Big Names are Getting into Hot Water with Solar

A properly designed solar storage tank is a critical component of pretty much every solar hot water system. The market for residential solar thermal storage tanks is inundated with options for homeowners to contemplate. Recognizable names like Lochinvar, Rheem, and A.O. Smith are spending untold millions of dollars each year to reach potential customers.

The engineering mentality that helped these companies become the preeminent builders of hot water storage may be sufficient for residential solar storage but it will not fly for more complex institutional jobs.

Big solar thermal jobs can be quite a horse of another color. They require a much more comprehensive methodology. Engineers, architects, and newby solar contractors thinking they can undertake big jobs in the same manner that Rheem, A.O. Smith, and Lochinvar approach their products for the home are destined to create under-performing commercial systems.

I realized this way back in the late 1970’s when I initially got into solar hot water. Having an education in physics, I suppose my thinking was somewhat different than most engineers. My approach has always been based on how to most effectively acquire, retain, and deliver energy… crazy, right?.

Consistant followers of my web log will know that this philosophy led me to develop my own style of the “drain back” system design. If you haven’t read any of my writings regarding drain back, I suggest you give them a gander. My methodology was utilized in hundreds of solar hot water systems throughout the 80’s and 90’s, a fair amount of which are still chugging along thirty years later.

At the center of this basic but rugged design is my solar hot water tank.

It is really not simply a tank, though. It is a total solar hot water storage system that includes a non-pressurized steel tank, 2″ of isocyanurate insulation, galvanized sheet metal jacketing, embedded heat exchangers, pumps, piping, controls, and monitoring. That’s the reason why I refer to it as a ‘fluid handling system’ or FHS.

So what’s the real advantage?

Solar contractors recognize that making best use of time on the job site will often make the difference between remaining profitable and losing your shirt. Nowhere is there more chance to get this messed up than in the mechanical room. Here, the contractor has a list of critical activities to accomplish:

  • set the storage tank(s)
  • set the heat exchanger(s)
  • pipe the heat exchanger(s) to the tank(s)
  • install the pump(s) and piping
  • mount the controls
  • wire the controls
  • program the controller(s)
  • insulate the tank
  • insulate the pipes

Suppose you did not have to do ANY of that?

That’s the FHS advantage! It’s practically plug-n-play. Solar installers utilizing the FHS as opposed to onsite assembly have realized a savings of 50% on their time and cost spent in the mechanical room. That is cash in their pocket with more time remaining to sell more project, not install more pipe.

Not only is the FHS a big cost saver, but it is more efficient than a site fabricated system. All the components are selected for compatibility and factory installed with the optimal quality control.This degree of integration simply can not be done on the work site.

If you’re a solar contractor looking for ways to boost the revenue of your solar thermal installations, stop wasting your time with the run-of-the-mill solar hot water tank solution. Cut your expenses in half with a Fluid Handling System!

Ben Gravely, PhD is the creator of where he shares his three decades of insights on topics like the optimal installation and design of solar panels and tanks.

Posted under Solar Water Heaters

This post was written by TKB-Editor on January 7, 2015

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