Solar-Water Heating Systems: A Win-Win
As non-renewable energy becomes scarcer and more expensive, the sustainability-minded of us are increasingly looking to clean, renewable sources to meet our needs. Harnessing the energy of the sun to provide hot water for domestic purposes is one prime example.
Installing a solar-water heating system has many benefits. Most significantly, you’re embracing a source of renewable energy: If the sun’s shining, you’re heating your water supply, with none of the environmental problems associated with the burning of fossil fuels. In a world assaulted by greenhouse-gas emissions from a host of sources, any single person’s decision to reduce their reliance on non-renewable energy makes a difference. Beyond the environmental benefits of using a solar-water heating system, you also could be saving a fair amount of money – a boon we’ll consider shortly.
First, though, let’s explore a little background on solar-water heating. The basic premise of using solar energy to heat water for domestic use is an old one; modern technology aims to make the process more efficient by maximizing heat absorption while minimizing heat loss.
Solar-water heating systems come in two general configurations: active and passive. Active solar-water heating systems employ pumps to move water and heating fluids between solar collectors and the home; passive systems are pump-free. Active solar-water heating setups may be direct circulation systems – in which water is pumped from the solar collectors to the home – or indirect, in which an intermediary heat-transfer fluid runs through the collectors and then heats water bound for the home supply. The antifreeze properties of the heat-transfer fluid make indirect circulation systems practical for colder climates.
There are also two different kinds of passive solar water heating systems, which tend to be less expensive and longer-lasting than their active counterparts, but typically not as effective. An integral collector-storage passive system uses dark absorber tubing or tanks within an insulated structure, and stores heated water as part of its mechanism. A thermosyphon system situates the solar collector underneath the storage tank, allowing heated water to rise up into the reservoir as the colder water settles.
How about the solar collectors themselves—those all-important parts of the system that capture the sun’s energy in the first place? For residential water heaters, there are three basic kinds: flat-plate, evacuated-tube, and integral collector-storage system collectors. Basically, they all involve some dark-colored absorber housed in an insulating setup, often with glass or polymer coverings that concentrate light energy and shield against heat loss.
Now—back to the money-saving aspect. While the cost to install a solar-water heating system is typically more than for a traditional one, the savings taken over time can be significant. Depending on where you live, you may receive federal and state financial incentives as well as tax credits for installing and using a solar-water heating system, and also benefit from rebates offered by utility companies. If you sell your home, its value may be notably enhanced by a solar-water heating system.
You’ll typically reap the benefits of substantially reduced water-heating bills—often by as much as 80 percent, the U.S. Department of Energy reports—by relying partly or entirely on a solar system. Living “off-the-grid” can bring peace-of-mind and major savings: Drawing your energy from the sun, you’re no longer bedeviled by the price jumps and supply shortages that characterize the fossil-fuel industry.
Your pocketbook – and the biosphere – will thank you for your decision to go solar!
- U.S. Department of Energy: Solar Water Heaters
- U.S. Department of Energy: Estimating the Cost and Energy Efficiency of a Solar Water Heater
Natasha Risinger is a retired school teacher on a fixed income. She is always looking for ways to save money and enjoys sharing her findings with others by blogging on various websites. For lots more ways to save on your utility bills, visit texaselectricityproviders.