Earth Notes - Energy Conservation II: Solar Water Heaters

Flagstaff, AZ – Earth Notes: Energy Conservation II: Solar Water Heating

This week Earth Notes continues its series on energy conservation with a look at a technology perfectly suited to the Southwest, with its abundance of sunny days. One relatively easy way to take advantage of that free energy is to install a solar water heater.

Solar water heaters replace conventional gas or electric heaters in supplying hot water for showers, washing dishes and doing laundry.

In sunny areas, the sun can provide 80 percent of a household's annual water heating needs. In Israel 90 percent of houses use solar water heaters. Hawaii has required all new homes to have solar water heaters installed by 2010.

Unlike those warmer climates, much of the Southwest experiences cold temperatures. But new solar water heater systems take freezing conditions into consideration.

One family outside Flagstaff, the Greens, have installed a system perfectly suited to northern Arizona's cold winters. Water is circulated to the roof and heated in pipes in two flat glass insulated panels.

If the outside temperature drops below a certain level, all the water drains from the roof into a holding tank, keeping pipes from freezing. So far the Greens have not had to switch to electricity to heat their water, even during the cloudy monsoon season.

They view their system as the first, affordable step toward completely converting to solar energy. And some Arizona residents may qualify for a solar energy tax credit by installing a solar water heater.

Next week, we'll look at energy savings in the kitchen.

-Cecile LeBlanc