Here Comes the Sun (sometimes)!
This month’s energy column will focus on solar power and, more specifically, solar hot water. Having spent most of last summer in school to be certified in solar design and engineering, I came away with both a positive and negative opinion in operation and expense to this energy source. Solar hot water is great technology. It works very well and I have been happy with the systems I have designed and installed.
Solar hot water has to have a backup energy source since the sun is not a 24 hour a day presence and we do get several days in a row of cloudy weather in our area. The systems are designed based on the number of people living in a home. The basic 2 panel, 50 gallon storage tank with an added booster tank for extra water storage, will work well for a family of two. As the family increases, so do the required number of panels. Solar hot water has a slow recovery time, requiring the use of the backup tank if high demand is needed. The manufacturer that I prefer is Schuco Systems, leading provider of solar hot water systems in Europe.
People always ask about the payback on their investment. The small systems can be installed for less than $10,000.00 in most cases. Payback usually will be within 4 years . Work sheets are available at schuco.com to help you track your savings ability.
It is necessary to have your site reviewed before getting too excited about this type of energy system, however. Variables such as the location of panel placement on the roof, the pitch of the roof, and how much roof surface actually faces south factor into performance. The location and height of trees surrounding your home must also be factored in when assessing the eventual performance of the system. Devices are available to follow the sun’s trajectory at any specific location, and help determine how feasible a solar hot water system would be for your site. This type of study is necessary in order to assure you the best possible return on your investment.
*Steve Martin is the president of Steve Martin Ent Inc., HVAC system design and installation and is an alternative energy specialist in Pawling, New York.