This information is intended for information proposes only and should not be relied on for tax, legal or accounting advice.
The main market driver for solar thermal over the least 10 years has been the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), which has a Domestic and Non-Domestic component. The Non-Domestic RHI is now closed to new applications and only installations which applied for an extension application (including solar thermal) can be installed up to March 2022. The Domestic RHI has been extended and will now finish in March 2022. The Domestic RHI allows homeowners to install solar thermal for Domestic Hot Water (DHW) heating only and the current tariff is 21.49 p/kWh, payable for 7 years and future payments are linked to the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
The recent growth in deployment in the first half of 2021 has been driven by the Green Homes Grant Voucher (GHG-V) which includes solar thermal (liquid filled flat plate or evacuated tube collector) as a primary installation measure. The GHG-V schemes runs in parallel to the RHI and ends in March 2022, although applications to the scheme closed on 31 March 2021 (extended as part of the Governments 10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution). The GHG-V was introduced as part of the HM Treasury Plan for Jobs (post-COVID economic stimulus). Solar thermal has been the most popular low carbon heat technology in the Green Homes Grant Scheme, with over 15,000 applications for solar thermal received between October 2020 and March 2021. The GHG-V scheme has been criticised by both MPs and industry, with criticisms principally targeted at the slow issuing of vouchers and the early scrapping of the scheme.
Alongside the GHG-V scheme are the Local Authority Delivery (LAD Scheme) and the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund Demonstrator, which are principally aimed at ‘least able to pay’. The Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund Demonstrator has seen 13/17 of all successful project applications include solar technologies.
From 1 April 2021, companies can claim 130% capital allowances on solar panels, which include photovoltaic systems, which generate electricity, and solar thermal systems, which provide hot water. The capital allowances scheme allows taxpayers to write off the costs of certain capital asses against taxable income. The new super-deduction was introduced as part of the Government’s COVID business investment support package. The policy paper describing the new temporary tax reliefs on qualifying capital asset investments from 1 April 2021 can be found here.
More general corporate decarbonisation drivers which may form part of the solar thermal installation project proposal may include Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR), which requires large business to report their carbon emissions annual (and report measures to reduce emissions) and the Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS), which requires large business to carry out energy audits every four years (business using ISO 50001 do not need to carry out an ESOS).
When the RHI, GHG and LAD Scheme end in March 2022, the Government is planning to implement the Clean Heat Grant and the initial proposals suggested that solar thermal would not be included. The Clean Heat Grant is anticipated to run for two years, after which the combination of a market mechanism and the Future Homes Standard are likely to become the primary drivers for all low carbon heat technologies.
A Green Heat Network Fund (GHNF) capital grant support scheme for heat networks is being proposed and it is anticipated that it will include large-scale solar thermal. The GHNF is expected to open to applications in April 2022 and run for three years to 2025. The scheme follows on from the Heat Networks Investment Project (HNIP), which provided financial support for the development of new heat networks.
Although renewable energy has largely widespread public support in the UK, with support for solar energy at 84% (BEIS PAT, 2021), there are a number of structural challenges for solar thermal in the UK (this is clear from the low deployment rate of solar thermal in the UK compared with nearby countries such as Ireland and Germany). The challenges can be summarised as (1) the low price of methane in the UK, with the bulk of environmental taxes placed upon the price of electricity (70% of consumers think the costs of low carbon heating is too high); (2) the “solar shock” in 2010, where a solar PV Feed-in-Tariff was introduced and set at 48.29 p/kWh, which made solar PV far more economically favourable to install compared to solar thermal; (3) restriction of the use of solar thermal to domestic hot water only within the RHI and the SAP (residential building energy standards); (4) static grid factors in SAP (set at grid carbon factors for 2012) which favoured electricity saving technologies over methane saving technologies; (6) increase in the use of combination boilers which do not require a hot water tank; and (7) the amount of work and cost associated with the application process for the RHI, which often made if financially unviable to make the application.