For businesses such as hotels and restaurants and for property managers with multi-family buildings, the cost of heating water can really add up. There are showers and sinks, swimming pools and hot tubs, washing machines and dishwashers. That's a lot of demand for hot water, and it can be a significant portion of total energy costs.
But it doesn't have to. Southern California enjoys abundant free energy courtesy of its sunny weather, and using solar energy to heat water can be a great way to not only help the environment by cutting back on natural gas use, but may also save your business money.
Solar water heating systems are different than photovoltaic panels for solar energy. Panels convert solar energy into electricity, while solar thermal systems absorb heat from the sun and transfer the heat to the water.
"Solar water heating is a technology we've had for a long time," said Kelly Knutsen, policy advisor for the Sacramento-based California Solar Energy Industries Association. "It works really well for reducing on-site use of natural gas."
And while solar thermal systems have been around for a while, there's never been a better time than now to install one, thanks to increased availability and a rebate program from the California Solar Initiative (CSI) that makes solar water heating a smart investment for many businesses.
The best reason for businesses to consider solar water heating systems is that it can reduce operating costs. Of course, installing a solar water heating system requires up-front expenditures. CSI's rebate program can provide up to $800,000 in rebates on solar water heating systems and up to $500,000 on solar pool heating systems for eligible commercial and multifamily properties installed in 2016, depending on how much energy the system is expected to displace per year.
"[Rebates] are currently at a good level to increase adoption, so it really does work out well for businesses right now," Knutsen said. Solar water heating is especially efficient for business owners because most of them have enough space to install the equipment on their roofs and can accommodate larger central water heating systems.
Helping to improve the environment
California is leading the way in implementing new regulations to improve air quality and increase adoption of clean energy technologies. "One of the bigger statewide goals is to make all new buildings zero net energy — creating as much energy on site as they use — by 2030," Knutsen said. "So, for business that are already planning renovations, this is a way to get ahead of the curve."
In regions with year-round sunshine, a solar water heating system can provide up to 80% of the total hot water used in a year. For individual businesses, this will depend on the type and size of the system. That's an important conversation to have with the installer ahead of time.
—Tribune Content Solutions for SoCalGas