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Solar water heating systems comprise several innovations and many mature renewable energy technologies which have been accepted in most countries for many years. In a "pump-circulated" system the storage tank is ground or floor mounted and is below the level of the collectors; a circulating pump moves water or heat transfer fluid between the tank and the collectors.
Solar water heating systems are designed to deliver the optimum amount of hot water for most of the year. However, in winter there sometimes may not be sufficient solar heat gain to deliver sufficient hot water. In this case a gas or electric boiler (heater) is normally used to heat the water.
Hot water heated by the sun is used in many ways. While perhaps best known in a residential setting to provide hot domestic water, solar hot water also has industrial applications, e.g. to generate electricity. Designs suitable for hot climates can be much simpler and cheaper, and can be considered an appropriate technology for these places. The global solar thermal market is dominated by China, Europe, Japan and India.
In order to heat water using solar energy, a collector, often fastened to a roof or a wall facing the sun, heats working fluid that is pumped through it. The collector is be made of a glass topped insulated box with a flat solar absorber made of sheet metal attached to copper pipes and painted black, or a set of metal tubes surrounded by an evacuated (near vacuum) glass cylinder. Heat is stored in a hot water storage tank. The volume of this tank needs to be larger with solar heating systems in order to allow for bad weather, and because the optimum final temperature for the solar collector is lower than a typical immersion or combustion heater. The heat transfer fluid for the absorber may be the hot water from the tank, but more commonly is a separate loop of fluid containing anti-freeze and a corrosion inhibitor which delivers heat to the tank through a heat exchanger (commonly a coil of copper tubing within the tank).
Residential solar thermal installations include an auxiliary energy source (electric heating element or connection to a gas or fuel oil central heating system) that is activated when the water in the tank falls below a minimum temperature setting such as 130F. Hence, hot water is always available.
When a solar water heating and hot-water central heating system are used in conjunction, solar heat will either be concentrated in a pre-heating tank that feeds into the tank heated by the central heating, or the solar heat exchanger will replace the lower heating element and the upper element will remain in place to provide for any heating that solar cannot provide. However, the primary need for central heating is at night and in winter when solar gain is lower. Therefore, solar water heating for washing and bathing is often a better application than central heating because supply and demand are better matched. In many climates, a solar hot water system can provide up to 85% of domestic hot water energy.
Did you know that in the United States solar water heating and solar collectors dated back to before 1900?
Although flat-plate collectors for solar water heating were used in Florida and Southern California in the 1920s there was a surge of interest in solar heating in North America after 1960, but specially after the 1973 oil crisis.