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Solar Water Heaters

What is the best renewable energy investment you can make?

Solar Water Heaters!

Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Panels and Wind Turbines have a 10 to 15-year payback, depending on where you live, i.e. certain states give better subsidies and certain locations have more sunlight or stronger constant winds. Some returns are low as five years to as high as never. The question arises, what’s the payback on a solar water heater?

Solar water heaters have a 2 to 5-year payback depending on where you live. Further, the technology has been solved decades ago. Greece and Israel have around 90% of their populations using water heated by solar water heaters. The funny thing is that Greece is roughly on the same parallel as Washington, DC. New Jersey (which is further north) receives almost as much sun as Greece, which makes those areas ideal candidates for solar water heaters, especially when heating water is such a big electrical cost. What’s interesting is that in Europe, Austria is #2 with installed solar water heaters per person, Cyprus #1, and Greece #3.

About a hundred years ago many people were using solar water heaters in the rural districts of the United States because only cities had distributed electric power available. After World War II there was a huge upsurge and development in America and electrical power plants were popping up all over the place. The electrical utilities came up with a smart marketing plan saying that whoever bought an electric water heater would have it installed for free by the electric company.

An electric water heater is cheap (around $400, depending on the size) and a solar water heating system is more expensive (around $1,500 to $5,000 depending on where you live and how big of a system you want). In the long term, you’re getting screwed by the cheaper investment. Electric water heaters cost around $1,000 a year to operate and can easily cost much more depending on your usage and the efficiency of your heater. In addition, solar water heaters can last for decades with minimal cost.

Installing in a home is a good investment. Installing in a business that needs hot water is a no-brainer since you can depreciate the asset. Not to mention there are government incentives, both federally and state, to install such systems. If you live in the Sun Belt, i.e., south of the frost line, you’ll make your investment back much faster.

The big difference in solar water heaters is the freezing at night. Above the frost line, you need a more advanced and efficient system, i.e., glass covered system using an anti-freeze solution to prevent destruction from icing that drains at nighttime. In the southern climates, the panels are inexpensive extruded rubber as opposed to the glass-covered panels of the northern latitudes, since they are not as concerned about freezing.

Since solar water heaters do not work at night, you have to have an electric/gas water heater as a backup. For great efficiency, use a solar water heater and then put a tankless water heater (aka on-demand water heater) to raise the temperature. Even if the stored solar water cools down at night from 120° to 70°, raising the water temperature from 70° to 120° is less expensive than raising cold tap water from 50° to 120° like a normal water heater would do.

If you want radiant heating in your home, I highly recommend looking into a solar water heater system to augment the heating of that water. And if you really want to be advanced, tie in your solar water heater into your Jacuzzi or Hot Tub.

So why don’t you see more homes with solar water heaters? Lack of consumer education; that’s it!

With electric cars entering the mass market there’s a big need for increased power. Electric cars are estimated to eventually be 30% of your electric bill, which means that as a nation, we have to create 30% more power on a daily basis. Such an increase requires an incredible infrastructure investment. Switching from electric water heaters to solar water heaters will reduce that reliance.


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