If you're anything like me, you've contemplated the option of solar power. It's right up there along with other renewable energy and in an ideal world everything would be powered in this manner. Our cars would run on solar panels, people in developing countries would have access to clean electricity, and we would live in an emissions-free utopia filled with peace and harmony.
But that's all fantasy land, right? Solar power is unattainable because it's inefficient, difficult to harness and expensive to maintain. Right?
Have you ever heard of heating your water with solar energy? Well, until I sat down and spoke with Mr. Steve Lieske, former executive director of the Wyoming Energy Council, Inc.
and current owner of Harmony Heating and Solar
, I did not know the first thing about solar hot water heaters. What I learned may surprise you. It turns out that this form of solar technology is affordable, easy and quick to install, and makes a substantial impact by cutting emissions and reducing your home's overall energy bill.
Right now there is a renewed interest in solar hot water, why?
According to the Harmony Heating and Home Comfort website
, "Solar hot water is experiencing a resurgence." When I asked Mr. Lieske the reasons behind this resurgence, he summed it up to a few key points:
More incentives, such as tax breaks
, are currently available to consumers investing in solar and other sustainable technology.
Greater awareness of our current energy predicament.
Increased quality control measures have added to reliability and consumer confidence. One such example is CoSEIA
, just south of Wyoming.
Real estate markets have begun to recognize the added value of solar infrastructure and solar-equipped houses.
Similar to other natural resources and energy industries, solar energy also experiences "boom and bust" cycles.
So, maybe a solar hot water heater is for you ... Where do you start?
The very first step in determining how to make this technology work best for you in your home is to analyze your usage patterns and determine your needs. According to Mr. Lieske, "Each home is unique so generic answers rarely apply." Therefore, the process begins with a whole house energy audit
. This fundamental step looks at ways a home's heating system can work more effectively and efficiently. It can also be explained in pretty simple terms; for example, it makes more sense (both economic and logical) to install adequate insulation and detect leaks prior to investing in a whole new furnace.
How does a solar water heater work?
The technology behind solar hot water heaters is surprisingly easy to understand
. Basically, the water is pumped up to the solar panels where it heats. Then once the water is hot enough, that water moves to the heat exchange where energy is transferred to cooler water from the water tank by means of interlaced pipes. No water is exchanged in the heat transfer, only energy. Once the water is heated, it returns to the hot water tank where it is stored until you are ready to use it for laundry, showers, washing the dishes or even radiant floor heating. Mr. Lieske explained that each system can be as simple or complex as the consumer wishes; he even showed me one example where the customer designed a system that distributed excess heat to their garden by piping the hot water beneath the soil.
How long does it take to install a solar hot water heater?
A basic system only takes about three or four days to install.
How much does it cost?
Right now the government offers a 30 percent tax credit for the installation of a solar hot water heater. With the appropriate tax credits
taken into consideration, the initial installation cost begins at approximately $4,500. But here's the real bottom line: with average monthly energy savings anywhere between 15 and 30 percent
(each house and its occupants is unique), the solar hot water system will pay for itself in six to eight years
Interested? For more information on solar energy and solar water heaters, check out these sites:
Image: Jessica L. Nape