Super-efficient hot water know how

The solar collector tilted at 64°.  In summer the early morning and late afternoon sun actually heats the evacuated tubes from behind!

Richard Keech explains how he combined an evacuated tube solar collector and a heat pump to make a high efficiency hybrid water heater.

On my three-bedroom Melbourne house I have what might be the most efficient solar hot water system around. In the year since installation it has performed extremely well, and I’ve learnt a lot along the way. This article will consider aspects of solar hot water design and rationale that led me to the system I have now. Then it will look at the system as built and the lessons after one year of operation. My design for the system brings together some ideas about what makes for a more sustainable hot water system. Some of these ideas challenge conventional wisdom on the subject.

Crank it up
For hot water, the Your Home Technical Manual for example suggests to tilt the (north-facing) solar panels at an angle corresponding to the latitude of the location and “in some cases, it may be desirable to increase the angle somewhat to improve winter performance and reduce overheating in summer”. Despite this, it’s uncommon in my experience to see solar collectors tilted above 35°.

My interpretation of the situation is that it’s more than merely “desirable in some cases”—it’s really important to increase the tilt of solar collectors for hot water, but not PV. To appreciate why, we need to recognise the key difference between solar hot water and solar PV, namely, that solar hot water systems cannot make use of their surplus energy. Indeed excess summertime solar gain can be a problem as discussed in ReNew 113 (DIY Solar Hot Water Cover page 72). On the other hand, urban PV systems have the benefit that excess generation is simply exported to the grid.

Grid-connected PV systems are best configured for maximum annual solar gain. However, we need to apply a different rule of thumb for hot water—to configure for the maximum number of days with sufficient solar gain. This means cranking up the solar collectors to a much steeper angle. This is done to maximise solar gain in winter and to help reduce overheating problems in summer. To optimise for winter noon, the angle should be latitude plus 23.5°, which in Melbourne is 61°. Given that the angle of the sun is lower than its noon angle for most of the daylight hours, it follows that the collector angle should be even a little higher than this. I chose to tilt my collector at 64° from the horizontal.

Read the full article in ReNew 115

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