Californians have used solar power to heat hot water for more than a century. Now the rooftop solar panels you see all over California are more likely to be providing solar energy to the power grid than heating water for a home. In fact, solar hot water systems seem to be a bit old fashioned in today’s growing solar energy market.
Not so in Alaska. Even above the Arctic Circle on the shores of the Bering Strait, solar thermal hot water heaters are an efficient way to reduce the fuel it takes to not only heat hot water but keep your home warm and cozy in subzero temperatures. Solar thermal water heaters run water through a series of tubes that absorb solar energy and turn it into heat.
In 2008 the Kotzebue Electric Association (KEA), which provides power to 3,000 or so residents in northwest Alaska, began a pilot program to install solar water heaters on the rooftops of elderly customers. These systems not only provide hot water but they also provide hot water that powers baseboard heating systems reducing the utility bills of the elderly and providing low cost heat as a lifeline to the area’s most vulnerable customers.
If solar thermal is worth pursuing above the Arctic Circle, even with short winter days, then it must be worth the effort here in California. Solar water heaters for domestic tap use are eligible for state government subsidies in California.