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Solar Hot Water Systems Guide

Our hot water specialist on a job site.

Thinking About Going Solar?

Every day more Australians are making the switch to solar hot water systems. Why? With energy bills rising and climate change growing, many are trading in their electric and gas hot water systems, favouring an energy-efficient home.

Water heating contributes roughly 25 per cent to the average household’s energy usage. In effect, this costs hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of dollars each year. However, there are lots of energy-efficient hot water alternatives on the market. Opting to use solar power instead of a gas storage tank, continuous flow system, or an electric hot water system will save you money in the long run.

But what are solar water heaters, and how do they differ from gas or electric water heaters? Is changing to solar energy worth it? Atomic Hot Water Repairs answers these questions and more in this guide.

How Solar Hot Water Systems Work

Solar hot water systems act much like a battery. When it comes to solar water heating, the system consists of collector panels and a storage tank. These collector panels absorb energy from the sun and transfer this to heat water inside the storage tank. 

Hot water systems can work in two ways regarding solar heating, actively or passively. The main difference is that active systems keep the water heated using circulating pumps, while passive systems require heated pipes to keep the water hot as it moves through your home.

Active systems can heat water by either utilising stored sunlight or a heat exchanger. Many households select active solar hot water systems because they are more reliable than passive systems. Active systems maintain water temperature during the pump’s motion, while passive systems store solar energy and heat the water before moving. This process makes passive systems vulnerable in colder climates.

These systems also differ in their configuration, with active mostly coming in split units – panel and tank separate – and passive being together. Since cloudy days interfere with the collector panels receiving solar energy, active solar hot water systems also feature electric or gas boosters to ensure hot water is always available. 

Types of Solar Water Heaters

Solar hot water systems are available in three main types – flat panel collectors, evacuated tube collectors, and heat pump systems. At Atomic Hot Water Repairs, we offer a wide range of top solar hot water system brands suitable for any home and backed by our lifetime labour warranty!

Solar hot water system flat plate collectors collectors
Flat Plate Collectors

1. Flat Plate Collectors: This system uses a large solar panel heat exchanger to absorb sunlight and transfer heat to an insulated storage tank. Out of all the available solar hot water systems, flat plate collectors tend to be the most affordable. They are easy to install, require little maintenance, and are easy to manufacture, making them a cheaper alternative. 

The system comes in two variations, roof-mounted and split. As the name suggests, roof-mounted have both the tank and collector on the roof, and split systems move the tank to the ground. Regardless of your set-up selection, your hot water output will remain the same.

Evacuated tube solar hot water system
Evacuated Tube Collectors

2. Evacuated Tube Collectors: Unlike flat plates, evacuated tube collectors feature a series of tubes that remove air using a vacuum seal. The seal allows for efficient heat transfer to the stored water and makes evacuated tube collectors more effective than flat plate collectors.

This system is also more effective because it captures more sunlight with its greater surface area, is more durable and less prone to replacement and can work in colder temperatures. However, evacuated tube collectors have the most expensive upfront costs.

Heat pump hot water systems
Heat Pump Hot Water System

3. Heat Pump Hot Water Systems: Many people don’t consider heat pumps solar-powered hot water systems. This belief is because heat pumps don’t collect sunlight conventionally like flat plates and evacuated tubes. Instead, heat pump solar systems pull solar heat out of the air and use this to heat water. 

Although it uses electricity to remove heat from the air, it uses 75 per cent less than conventional electric systems.

Advantages of Solar Hot Water

Making the switch from gas or electric to solar comes with many sustainable benefits. Most notably:

  1. Reduces energy bills: If you install solar hot water heating systems, you can expect a price drop of up to 80 per cent of your water heating bill.
  2. Environmentally friendly: Solar hot water systems prevent contribution to greenhouse gas emissions by substituting fossil fuels for sunlight. 
  3. Requires less maintenance: Unlike gas or electric hot water systems, which need yearly maintenance, solar only requires servicing every five years. However, we recommend reading the safety certificate for more accurate scheduling.

Disadvantages of Solar Hot Water

Like any product, there are always a few disadvantages to consider. For solar water heating, these include:

  1. High upfront installation costs: Solar has higher upfront costs for installation than traditional hot water systems like gas or electric. However, the cost savings associated with using solar energy to heat water outweigh the initial cost in the long term.
  2. Dependent on climate and sun availability: Sunlight isn’t needed all year round, and most solar water heaters have gas or electric boosters. However, living in an area with less sun requires more input from the backup heating sources and lowers your cost savings. We recommend evacuation tube collectors in these instances, but higher upfront costs will be incurred.
  3. More household members equal larger tanks and more panels: A standard solar panel supplies 150 L of hot water. With the average household using 75 L per member, a typical four-person family requires two panels and a larger tank. A two-person household only needs one panel and a slightly smaller tank. 

Is Solar Hot Water Right for Me?

If you’re experiencing high energy bills, use hot water regularly, and live in a sunny area, installing solar hot water is your best option. While it may seem like a steep investment initially, relying on solar energy is considerably cheaper than anything else. It also lessens the environmental impact other hot water systems cause.

At Atomic Hot Water Repairs, we recommend the following types of systems for each consideration.

  • You have limited roof space: Your best bet is a heat pump hot water system, or passive solar heating system, with the water tank on the ground. 
  • Smaller budget: A flat plate collector is for you if the price is most important to your decision-making process. These solar collectors are considerably cheaper than any other solar hot water system and relatively easier to install.
  • Performance: An evacuation tube collection system is the standout choice for anyone willing to pay more upfront for optimal hot water efficiency. These systems also produce the most significant energy saving on your bills and don’t require a lot of roof space.

For all your solar hot water advice, installation, and maintenance, contact us at service@atomichotwater.com.au or call us at 1300 763 734. Atomic Hot Water Repairs offer honest and professional service to your door. We pride ourselves on providing efficient and reliable hot water service across Sydney at an affordable price. No job is too big or small! 

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