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Listen Up: The Economics of Solar Hot Water Systems

Kids these days are growing up with solar — panels on the roof of their house, ads on the radio, solar electric lights, calculators and even backpacks. To their entire generation, "solar" means solar electricity or photovoltaic. But solar electric systems are a relative newcomer on the block.

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To the rest of the world — and most of us of the older persuasion — solar also means solar thermal (hot water): using solar collectors to heat water or air. In the U.S., solar thermal systems can be quite cost-effective to heat pools, as well as domestic hot water (DHW). On a global basis, solar DHW systems are by far and away the most popular technology, providing inexpensive hot water all over the developed and developing world. But why aren't they more popular in the U.S.?

I can think of no better person than Les Nelson, director of the California Solar Energy Industries Association since 1994 and chair of its Solar Thermal Division since 1998, to answer this question — and explain the benefits and limitations of solar thermal systems in the U.S. So listen to this week's Energy Show on Renewable Energy World for Les' view of current and future solar thermal opportunities, as well as the practical economics of solar thermal for homeowners.

Find more episodes of The Energy Show here.

About The Energy Show

As energy costs consume more and more of our hard-earned dollars, we as consumers really start to pay attention. But we don't have to resign ourselves to $5/gallon gas prices, $200/month electric bills and $500 heating bills. There are literally hundreds of products, tricks and techniques that we can use to dramatically reduce these costs — very affordably.

The Energy Show on Renewable Energy World is a weekly 20-minute podcast that provides tips and advice to reduce your home and business energy consumption. Every week we'll cover topics that will help cut your energy bill, explain new products and technologies in plain English, and cut through the hype so that you can make smart and cost-effective energy choices. 

About Your Host

Barry Cinnamon is a long-time advocate of renewable energy and is a widely recognized solar power expert. In 2001 he founded Akeena Solar — which grew to become the largest national residential solar installer by the middle of the last decade with over 10,000 rooftop customers coast to coast. He partnered with Westinghouse to create Westinghouse Solar in 2010, and sold the company in 2012.

His pioneering work on reducing costs of rooftop solar power systems include Andalay, the first solar panel with integrated racking, grounding and wiring; the first UL listed AC solar panel; and the first fully “plug and play” AC solar panel. His current efforts are focused on reducing the soft costs for solar power systems, which cause system prices in the U.S. to be double those of Germany.

Although Barry may be known for his outspoken work in the solar industry, he has hands-on experience with a wide range of energy saving technologies.  He's been doing residential energy audits since the punch card days, developed one of the first ground-source heat pumps in the early ‘80s, and always abides by the Laws of Thermodynamics.

Lead image: Green microphone via Shutterstock

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As energy costs consume more and more of our hard-earned dollars, we as consumers really start to pay attention. But we don't have to resign ourselves to $5/gallon gas prices, $200/month electric bills and $500 heating bills. There are literally h...

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