Solar thermal systems, also called solar heating and cooling systems, collect thermal energy from the sun to provide hot water, space heating, cooling, and pool heating for homes and businesses. In Wisconsin, these systems have traditionally been used for the production of hot water.
This technology concentrates the sun’s rays using reflective devices that heat a liquid stored in a tank until needed. Active solar hot water systems use circulating pumps and controls, which are more efficient but more expensive than the passive systems that do not require additional equipment. Passive systems rely on the natural tendency for hot fluids to rise to deliver heated water. The pipes in the system typically contain antifreeze, so they can withstand cold weather.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, solar hot water systems generally cost more than conventional water heating systems. However, solar hot water heaters can usually save money in the long run. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the return on investment for solar water heating can be as low as 3-6 years for a well-designed system, the lowest of any solar technology. How much money you save depends on how much hot water is used, the performance of the system, the geographic location, and the cost of conventional fuels.
On average, customers save 50-80% on water heating bills through solar thermal systems. According to the Solar Rating and Certification Corporation (SRCC), a typical residential solar water heating system delivers 4 kilowatts when under full sun and when the temperature of the water is the same temperature as the air. This system has about 64 square feet of solar collector surface area, the equivalent peak power of 400 square feet of photovoltaic panels.
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