This is the inaugural entry for our blog, so welcome and thanks for reading. We felt it important to participate in the blogosphere for two reasons: promoting the adoption of solar hot water technology is a core mission of the company, and we see precious little information out there that the average homeowner can use to educate him or herself about it. We believe that solar hot water is one of the most affordable, yet underexploited, energy saving and greenhouse gas reducing options available today, so this blog will hopefully be in service of that mission.
So why solar hot water in the US, anyway? Many homeowners have little clue about how their water is heated, its contribution to their energy bill or the alternatives available. The only time we think about it is when the shower suddenly turns cold at an inopportune moment (it’s always when the in-laws are in town, right?) or 50 gallons of water ends up on the utility room floor; in other words, when your water heater fails. So let’s start with some basic facts.
Water heating consumes 18% of the energy used in American homes and is the second largest energy consumer behind space heating. That is more energy used than powering all of a home’s lights, computers, refrigerators, TVs, Xboxes and other electronic gadgets…combined! Residential water heating adds up to $37 billion in annual expense and 173 million metric tons of CO2 emissions. Have your attention yet?
There are between 7 and 9 million water heating tanks sold in the US in a given year, split about evenly between gas and electric. Another 10% of homeowners heat their water by other sources, including heating oil and propane. Given that there are 96 million single family homes in the US, in any given year 7-8% of all homes replace their water heater.
What if some percentage…any meaningful percentage…of these replacements and all new home builds were to use free, clean solar energy to heat their water instead of expensive, polluting carbon-based fuels? As it happens, the US is one of the best places on earth for solar water heating – we get lots of sunshine, often have low water intake temperatures (i.e. the water heater has to do a lot of work) and Americans use a lot of hot water! Solar water heating technology can displace up to 75% of the energy cost and greenhouse gas emissions associated with water heating, so the opportunity in this country is enormous.
Although solar hot water is the most affordable renewable option available, the reality is that the economics of solar water heating do not work for every household. Wide disparity in the cost of power, installed costs, water heating needs and incentives mean that the answer differs from state to state and even household to household. This lack of transparency is one of the major challenges for the sector, and this blog will try to address this issue going forward.
However, the economics DO work for much of if not the majority of the country. For those 50+% of homeowners heating their water with electricity, heating oil or propane, the annual cost savings from a solar hot water system should more than offset the capitalized cost of purchasing the system. This is particularly the case for all homeowners in states with strong financial incentives for solar hot water such as Maryland, New York, Massachusetts, Louisiana or Nevada (to name just a few). And it should go without saying that the environmental benefits have long-term impact that go far beyond your monthly gas bill. What is the payback on your current, carbon-fuel burning water heater?
We intend to use this space to address such issues relevant to solar water heating, ranging from policy matters to its economics to what makes the Sunnovations’ system so cool. Thanks for engaging in the discussion.
Next entry: Getting the Word Out About Solar Hot Water