Solar water heater can cut your company’s energy bills

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On a bright summer’s day, the hose snaking through the green grass of your lawn soaks up the sun’s heat. The water gets hot enough for a warm shower. Meanwhile, your water heater drains your wallet making hot water.
Operating on the same basic principals that heat the water in the hose, a modern solar water heater can provide solar-heated water to cut the costs of heating water for your home, farm or business.
Water heating is the second-largest energy cost in the typical home, making up 14 percent of your utility bill. A properly sized solar water heater can provide half of your hot water needs.
A commercially available solar water heater starts with one or more flat solar heat collectors, a storage tank and a circulation system. The collector is an insulated aluminum box, usually mounted on the roof, with a tempered glass cover. Behind the glass, a grid of copper pipes attach to a black backing.
To prevent winter-time freezing, the pipes must carry a mixture of water and non-toxic antifreeze. Heat from the anti-freeze solution is transferred using a heat exchanger to the home’s hot water supply. (The solution itself never leaves the pipes.)
When the sun shines on the collectors, the solar fluid soaks up the solar energy. A pump circulates the solar fluid from the collectors through the insulated pipes into the heat exchanger, which transfers the heat from the solar fluid into the water in the storage tank.
The pre-heated water then fills your conventional water heater. The anti-freeze mixture recirculates back to the collectors to gain more heat from the sun.
This type of closed-loop system, so called because the piping is one large sealed loop, has a long and excellent track record in Wisconsin. The collectors and insulated piping can last the life of a home or other building.
The circulating pump, anti-freeze solution and a few other minor components will require replacement periodically. A system also needs an overall check-up every five to 10 years by a qualified service technician.
On average, maintenance might cost about $25 a year.
A typical two-panel solar water heater costs between $5,000 and $6,000. However, Wisconsin’s Focus on Energy program provides Cash Back Rewards for up to 30% of the cost (not to exceed $3,000).
You can find the Cash Back Reward form at or request a form by calling 1-800-762-7077. You’ll save between $150 and $400 a year on fuel bills, depending on the cost of your current water-heating fuel and the amount of water used in your household or business.
You can find a list of solar water heater installers in the Renewable Energy Yellow Pages at
Chuck Sasso is the senior project manager at Focus on Energy, a public-private partnership offering energy information and services to energy utility customers throughout Wisconsin. For more information, call 800-762-7077 or visit
April 30, 2004 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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