When it comes to renewable energy, nothing gets more press than solar power and for good reason. The sun is out there all day, every day. Even on cloudy days, the sun is showering us with energy that can be harnessed and used to heat our homes, power our appliances, and replace the expensive, fossil fuel-burning energy companies. Every square meter of sunlight carries 1,000 watts of energy – a massive burst of raw power.
But, is solar power really an efficient option, and if so, is it affordable? Let’s take a closer look at what energy costs in your home can be replaced with solar and how effective they generally are.
Solar Hot Water and Space Heating
Solar hot water and space heating is one of the simplest ways to harness the power of the sun. It requires a solar collector, a tank on your roof, and the necessary connections to circulate heated water throughout your home. It’s about 80% cheaper than installing solar panels and can pay for itself within 2–3 years instead of 20.
What You Need for Solar Heating
There are two different types of solar heating installations:
• Passive installation, which circulates water directly from the solar collector throughout your home without any pumps or motors
• Active installation, which pumps cold water into the collector and hot water into your hot water tank where it can be stored for later use.
The simplest to install and least expensive is a passive system because it requires fewer parts, less maintenance and no permits. However, you should still be careful when installing a passive solar hot water system, if only because you’re working with active pipes in your home.
Types of Solar Collectors
A solar collector is a panel attached to your roof that will absorb energy from the sun and convert it to heat. In the case of a passive system, the collector will directly heat the water in a tank attached to your roof. Basically, it’s like a greenhouse for your home’s hot water.
However, not every home can benefit from a simple, flat plate solar collector. In colder climates where that water might freeze, you will need a more indirect system. In this case, you will need an evacuated tube system. What evacuated tubes do is surround the water pipes with glass tubes that have inert air in them. This counteracts the ambient air temperature so only the sun’s energy affects the overall temperature.
Additionally, those pipes will usually contain some kind of coolant rather than water. The heated coolant is then transferred to a separate water tank to heat potable water. The water never freezes, the pipes stay strong, and you have hot water even in the winter.