Solar Hot Water Systems Cost-Effective

By CHARLES CHAVES/ecoRI News contributor

High heating oil prices nationwide have been straining family and business budgets for several years. Heating oil is a petroleum derivative closely linked to diesel and kerosene.

To counter exorbitant heating oil costs and global climate issues, more and more people are switching to economically viable alternatives such as natural gas and solar thermal to meet energy needs. Solar thermal systems can be installed in new or existing buildings to provide hot water for schools, hospitals, businesses and homes, including spas and pools. Such alternative energy technology can tie into radiant floor heating, baseboard hot water or forced-air systems.

Solar hot water systems consist of three main components: solar collectors, called panels, a storage tank and a circulation system. Collectors for solar water heating typically come in two types — flat plate or evacuated tube. Evacuated tube collectors, for example, use a row of sealed glass tubes with each tube containing an absorber plate to soak up solar radiation. Insulated pipes connect the collectors to a liquid-to-liquid heat exchanger, which is plumbed to the solar storage tank. Hot water is drawn from this tank for use within a building.

In short, the primary role of a solar thermal collector is to absorb and transfer heat.

Before shopping for an alternative heating system, however, consider implementing conservation and efficiency measures to reduce power consumption and save money. There are multiple ways to cut energy costs, and many of them involve changes that don’t require spending much money, if any, such as lowering the hot water thermostat.

Fixing leaky hot water faucets is another effective and inexpensive energy-saving strategy. These simple efficiency measures help save money and reduce the size and cost of any new heating system.

Buying a solar water heating system is a sound financial investment for many households and businesses, instead of the continued use of expensive and dirty heating oil. Utility rebates and tax incentives offer a rapid payback by generating free thermal energy.

In other words, installing a solar water heater is one of the most cost-effective solutions available to offset high heating bills, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Anyone who buys such a system can qualify for a 30 percent federal tax credit with no cap or limit on the total price. Massachusetts gives a 15 percent state tax credit with a cap of $1,000. Rhode Island is looking into bringing back its tax credit for solar energy projects. The state recently introduced grants and loans for small-scale renewable energy projects through its Renewable Energy Fund.

Moreover, solar thermal systems don’t require much electricity to operate their pumps and electronic controls, and solar hot water technology reduces air and water pollution.