All about buying solar hot water system

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Are you looking to upgrade your home with better amenities?

Thinking of replacing your gas or electric water heating systems?

If you’re wondering whether investing in a solar hot water system or a heat pump is a wise decision, well then, the answer is a big YES!

Given that the upfront cost of buying and installing a solar hot water system is quite high, it is still worth it. It will save you lots more than a conventional gas or electric heater in the long run.

This article will clear all your doubts and will help you make the right decision.

Solar hot water systems are of two types- collector-based systems and heat pump systems.

Firstly, what are these solar hot water systems?

Solar hot water systems consist of solar collector panels and a storage tank. The water gets pumped through these collectors and is heated directly through the sunlight falling on the panels.

Water gets heated when the sun hits the panels. On an overcast day, this obviously won’t work. So, you need to have another backup system in place that doesn’t depend on the sun. Here’s where the storage tank helps, being insulated, it stores the heated water, making it easily available for use.

Solar water systems are either thermosiphon units or split system units.

In thermosiphon systems, both the collector panels and the storage tank are installed on the rooftop. As the water gets heated, it rises and gets collected into the tank.

In split systems(also called pumped systems) the storage tank is installed on the ground. Hot water is pumped through an electric pump to the storage tank.

Solar hot water systems are a hefty investment but do cover the costs in the long run and help save much more than our regular gas and electric heating systems.

Heat pump hot water system

Unlike the conventional solar hot water system, a heat pump system uses the heat from the surrounding air to warm the water. This might sound unrealistic, but there is enough heat present in the air to even boil water.

Even though heat pump systems use electricity to heat water as it works on the same principle as a fridge or an air conditioner, it still uses 75% less electricity than regular heating systems.

What is the pricing?

The cost depends on a number of factors like the solar rebate, date of installation, cost of the system and installation, and price of Small-scale Technology Certificates (STCs) at the time of purchase.

  • Solar hot water systems range between $4000-$8000 fully installed. Split systems generally cost more than rooftop tank systems. Systems that are electrically boosted are more budget-friendly than gas-boosted systems.
  • The price ranges between $3000-$4000 fully installed for heat pump hot water systems.

What are the government rebates available?

  • Incentives by the Federal Government
    The federal government has provided incentives to encourage people to go solar. On your purchase of a solar hot water system, you get Small-scale Technology Certificates (STCs) – ’the rebate’. The number of STCs depends on your location in Australia and the efficiency of the system. Usually, a solar hot water system is certified with 20-40 STCs and their value fluctuates with the market price.
  • Incentives by the State Government
    A few states provide renewable energy schemes. Different states have different schemes available. You can simply contact your state government or check on their website.

How long does a solar hot water system take to pay back?

This depends on various factors like how much hot water you use, the efficiency of your system, the size and price of your new system, etc. The majority of households find that their costs have decreased by 50% or more.

If you replace your electric hot water system, it will probably pay for itself in 5 years or less. In case you are replacing a gas hot water system, the payback time will be more than the electric heaters, simply because of the fact that gas systems are comparably affordable to install and run. The payback time will be somewhere between 5-10 years.

What are solar diverters? 

If your house uses solar energy for electricity too, then having a solar diverter is a good option. A solar diverter is a device that takes the extra power generated through the solar power system and uses it to heat the hot water tank. Usually, this excess electricity is sent to the main grid for feed-in tariffs which are not too generous for most people these days. Hence, a solar diverter can help make effective use of excess electricity as it can be used with the regular electric hot water tanks too.

Things to keep in mind during installation 

The installation of a solar hot water system is a little more elaborate and complex than the regular electric or gas hot water systems. It will take some days to install.

Solar hot water panels need direct sunlight, so a rooftop that is north-facing is suitable. With a thermosiphon system, since the storage tank is also mounted on the roof, the roof might need reinforcement.

Installing a heat pump system is simpler. For a heat pump hot water system, you need to check the building regulations for noise restrictions.

Maintaining solar hot water systems

Maintenance of a solar hot water system isn’t difficult and it should run without problems for years. A regular check every 5 years is recommended like conventional electric and gas heaters. Just as with other hot water systems, there are parts that may need replacement. So, a full service might cost somewhere between $300-$500.

Getting a quote from suppliers

It is recommended you get a quote from at least two suppliers. They will usually take 30 minutes to assess your place. Make sure you clear a few things before you go ahead with them:

  • Is the installation cost included?
  • How many days will it take till the whole system is installed and ready to use?
  • How many STCs (the rebate) are you getting?
  • How can you make the best use of your existing hot water system? 
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