Solar Hot Water Systems: The Other Kind of Solar
With the price of oil increasing, solar hot water provides one of the best rates of return of all available renewable en

When you mention the term “solar energy” to the average American, they think of solar electric, which is also known as PV or photovoltaic solar panels.  Photovoltaic systems work by converting the energy of the sun into DC current, which in turn has to be converted to the AC current we use.  There are multiple types of solar systems available.  Besides photovoltaic  systems  there are also solar hot water and solar air heaters. 

Although photovoltaic systems are more common, they currently have two major draw backs:

  1. Efficiency-or the ability to convert the suns energy into usable energy. 

  2. The second major drawback is the price.  Without some form of government assistance most home and business owners could not justify the cost.  The only true payback would be in the reduction of carbon.

 On the other hand, solar hot water heating systems are an ideal investment for use right here in the Mid-Atlantic region.  Depending on how much space you have facing south, southeast, or southwest, you can use the energy of the sun to create warm water. With the price of oil, propane, electric, and natural gas increasing at a steady pace, combined with a lower cost of installation and the longevity of the collector panels, solar hot water provides one of the best rates of return of all the available renewable energy options.

When installed by a trained and experienced installation team, solar hot water can be used for a variety of applications as described below:

  1. They can provide hot water for domestic needs, including some of the large installations we have performed for nursing homes and hospitals. If sized and installed correctly they can handle 100% of the average homes needs in the summer and 65-70% in the winter.

  2. They can be used as the first stage for radiant heating systems.

  3. If you have an older home with poor insulation they can warm the water up before it enters a boiler, which in turn will reduce the operating time and cost of the boiler.  In many cases  a by-pass valve can be added which will allow the solar hot water system to be used as the primary heat source when the weather is mild outside.

  4. By installing a hot water coil in the ductwork they can be used as the first source of heating before using the other heat sources in the furnace.

  5. For commercial applications that use over 30 tons of cooling, we can use solar hot water to power a special type of chiller that uses a chemical reaction, rather than mechanical power to create cold water.

  6. Last, but certainly not least, solar hot water can be used to heat your pool or Jacuzzi.

There are several different types of solar hot water systems available on the market, and unfortunately, a quick search of the internet will turn up more than enough information to have your head absolutely spinning.  To ease the confusion, most professionally trained solar hot water installers will agree that for this area, there are only two real options, except for pools used in the summer only.

  1. A closed loop system, where water is mixed with an anti-freeze and circulates continually through the collectors down to a solar storage tank with an internal heat exchanger during the day.

  2. A drain back system, which operates without the use of anti-freeze.

The major difference is that without the anti freeze, the collectors drain into a smaller holding tank, once the weather hits the freezing point or below.   

The type of system used will depend on the installer and the use.  Based on years of experience, I prefer closed loop systems, because they will still allow you to produce hot water in the extreme cold.

Solar hot water systems can pay for themselves in 2-5 years. They cost almost the same as conventional boilers and hot water heating systems.  But with lower ongoing energy bills, you’ll quickly end up on top. Solar hot water systems can reduce water and space heating costs up to 55% annually.

Please look for additional articles I’ll be contributing.  Over the next few articles, I will explain the different types of collectors, as well as the economics and benefits of choosing solar hot water.  However my parting thoughts are these:  The more we can reduce our dependence on both foreign fuels and a reduction of the green house gases, the greener and more stable this country will be.  I hope you’ll consider the cost effectiveness of a solar hot water system as a starting point. 

About the Author:
Ross Goldstein - Ross Renewable and Green Solutions

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