Commercial Solar Water Heaters ?

Question:

While in Spain and Isreal it seems that everyone uses solar-water heaters, here in California, there seems to be very little commercial activity, and painfully few solar water collectors on roofs. With solar water heating being such an obvious way to save energy cost, I’ve been very surprized to find that solar water heating seems to be still in the almost build-it-from-scratch do-it-yourself projects phase. Anyone knows where you can simply buy a ‘package’ for a typical direct pumped system, with solar collector, some insulated piping, pump, valves, control unit and optionally a standard (gas-powered) water-heater (if you cannot use the existing heater)…. This seems something that should be available at Home Depot…. Quick calculation of my own (average home) water-heating cost, solar water heating should save me $300/year easily. If I can buy the ready-to-install hardware for $1000 or less, I will get my investment back in just a few years. Or would commencial systems be more expensive than that ? I have gas-powered water heater. Electric water-heater users should save much more. And for apartment buildings, with more water users in a single building, there would probably be much more potential for saving energy cost. Where is the commercial activity ?

Response:

| Quick calculation of my own (average home) water-heating cost, | solar water heating should save me $300/year easily. If I can | buy the ready-to-install hardware for $1000 or less, I will get | my investment back in just a few years. | Or would commencial systems be more expensive than that ? | Where is the commercial activity ? Rob… I’m manufacturing passive solar heating panels and have designed, built, and tested /one/ prototype DHW system I considered good enough to take to market. That’s not much of an experience base, but enough for me to develop some numbers. A commercial high-quality (efficient, long-life, reliable) DHW system including the associated pumps and control subsystem suitable for installation in the upper midwest is likely to cost in excess of $2K – which I decided was more than most homeowners would be willing to fork over. There’s an additional "fly in the ointment" in that once such a system is sold and installed, it’s (currently) extremely difficult to find anyone to provide after-sale maintenance/repair service. — Morris Dovey DeSoto Solar DeSoto, Iowa USA http://www.iedu.com/DeSoto/solar.html

Response:

- Hide quoted text — Show quoted text – | Quick calculation of my own (average home) water-heating cost, | solar water heating should save me $300/year easily. If I can | buy the ready-to-install hardware for $1000 or less, I will get | my investment back in just a few years. | Or would commencial systems be more expensive than that ? | Where is the commercial activity ? Rob… I’m manufacturing passive solar heating panels and have designed, built, and tested /one/ prototype DHW system I considered good enough to take to market. That’s not much of an experience base, but enough for me to develop some numbers.

One prototype is nice as a ‘feasibility’ experiment, so I have to assume that it will take you a while but sell 10 of the systems and you are a business. Then move to 100, to 1000 etc… A commercial high-quality (efficient, long-life, reliable) DHW system including the associated pumps and control subsystem suitable for installation in the upper midwest is likely to cost in excess of $2K – which I decided was more than most homeowners would be willing to fork over.

That’s really cool ! Is that your production cost price ? Or you retail price ? Considering that PV systems that people are installing today cost much more than that and probably create less $’s energy savings, there has to be a pretty good market for your system. I would guess that in California (more sun-hours/day, virtually no risk of freezing) the collector could be smaller and the system simpler, and thus will be cheaper, so you might have a winner here ! Also note that the ‘million solar roof initiative’ is now on our Governator’s desk : http://www.renewableenergyaccess.com/rea/news/story?id=23711 If approved, there would be considerable rebates for buying solar systems. That would bring the price of your system down to less than $1000.- ! So the market might be ready for a good commercial system. There’s an additional "fly in the ointment" in that once such a system is sold and installed, it’s (currently) extremely difficult to find anyone to provide after-sale maintenance/repair service.

That probably depends on the system that you want to sell and the people you want to sell it to. The first real market would probably be the ‘self-installers’. People that know how to follow installation instructions, and know how to hold a crewdriver and would install their own stuff. People that buy water heaters at Home Depot, so to say. It would require a fool-proof / safe-proof system though…. Easy to buy, easy to install, and self-correcting (no complicated tools, adjustements or test equipment needed). Beyond that, a regular plumber should be able to learn how to service a simple solar heater system after in a day of training or so…. Where there is a market, service people will sprout up… – Hide quoted text — Show quoted text – — Morris Dovey DeSoto Solar DeSoto, Iowa USA http://www.iedu.com/DeSoto/solar.html

Response:

Somehow strange that in the US this seems to be so rare… Here in Germany it’s easy to buy one, either for do-it-yourself installation, or a finished, installed system. Buy collectors, pump systems, exlectronic control, … anything. It’s more difficult to get a good heat tank, but manageable. A lot of  plumbers also (at least announce that they do) know how to install and manage them. Which is fairly trivial. I had no experience at plumbing whatsoever, and I was able to install the solar circuit part myself. Experience in some details of planning and design would be an advantage (where to optimally install the heat tank, how large the system should be, etc). Costs are higher here though, but oil also is more expensive, so it is getting cost-neutral in about 10-15 years here (faster maybe due to the rise in oil price in the last months!)… but it’s always a good feeling not to need any oil (well, nearly) during summer. I installed a relatively large system, but it can supply us with warm water for up to 4 bad weather days, which is needed here where I live :) I always compare economical systems with ecological ones, and I chose ecological (more expensive than needed, but it also saves a few percents more of oil than the other due to the layout of the system). Christian

– Hide quoted text — Show quoted text – | Quick calculation of my own (average home) water-heating cost, | solar water heating should save me $300/year easily. If I can | buy the ready-to-install hardware for $1000 or less, I will get | my investment back in just a few years. | Or would commencial systems be more expensive than that ? | Where is the commercial activity ? Rob… I’m manufacturing passive solar heating panels and have designed, built, and tested /one/ prototype DHW system I considered good enough to take to market. That’s not much of an experience base, but enough for me to develop some numbers. One prototype is nice as a ‘feasibility’ experiment, so I have to assume that it will take you a while but sell 10 of the systems and you are a business. Then move to 100, to 1000 etc… A commercial high-quality (efficient, long-life, reliable) DHW system including the associated pumps and control subsystem suitable for installation in the upper midwest is likely to cost in excess of $2K – which I decided was more than most homeowners would be willing to fork over. That’s really cool ! Is that your production cost price ? Or you retail price ? Considering that PV systems that people are installing today cost much more than that and probably create less $’s energy savings, there has to be a pretty good market for your system. I would guess that in California (more sun-hours/day, virtually no risk of freezing) the collector could be smaller and the system simpler, and thus will be cheaper, so you might have a winner here ! Also note that the ‘million solar roof initiative’ is now on our Governator’s desk : http://www.renewableenergyaccess.com/rea/news/story?id=23711 If approved, there would be considerable rebates for buying solar systems. That would bring the price of your system down to less than $1000.- ! So the market might be ready for a good commercial system. There’s an additional "fly in the ointment" in that once such a system is sold and installed, it’s (currently) extremely difficult to find anyone to provide after-sale maintenance/repair service. That probably depends on the system that you want to sell and the people you want to sell it to. The first real market would probably be the ‘self-installers’. People that know how to follow installation instructions, and know how to hold a crewdriver and would install their own stuff. People that buy water heaters at Home Depot, so to say. It would require a fool-proof / safe-proof system though…. Easy to buy, easy to install, and self-correcting (no complicated tools, adjustements or test equipment needed). Beyond that, a regular plumber should be able to learn how to service a simple solar heater system after in a day of training or so…. Where there is a market, service people will sprout up… — Morris Dovey DeSoto Solar DeSoto, Iowa USA http://www.iedu.com/DeSoto/solar.html

Response:

|| A commercial high-quality (efficient, long-life, reliable) DHW || system including the associated pumps and control subsystem || suitable for installation in the upper midwest is likely to cost || in excess of $2K – which I decided was more than most homeowners || would be willing to fork over. | | That’s really cool ! | Is that your production cost price ? Or you retail price ? Sorry, I should have specified. It’s the wholesale price that was estimated (fairly carefully) to cover cost of production plus 20%. If the product were moderately successful, then the 20% would be eaten up completely by the costs associated with expansion of the enterprise. Major success (requiring rapid growth) would unquestionably require significant price increase. Not included in the $2K: shipping, installation, and costs associated with any warranties and any costs incurred with meeting any government-imposed standards (for which your state is famous, even in remotest Iowa :-) . | Considering that PV systems that people are installing today cost much more | than that and probably create less $’s energy savings, there has to be a pretty | good market for your system. Perhaps PV systems are selling well in your neck of the woods. Around here they aren’t because people aren’t finding an favorable cost/benefit trade-off. | I would guess that in California (more sun-hours/day, virtually no risk of freezing) | the collector could be smaller and the system simpler, and thus will be cheaper, | so you might have a winner here ! The bad news is that while the cost of materials needed might be somewhat less, the reduction in total cost would be noticably smaller – possibly insignificant. | Also note that the ‘million solar roof initiative’ is now on our | Governator’s desk : | http://www.renewableenergyaccess.com/rea/news/story?id=23711 | | If approved, there would be considerable rebates for buying solar systems. | That would bring the price of your system down to less than $1000.-! I’m always pleasantly surprised when politicians follow through on measures from which their constituancies benefit – especially when they manage to do so without incurring huge deficits or reaching into their constituant’s pockets for still more taxes (or, in California’s case, granting companies like PG&E license to rape and pillage). | So the market might be ready for a good commercial system. I think the "early adapters" might be; but the bulk of the market isn’t quite. || There’s an additional "fly in the ointment" in that once such a || system is sold and installed, it’s (currently) extremely difficult || to find anyone to provide after-sale maintenance/repair service. | | That probably depends on the system that you want to sell | and the people you want to sell it to. In my mind, it needs to be as straight-foreward as a conventional electric water heater. It can’t be as inherently simple, but from a service perspective, a Joe Ordinary service person should be able to remedy a worst-case service scenario within a half-hour. | The first real market would probably be the ‘self-installers’. | People that know how to follow installation instructions, | and know how to hold a crewdriver and would install their own stuff. | People that buy water heaters at Home Depot, so to say. I’m not as comfortable with this as you seem to be. Installation involves carpentry, plumbing, and electrical work – and strict conformance to building codes. While I’m sure there are people around who’re well-grounded (no pun intended) in all three fields and who know the applicable codes, I’m acutely aware that this group doesn’t constitute a market by a long shot. It’s been less than a week since I had an e-mail exchange with a (professional) carpenter who was planning to install solar heating panels on the north wall of his home – and I happen to know that he’s a reasonably bright guy – his house just didn’t face the direction he thought it did. | It would require a fool-proof / safe-proof system though…. | Easy to buy, easy to install, and self-correcting (no complicated | tools, adjustements or test equipment needed). You lost me at the "fool-proof" part. It’s a lot easier to design a system that can only fail "safe" than it is to design something that a creative fool can’t find a way to screw up or hurt himself with. | Beyond that, a regular plumber should be able to learn how to | service a simple solar heater system after in a day of training or | so…. | Where there is a market, service people will sprout up… True. My question is: "How many homeowners will have to do without needed service/repair visits until that sprouting takes place?" The very first homeowner who can’t get the service needed will become an anti-solar evangelist. The twenty-fifth will be an enterprise ELE (extinction level event). Note that none of the problems are solar water heater technical problems. There are still more hurdles than discussed here – and my decision (in large part determined by the resources available to me) were to neither sell nor offer water heating panels. CAD drawing and CNC program files are safely archived on CDs and if I can puzzle out some reasonable way to ensure customer satisfaction and safety, I can put the panels into production. Until then I’ll probably remain as frustrated as you. — Morris Dovey DeSoto Solar DeSoto, Iowa USA http://www.iedu.com/DeSoto/solar.html

Response:

Here in Germany it’s easy to buy one, either for do-it-yourself installation, or a finished, installed system. Buy collectors, pump systems, exlectronic control… anything. It’s more difficult to get a good heat tank, but manageable…

That’s a big cost item. Large and heavy, and it wears out. Our solar pond concept has an inexpensive plastic pipe spiral instead, with no fresh water pump or antifreeze. The horizontal pond collector eliminates lots of piping and minimizes pump power and makes a box on the lawn vs a box on the roof. I’d like to see this commercialized as an easy-to-assemble kit. See http://www.BuildItSolar.com Nick

Response:

I am wondering whether your system will be cheaper if you simply buy the components from China instead of trying to manufacturing here in US. Based on info that I came across some where in the net, there are whole street of stores selling solar water heaters in some areas in China (I don’t remember the details). Moreover, China is already manufacturing solar water heaters (in quantities I believe). You "may" be able to get the cost down and make it a price competitive product in this way. Labor cost is much lower in China. You may take advantage of this fact in the beginning to get the US market at least "started". When the US market become big enough for your solar power heaters, you can look for capital to build a highly automated factory in US to produce your solar water heater; then you can keep the cost down while keep your business near the final market. I am puzzled that no one has already started doing this… I guess the natural gas price is still low enough that people still can afford not using solar power for water heating. As long as local supply of natural gas is still plentiful, people will not be attracted to solar water heating. That’s until the local supply runs low and people need to start importing natural gas from other regions through natural gas terminals, and be exposed to global energy price and the competition of natural gas from other countries (China has started using a lot of natural gas to replace the use of coal). Then people may realize that they have been paying very little for natural gas, and will start reviewing all their alternatives. Hopefully, solar water heater will be on top of the list of alternatives. I guess the keys are when will be the time when local supply of natural gas will run low, and how expensive the global price of natural gas will be. I am just speculating. I am not an expert in this area. I am hoping that someone can give us an insight on this issue as of why solar water heaters are not taking off in US. Jay Chan

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Anyone knows where you can simply buy a ‘package’ for a typical direct pumped system, with solar collector, some insulated piping, pump, valves, control unit and optionally a standard (gas-powered) water-heater (if you cannot use the existing heater)….

Did you really look around?  Heliodyne makes panels and pre-engineers systems which appear to be sold by lots of web-based stores.  I haven’t looked, but I don’t think these are available at Home Depot.  The price is also higher than you asked for, because the panels are built for conditions and handling much worse than you will probably expose them to.  That’s what you get with pre-engineering.  Alternatively, you can pay more for custom engineering (or engineer it yourself) and less for materials. http://shop.altenergystore.com/itemdesc~ic~HELHP-2-4X8PV~eq~~Tp~.htm I’m not terribly familiar with the market.  I know AEC makes panels as well, and SRCC publishes tests that they do on hundreds of different pre-engineered systems from at least a dozen manufacturers.  So, it’s not like the absolute level of activity is tiny here in the States, it’s just that it’s a (very) big country and there is not much market penetration right now. http://www.solar-rating.org/  <- SRCC site

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| I am wondering whether your system will be cheaper if you simply buy | the components from China instead of trying to manufacturing here in | US. Based on info that I came across some where in the net, there | are whole street of stores selling solar water heaters in some | areas in China (I don’t remember the details). Moreover, China is | already manufacturing solar water heaters (in quantities I | believe). You "may" be able to get the cost down and make it a | price competitive product in this way. Possibly. CNC tooling has allowed me to do a fairly good job of minimizing the labor content. From what you say, I’m surprised that they’re not already exporting to the USA. | Labor cost is much lower in China. You may take advantage of this | fact in the beginning to get the US market at least "started". When | the US market become big enough for your solar power heaters, you | can look for capital to build a highly automated factory in US to | produce your solar water heater; then you can keep the cost down | while keep your business near the final market. I am puzzled that | no one has already started doing this… See above. By myself I can already produce more than I can sell. Expanding current capacity is largely a matter of installing more of the same machinery and hiring people to do painting and/or assembly. | I guess the natural gas price is still low enough that people still | can afford not using solar power for water heating. As long as | local supply of natural gas is still plentiful, people will not be | attracted to solar water heating. That’s until the local supply | runs low and people need to start importing natural gas from other | regions through natural gas terminals, and be exposed to global | energy price and the competition of natural gas from other | countries (China has started using a lot of natural gas to replace | the use of coal). Then people may realize that they have been | paying very little for natural gas, and will start reviewing all | their alternatives. Hopefully, solar water heater will be on top of | the list of alternatives. I guess the keys are when will be the | time when local supply of natural gas will run low, and how | expensive the global price of natural gas will be. I suspect you’re correct. For many people in my area, natural gas isn’t an option. Most farms heat with oil, propane, or electricity. | I am just speculating. I am not an expert in this area. I am hoping | that someone can give us an insight on this issue as of why solar | water heaters are not taking off in US. [1] Most people want simple "magic bullet" solutions. They don’t want the redundancy of solar plus conventional systems. There’s a feeling that if solar can’t do the entire job, then it can’t be very good. [2] Operating cost is not (yet) a principal factor in purchasing a water heater, and conventional (non-solar) systems are both less expensive to purchase and require less/fewer skills to install. [3] The belief is that there will be no natural gas supply problem. The price may rise, but the supply will be reliable. China’s increased use of hydrocarbon fuels will simply accelerate the onset of problems for both countries. As we all compete for the same fuel, we drive the price of fuel up. At present China is enjoying prosperity as a result of low-labor cost production of goods for consumers in other countries. China’s standard of living (we all hope) will improve and as a result the Chinese economy will become increasingly energy hungry – driving fuel prices higher globally until a high percentage of their customers need to choose between purchases of Chinese goods and fuel for warmth and transportation. Although we all talk about cheap Chinese labor, Chinese brains and education are and will be far more important – just as brains and education became more important than what we once thought of as "cheap Japanese labor". What remains to be seen is whether the Chinese are culturally capable of choosing "win-win" strategies. My guess is "yes"; but I’m not an expert. I think I’d enjoy collaborating with interested Chinese (and anyone/everyone else!) to develop alternative energy solutions from which we all benefit. /My/ problem is that I haven’t a clue how to initiate that kind of effort nor how to persue it with the resources currently available to me. — Morris Dovey DeSoto Solar DeSoto, Iowa USA http://www.iedu.com/DeSoto/solar.html

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Somehow strange that in the US this seems to be so rare…

Having lived both in Northern Europe and in the US for 20 years each, I have some ideas about that. There are many, many factors that play a role, but the most important ones I think are the low cost of fossil fuel (low taxation of energy) in the US, and a business attitude towards solving recognized problems, rather than the more longer-term visions and of Europeans. One thing that is important for this subject is that in the US, if there is a business opportunity, someone will jump on it. Usually big-time. Here in Germany it’s easy to buy one, either for do-it-yourself installation, or a finished, installed system. Buy collectors, pump systems, exlectronic control, … anything.

So, where do you buy this ? At the local do-it-yourself home centers, or at specialty stores ? And how much does a typical collector cost (per m^2) ? How many choices do you have (are there many companies building these panels ?) Does the German covernment issue rebates for solar systems to end-users ? Or do they subsidize the manufacturers directly ? How much (as a %) does the government subsidize solar heating systems ? It’s more difficult to get a good heat tank, but manageable.

Isn’t this just a good standard water heater ? (I think they are called ‘boiler’ in Europe). What does the tank use as backup ? Gas-burner ? oil burner ? or electric heater element ? A lot of  plumbers also (at least announce that they do) know how to install and manage them. Which is fairly trivial. I had no experience at plumbing whatsoever, and I was able to install the solar circuit part myself. Experience in some details of planning and design would be an advantage (where to optimally install the heat tank, how large the system should be, etc).

Do you need a building permit before you can install your system on the roof ? Does an inspector need to sign-off on the installation ? Costs are higher here though, but oil also is more expensive, so it is getting cost-neutral in about 10-15 years here (faster maybe due to the rise in oil price in the last months!)… but it’s always a good feeling not to need any oil (well, nearly) during summer.

10-15 years for return on investment is probably too long for US customers. Most Americans don’t live in the same house for more than 7 years, and real-estate assessors do not yet recognize any value for a solar system on the roof. There is much more value in adding a bathroom (that’s why US homes have so many bathrooms..:o) or an updated kitchen, or nice landscaping. How many homes in Germany use solar water-heating ? In the face of this long investment period, it should not be that many… This might the difference in consumer attitude that I described above. – Hide quoted text — Show quoted text – I installed a relatively large system, but it can supply us with warm water for up to 4 bad weather days, which is needed here where I live :) I always compare economical systems with ecological ones, and I chose ecological (more expensive than needed, but it also saves a few percents more of oil than the other due to the layout of the system). Christian [...]

Response:

- Hide quoted text — Show quoted text – || A commercial high-quality (efficient, long-life, reliable) DHW || system including the associated pumps and control subsystem || suitable for installation in the upper midwest is likely to cost || in excess of $2K – which I decided was more than most homeowners || would be willing to fork over. | | That’s really cool ! | Is that your production cost price ? Or you retail price ? Sorry, I should have specified. It’s the wholesale price that was estimated (fairly carefully) to cover cost of production plus 20%. If the product were moderately successful, then the 20% would be eaten up completely by the costs associated with expansion of the enterprise. Major success (requiring rapid growth) would unquestionably require significant price increase.

Thanks Morris. So we are talking about a $3-4k retail value system once it is sold in stores. That does indeed restrict the market, but it should still be large enough for you to grow nicely (without need for external capital). Does Iowa state (your neck of the woods?) issue rebates for solar systems ? Not included in the $2K: shipping, installation, and costs associated with any warranties and any costs incurred with meeting any government-imposed standards (for which your state is famous, even in remotest Iowa :-) .

Yeah. I know what you mean. I have not looked into this enough. | Considering that PV systems that people are installing today cost much more | than that and probably create less $’s energy savings, there has to be a pretty | good market for your system. Perhaps PV systems are selling well in your neck of the woods. Around here they aren’t because people aren’t finding an favorable cost/benefit trade-off.

For some strange reason PV systems seem to be more in the picture than passive thermal systems. Even in the California ‘million solar roof’ initiative. I have no idea why that is, because it makes no economic sense at all. I think people in your state are just smarter in that respect. | I would guess that in California (more sun-hours/day, virtually no risk of freezing) | the collector could be smaller and the system simpler, and thus will be cheaper, | so you might have a winner here ! The bad news is that while the cost of materials needed might be somewhat less, the reduction in total cost would be noticably smaller – possibly insignificant.

Is that even true for a changed system ? In most of California, a simple direct pumped system would suffice, because of the extremely low chance of freezing (a simple freeze-prevention valve will do). A direct pumped system can even be hooked up to a standard water heater, relieving the need to sell the solar system with a water heater. I figure that in Iowa you need a indirect system, requiring a larger collector (for the reduced efficiency), and a special water tank (one with a heat-exchanger). Not to mention the extra requirements with anti-freeze fluids and expansion tank and such. An indirect (freeze-safe) system must be considerable more expensive, and certainly more difficult to install and maintain than the simple system we need here, right ? – Hide quoted text — Show quoted text – | Also note that the ‘million solar roof initiative’ is now on our | Governator’s desk : | http://www.renewableenergyaccess.com/rea/news/story?id=23711 | | If approved, there would be considerable rebates for buying solar systems. | That would bring the price of your system down to less than $1000.-! I’m always pleasantly surprised when politicians follow through on measures from which their constituancies benefit – especially when they manage to do so without incurring huge deficits or reaching into their constituant’s pockets for still more taxes (or, in California’s case, granting companies like PG&E license to rape and pillage). | So the market might be ready for a good commercial system. I think the "early adapters" might be; but the bulk of the market isn’t quite.

I think you are right. But often it is a chicken-and-egg problem of consumer awareness : If your water heater breaks, you go and buy a new one. You go to the store, and all you see is gas and electric water heaters. If there were a ‘solar’ option, or even a water heater that is same price but ‘solar-ready’ (a heater which has extra openings where a solar panel can be plumbed-in later on, then I’m sure it will create at least awareness and with awareness comes interest and market.. – Hide quoted text — Show quoted text – || There’s an additional "fly in the ointment" in that once such a || system is sold and installed, it’s (currently) extremely difficult || to find anyone to provide after-sale maintenance/repair service. | | That probably depends on the system that you want to sell | and the people you want to sell it to. In my mind, it needs to be as straight-foreward as a conventional electric water heater. It can’t be as inherently simple, but from a service perspective, a Joe Ordinary service person should be able to remedy a worst-case service scenario within a half-hour. | The first real market would probably be the ‘self-installers’. | People that know how to follow installation instructions, | and know how to hold a crewdriver and would install their own stuff. | People that buy water heaters at Home Depot, so to say. I’m not as comfortable with this as you seem to be. Installation involves carpentry, plumbing, and electrical work – and strict conformance to building codes. While I’m sure there are people around who’re well-grounded (no pun intended) in all three fields and who know the applicable codes, I’m acutely aware that this group doesn’t constitute a market by a long shot. It’s been less than a week since I had an e-mail exchange with a (professional) carpenter who was planning to install solar heating panels on the north wall of his home – and I happen to know that he’s a reasonably bright guy – his house just didn’t face the direction he thought it did. | It would require a fool-proof / safe-proof system though…. | Easy to buy, easy to install, and self-correcting (no complicated | tools, adjustements or test equipment needed). You lost me at the "fool-proof" part. It’s a lot easier to design a system that can only fail "safe" than it is to design something that a creative fool can’t find a way to screw up or hurt himself with.

I’m sorry, you are right. A "fool-proof" system does not exist. What I meant was that Murphy’s law should be considered when designing the system. Ball Valves / pressure relief valves / air vents, temp sensors etc should be mountable in only one direction and order or be pre-mounted on the collector or tank entries. Stuff like that. | Beyond that, a regular plumber should be able to learn how to | service a simple solar heater system after in a day of training or | so…. | Where there is a market, service people will sprout up… True. My question is: "How many homeowners will have to do without needed service/repair visits until that sprouting takes place?" The very first homeowner who can’t get the service needed will become an anti-solar evangelist. The twenty-fifth will be an enterprise ELE (extinction level event).

Your fear seems to be shared by other commercial and political solar activities. That is too bad, because in order to be successfull, you really need to believe that you can do it, and that you have the right product and process to get into the market and grow. I know that there was a wave of activity in solar water heaters in the 70s and 80s. That died out, and I sense that there is some fear to get back into the market. I wonder if that failure has something to do with the current reluctance to embrace commercial solar-heating again. I did not live in the US at that time. What happened ? Note that none of the problems are solar water heater technical problems. There are still more hurdles than discussed here – and my decision (in large part determined by the resources available to me) were to neither sell nor offer water heating panels. CAD drawing and CNC program files are safely archived on CDs and if I can puzzle out some reasonable way to ensure customer satisfaction and safety, I can put the panels into production. Until then I’ll probably remain as frustrated as you.

You won’t know customer satisfaction until you start having customers. I sense that you feel good about the design of your system, but do not yet feel so good about the market. Somebody else will feel good about the market and not have a good design yet. Keep your eyes open for a business partner.. – Hide quoted text — Show quoted text – — Morris Dovey DeSoto Solar DeSoto, Iowa USA http://www.iedu.com/DeSoto/solar.html

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| Does Iowa state (your neck of the woods?) issue rebates for solar | systems ? Iowa? Solar systems? Eh? | For some strange reason PV systems seem to be more in the picture | than passive thermal systems. Even in the California ‘million solar | roof’ initiative. I have no idea why that is, because it makes no economic sense at | all. I think people in your state are just smarter in that respect. Probably not smarter – I would guess they feel a need to spend their money /very/ carefully. || The bad news is that while the cost of materials needed might be || somewhat less, the reduction in total cost would be noticably || smaller – possibly insignificant. | | Is that even true for a changed system ? I would guess so. Mutiple product lines tend to increase costs – not reduce them unless there is sufficient activity to justify separate (simultaneous) production. ||| So the market might be ready for a good commercial system. || || I think the "early adapters" might be; but the bulk of the market || isn’t quite. | | I think you are right. | But often it is a chicken-and-egg problem of consumer awareness : | | If your water heater breaks, you go and buy a new one. | You go to the store, and all you see is gas and electric water | heaters. | If there were a ‘solar’ option, or even a water heater that is same | price but ‘solar-ready’ (a heater which has extra openings where a | solar panel can | be plumbed-in later on, then I’m sure it will create at least | awareness | and with awareness comes interest and market.. You’re right – it /is/ a chicken-and-egg problem. Unfortunately, the solution to the problem is education/advertizing at a level beyond my means. ||| Beyond that, a regular plumber should be able to learn how to ||| service a simple solar heater system after in a day of training or ||| so…. ||| Where there is a market, service people will sprout up… || || True. My question is: "How many homeowners will have to do without || needed service/repair visits until that sprouting takes place?" The || very first homeowner who can’t get the service needed will become || an anti-solar evangelist. The twenty-fifth will be an enterprise || ELE (extinction level event). | | Your fear seems to be shared by other commercial and political solar | activities. That is too bad, because in order to be successfull, | you really need to believe that you can do it, and that you have | the right product and process to get into the market and grow. Unfortunately, my confidence and a "great" product aren’t enough. As soon as I enter the powered/plumbed appliance arena, I expose myself to every kind of litigation you could possibly imagine. I hate the entire CYA concept, but this arena absolutely requires product liability protection. Even a completely spurious lawsuit could be crippling. | I know that there was a wave of activity in solar water heaters in the 70s and 80s. | That died out, and I sense that there is some fear to get back into the market. | I wonder if that failure has something to do with the current reluctance to | embrace commercial solar-heating again. | I did not live in the US at that time. What happened ? In a nutshell [1] no one made any serious money, [2] a lot of the good work that did get done was done by people that were regarded as not ‘mainstream’ (and therefore weren’t credible.) | Keep your eyes open for a business partner. I have been. I’ve also been looking for collaborators in countries where people are less able to afford hydrocarbon fuels and might be more receptive to workable alternatives. — Morris Dovey DeSoto Solar DeSoto, Iowa USA http://www.iedu.com/DeSoto/solar.html

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So, where do you buy this ? At the local do-it-yourself home centers, or at specialty stores ? And how much does a typical collector cost (per m^2) ? How many choices do you have (are there many companies building these panels ?)

Special stores and/or internet, usually around 140 EUR/m^2 or more. We get subventioned by about EUR105/m^2, though, so collector area is very cheap here. There are many companies building collectors, but I don’t know how often they are just rebranded ones. Austria is very experienced in collectors, they offer several companies that exist longer than 10 years, which is a good thing to know. ;-) They guarantee a life-time of 10 years, some more. I bought Austrian ones, at 360EUR for 2.6 m^2, they are "landscape" oriented, a little bit more expensive than the "portrait" ones. Does the German covernment issue rebates for solar systems to end-users ?

Yes, by gross collector area. By the above amount (changed recently from 110 to 105 EUR). As I have 11 m^2, it was (at 110 EUR/m^2) about 1210 EUR! That is, if you have collectors of a certain quality (which they of course all fulfill), that need to be able to get a minimum of 525 W by each m^2. Isn’t this just a good standard water heater ? (I think they are called ‘boiler’ in Europe). What does the tank use as backup ? Gas-burner ? oil burner ? or electric heater element ?

Well it is a tank that has two heat exchangers. In the tank there’s water from the oil heating, so not exchanged (thus no problem with lime. The lower heat exchange is used for heating by the solar system, the upper one to heat the water for the household. For smaller systems, the tank is filled with the water you use, and the upper heat exchange is used for the backup heating. The heating itself (oil in my case, but could be anything that gets more than 40

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