Solar panels are a wise investment. Once installed your electric bills get reduced and you pay less every month and this effect takes place from day one. Soon you will see that the amount you invested in installing the solar panels has been recovered. But does the same rule apply to solar heaters? Can you justify the expenditure you incur for a solar heater? If these are your queries, read on to find the answers.
The answer lies in calculating and then comparing the entire lifetime costs of solar water heating as to the total lifetime savings on the costs of home energy. Let us find out….
What is the cost of installation and maintenance of solar heaters?
The cost of solar heaters varies depending on the make, size, and model of the particular unit. It can be as low as $1,000. The initial cost of installation can be brought down by almost 50 percent with the various available state, local and federal incentives. The solar water heaters are extremely durable and long-lasting having no moving parts. Usually, solar water heating systems are built in such a way that they last almost 25 years if not more and require minimal maintenance.
What are the factors which control the amount you can save?
The factors which control the amount you can save are –
- The performance of the system
- Availability of incentives and financing
- Cost of fuel you use for your backup energy source, if you have one
- The amount of hot water you use
- Your geographic location
- Cost of conventional fuels
How do you determine the energy efficiency of a solar water heater?
You can calculate the energy efficiency of your solar heater using the solar energy factor (SEF) and a solar fraction (SF). The solar energy factor is calculated by the energy delivered by the system divided by the gas or electrical energy put into the system. The higher it is, the more it is energy efficient. The solar fraction is part of the total conventional hot water heating load. The more the solar fraction, the greater is the solar contribution to water heating which decreases the energy needed by the backup water heater.
Solar energy factors range from 1 to 11 and systems having 2 to 3 SEF are common. Solar fractions range from 0 to 1 and typical SF is 0.5 – 0.75.
How to calculate the annual operating cost?
It would be wise to calculate the annual operating costs for various systems before purchasing a solar water heating system as then only you will get to know the payback period and energy savings and make an informed choice. But to start with, you should know the system size needed for your home. You need to know the solar energy factor (SEF) of the system and the type (electric or gas) and the costs of the auxiliary tank fuel. Then the calculation goes thus –
A) With a gas auxiliary system
365 x 41, 045 ÷ SEF x Fuel cost (Btu) = estimated annual cost of operation
365 x 0.4105 ÷ SEF x Fuel cost (therm) = estimated annual cost of operation
1 therm = 100, 000 Btu
B) With an electric auxiliary system
365 x 12.03 kWh/day ÷ SEF x Electricity Cost (kWh) = estimated annual operating cost
Finally, you can compare the solar water heating system with the conventional ones knowing the annual operating costs and the purchase value. This way you will also get to know the cost savings and the payback for the solar water heating system and compare effectively.
How much can you save on utility bills with your solar water heater?
Here again, the perfect figure is dependent on the manufacturer, size, model and the typical water usage of your home. A family of five members will save more as compared to a family of two. The monthly utility bills are on average reduced by 50 percent to 80 percent with the use of solar water heaters according to the U.S. Department of Energy. If that is the amount you save, you will recover the amount you expended for solar water heaters quite quickly – within 5 to 10 years.
It is worthwhile to mention that your current payback periods are linked to the utility rates of today. With the rise in energy prices, the payback period of the solar water heater will get shorter as the installation will protect you from the escalating utility prices.
Are there any demerits with the installation of solar water heaters?
Let us find out if there are any demerits with solar water heaters.
The installation of a solar water heater is expensive. So the initial investment is high. But the same can be recovered from the savings you get in your monthly energy utility bills.
The location where you mount your heater should have enough exposure to the sun. Those living in warm sunny areas are to benefit more as compared to people living in cloudy, cold environments like the Pacific Northwest. It might not be economical for some places.
If the water quality of your area is acidic or hard, the water circulation system may get corroded.
A solar water heating system may be considered to be too heavy when mounted on your roof if you are living in a seismic zone and there are certain building regulations.
With continuous bad weather, you will need to have a backup energy source.
Solar water heating systems need more maintenance.
What are the added benefits of solar water heaters?
The primary benefit is the lowering of the monthly utility bills. You will not require electricity for heating your water. Only if you require pumps will you need some amount of electric power? There are a few more benefits which are quite significant too.
The first is the lessening of carbon footprint. While gas or electricity causes pollution, solar energy does not. They get their entire energy from the sun – a clean source. Just get off the grid and lessen carbon footprint by 50% or more. Also, you are saving on the non-renewable energy sources. You will leave a cleaner, greener earth for your grandchildren.
The second advantage is you increase your property value. Now that your home has become more energy-efficient, the resale value of your home will be more. Your home value is to increase by almost $20 for every $1 saving in the annual utility bill as is predicted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
Solar water heaters work without creating any noise or minimal noise.
When you opt for this greener energy solution, you will earn tax credits which will help in lowering your upfront cost and some local governments also dole out incentives to offset a part of your initial investment.