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Solar Hot Water: #SolarChat Explores the “Other” Solar

Despite its rapid growth, solar hot water sometimes gets forgotten amidst all the excitement with solar PV. I have personally made a few calls recently to solar installers about getting a solar hot water system and was actually steered toward a solar PV installation instead. Our most recent #SolarChat, “What’s So Hot About Solar Hot Water,” revealed the reason: “Ten hours to close a PV project nets me ~$1.5k, 10 hours to close a residential solar hot water project gets me ~$400.”

This tweet came from Chris Williams, chief marketing officer at HeatSpring and one of our panelists for the chat. Chris joined other experts Tor Valenza, director of communications for Free Hot Water and founder of UnthinkSolar; Zach Axelrod, founder of Skyline Innovations; and Peter Mokler, director of marketing for Sunvelope, for a spirited discussion about solar hot water’s industry “secrets.”

Whether you’re a solar pro or a solar=curious consumers, it’s intriguing to get to know some of the people who design, sell and install solar systems. As with all of our chats, held on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month from 2:00-3:00 p.m. EST), this most recent #SolarChat uncovered much about the benefits of solar hot water… invigorating those of us “in-the-know” to re-shine a well-warranted spotlight on the service.

In case you missed it, here are some key talking points with some commentary (for more, check out #SolarChat recap)…

Is Solar Hot Water Sexy?

Tor Valenza, a.k.a. @SolarFred on Twitter, noted that the public perception of solar hot water is just not “as sexy” as solar PV. “For some reason, news doesn’t think heating water with solar is “sexy,” he tweeted.

@arikring agreed: It is more manual labor, less “sexy” than #PV… people who think they know to connect a pipe become installers.

@PowerShiftSolar tweeted: Also we are bombarded by fly-by-night ops that use questionable marketing and sales tactics here.

If you’re considering a solar hot water system to reduce your electric or oil bills, this is an important point to remember. Quite simply: Buyer, beware! The criteria for choosing a solar hot water installer is the same as for choosing someone to install a solar PV system on your rooftop.

When choosing a solar hot water installer, here is what to look for:

  • An installer you feel is trustworthy (get referrals, if you can, or check references)
  • Someone who has worked on systems and homes similar to yours
  • Someone who can help you navigate the incentives and tax credits that may be available; they are out there for solar hot water as well as for solar PV, they are just not as well-publicized
  • An installer with the proper certifications

Regarding this last point, our panelists and attendees shared these tweets of advice for consumers:

@topherwilliams: Training is much more critical for proper design, because it’s impossible to tell the exact hot water usage unless measured.

@sky_innovations: Solar hot water requires extensive mechanical and plumbing expertise, know how to financially optimize system sizing.

Several attendees noted that NABCEP certification is available for solar hot water installers, and consumers should select a firm with these credentials.

Is Your Home Right for Solar Hot Water?

Chris Williams tweeted: Best states are the northeast, high energy costs, and the southwest, high insolution. DC, MD, and CA have the best incentives.

@thesolsolution tweeted: A lot of NE states, MA for example, also use super inefficient heating systems (i.e., oil). There’s huge potential for SHW.

Tor Valenza tweeted that Florida also offers tremendous opportunity for solar hot water, since many homes heat their water with electricity.

The Growth of Solar Hot Water Begins With You

Our #SolarChat also revealed that solar hot water is growing internationally. @solarexec shared this: Here is an update about Europe. Even in countries in cold regions, SHW is sky rocketing in the last decade!

Some countries, including Israel, have solar hot water mandates in place. In the U.S., the lower cost-of-entry for solar hot water makes it attractive for homeowners who want to save money, reduce their dependence on fossil fuels, and do what’s right for the environment, but don’t have the available cash or good-to-excellent credit required for a solar PV purchase or lease.

@EcoOutfitters tweeted: Solar hot water is often overshadowed by glamour of PV but it’s important to emphasize it is the most cost effective renewable energy source.

Our panelists and #SolarChat attendees agreed that the environmental benefits and the money savings are both compelling reasons for homeowners to choose solar hot water. It doesn’t matter why you do it, the important thing is to take the first step.

Post Written by
A full-time freelance writer, Dawn frequently covers energy efficiency, green living, and topics like LED lighting and whole home control systems for a number of blogs and technology trade magazines. Dawn is proud to live in New York as the state vies to beat out New Jersey as the East coast top dog of solar energy and is waiting for the Solar Renewable Energy Certificate legislation to pass before installing solar panels on her Long Island home.

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