For many years, solar water heating was the predominant solar panel type installed, and millions have been installed worldwide. In Florida, the most common type of solar water heating system is a direct open loop system, which means that potable water from your tank-style water heater is constantly circulated through a solar panel when necessary and when solar energy is available. The system is very simple, as the potable water itself absorbs heat as it travels through an absorber plate in the solar collector.
With a generous 30% Federal Income Tax Credit for homes and businesses, and a soon to expire utility rebate for FPL customers, it is surprising how few people are taking advantage of solar water heating to provide hot water. There are several factors working against solar water heating that is making it less popular.
- There has been a drastic drop in the price of solar electric systems that provide power for all devices and appliances in the home. In many cases is makes more sense to put a solar energy investment into a grid-interactive solar electric system.
- People are realizing that smaller households may not use enough hot water to justify the initial cost of a solar water heating panel, and the return on investment is not attractive or the payback period exceeds the warranty period.
- Solar water heating collectors have experienced failures in the past that cause a poor customer experience. While the main causes of these failures have been largely eliminated, premature system failures do occur for a small percentage of people. These issues are often caused by poor water quality, which is prevalent in some communities.
- Shady telemarketers, door-to-door salespeople, and disreputable solar dealers over-sell the benefits of solar water heating, promising extraordinary electric bill reductions that never materialize. In many cases these bad actors charge in excess of double the going rate for solar water heaters, putting a black eye on the industry.
- Many of Florida’s residents are seasonal, and solar water heaters provide little benefit when homes are unoccupied.
- Heat pump water heaters are becoming popular and are now mandated for some homes by building code, and costs of these heaters are decreasing. Heat pump water heaters can be very effective in Florida, as they source warm air to efficiently heat water through a heat exchange process, and have the further benefit of cooling the space they are in.
Some businesses and larger households, especially those with children, are the best candidates for solar water heating systems. Households with small children and teenagers use large amounts of hot water for purposes of bathing, laundry, and kitchen use. In very large households with several children, the benefits of solar water heating are obvious, and no deep analysis of water usage is required. Most solar consultants will immediately recommend solar water heating to these households.
Unfortunately, few homes and businesses have metering that measures just hot water. High overall water usage is not necessarily a good indicator of hot water use, and anyone who tells you exactly how much you will save with a solar water heater is making assumptions that may be very suspect. Your savings are at best an estimate based on the experience of the solar consultant, and is based on averages and your assessment of you hot water usage levels.
Some have proclaimed that solar domestic water heating is dead. That may be true in some areas of the country where utility electricity is more expensive or expensive gas water heating is used, and where solar electric incentives are better than in Florida. The argument is that it’s cheaper to use solar electricity and a heat pump water heater. However, in Florida where average weather is relatively great year-round and where incentives favor solar water heating, the technology is still alive and well.
At this time we are not recommending solar water heating to very many clients, but there are many that can still benefit, especially while incentives are available. If you need advice on whether solar water heating is right for your Florida home or business, contact us!