine or solar photovoltaic panels, the electricity produced can be controlled by an Energy and Micro-‐generator Manager (EMMA) device to divert the power where it is needed rather then just allow it to be exported to the Grid. This way, the maximum use can be made of the power produced, further enhancing the efficiency of the system.


This means that, the electricity produced for free from these systems, which you will have been paid for by the government-backed Feed-in Tariff scheme, could be used to further heat the water in the system and power the heat pumps. This way, you get paid to produce the electricity, which you then use for free, to power the heat pumps from which the government pays you to produce the heat, which you then use in the showers, and central heating system. The rest of the electricity can be used for lighting and other electrical systems around the golf club, whilst the excess can be sold to the Grid for additional income. A bit of a no brainer really.


In England, most solar thermal systems do not require planning permission. However it is best to check with your local council’s planning office, especially if you are in a sensitive area such as a conservation area, World Heritage site or your building is listed.  Regulations in the rest of Britain are different and you will need to contact you local planning officer.

Cost and savings

This really is the ‘how long is a piece of string?’ question.  A typical domestic system cost for a three-bedroom house with a 3.4 square metre panel would be less than £5,000 installed, including VAT (VAT for ‘green’ technologies is currently five per cent). The savings that can be made from solar thermal systems are limited and for the suggested domestic installation, the savings would be about £50 per year.

However, that is before the Renewable Heat Incentive payments are taken into account. This dramatically increases the value of the system and makes a huge difference to the payback time. To work out your savings, work out what size system you could install on your club’s roof and use the above figures.

You will get approximately 600 kWh heat from each square metre of solar thermal panel. This means that each square metre of installed panels will produce approximately £48 per year plus the saving in cost of heating the hot water.

MarC Stanton PhD is a former actor who appeared in Soldier Soldier, Boon and Coronation Street. He is currently a senior lecturer, module leader and governor with one of Britain’s leading universities. He is also the commercial director of Clean Power Solutions, an  MCS-registered installation company

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir October 28, 2011 15:59
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1 Comment

  1. John Divine November 2, 07:45

    A good article that tells how the combination of solar energy and heat pumps can provide owners of clubhouses with hot water and still make money.

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