I enjoy writing this column and sharing ideas about living lighter on the planet. I think it works best when I write about real experiences, especially my own. Several years ago I set a goal to install a solar domestic hot water system. This week, I checked that one off the list.
Now, most of the energy it takes to provide our home with hot water is clean and fresh. Bursting from the nuclear-fueled depths of the Sun, it makes the 93-million-mile journey to our roof in just eight minutes. We put it right into our hot water system, ready to be used immediately, eliminating the incredibly inefficient 300-million-year process of turning ancient sunlight into fossil fuels. Like I said, solar energy is clean and fresh – and it works great!
Getting a solar hot water system on our roof certainly did not happen at the speed of light. In fact, the experience reminds me of a drawing I’ve seen recently circulating on Facebook. The left side shows a straight line pointing up to the right with the caption, “Success: What people think it looks like.” The right side shows the same line but with a grossly convoluted path between the starting and ending points. That caption reads, “Success: What it really looks like.” My quest for solar hot water has been successful but not without plenty of twists and turns.
The first major hurdle, and one that most people face, was cost. We planned for our system and diligently saved up for the day when it would happen. It took time but delayed gratification, and avoiding finance charges, has its own sweet reward. The other big issue was finding the right company to install the system. An earlier attempt several years ago ended in failure. The installer failed to properly mount the panel on our roof and I had no option but to ask them to leave. It was an unpleasant, expensive and time-consuming lesson.
I decided to make another attempt at the process earlier this year when a new rebate program started up in Nevada. Actually it’s two programs, one with NV Energy and another with Southwest Gas. They are similar but independent. Customers can apply for a rebate from whichever utility provides the energy for their existing water heater (electric or gas). When combined with the currently available federal tax credit of 30%, the overall financial incentives are stronger than they’ve ever been. They help level the playing field compared to the artificially-low prices we currently pay for traditional energy (which is also subsidized in many ways).
After much effort, I found a system that met my requirements (high-quality, good performance, small footprint and made in the U.S.) and an experienced contractor who could provide and install it. The small footprint was especially crucial since our garage space is very limited. Southwest Gas approved my rebate application and now the BTUs are pouring in. The most recent full day of operation harvested 51,000 BTUs of thermal energy. Unlike any traditional water heater, this one will actually pay for itself!
I promise to write about this in greater detail in future columns but based on the email and phone calls I’ve received, I know that there are others who are traveling the path to solar success and would like to straighten out some of the twists and turns. For those who request it, I will provide details on the system I chose, including components, photos and contacts. It is information I would have welcomed myself had it been available. I’m calling it the Solar Hot Water Report. Click the link to download your free copy!
There is something unique and satisfying about taking a nice, hot shower using solar energy. May that experience soon become a part of your green living future.