Occupants of hotels are known for being keen on hot water, desiring long showers and swims in warm pools. In fact, heating for water can rack up as much as a third of energy use in hotels, according to the Center for Sustainable Energy.


Likewise, occupants of condos and nursing homes are big hot water users. In addition to the hot water needed for showers, baths and swimming pools, hot water is also in demand for laundries in these facilities.


To help quench occupants’ call for hot water while improving your organization’s carbon footprint, you should consider solar hot water, also called solar thermal. This can also help lower expensive hot water heating costs.


Solar thermal systems differ from solar PV. With solar thermal, light from the sun is concentrated to heat hot water, and the hot water can store the heat.  Solar PV, on the other hand, directly converts the sun’s light into electricity, which means PV panels work only during daylight hours.


Solar is often not at the top of the to-do list for operators of hotels, condos and nursing homes. But it offers numerous benefits.


To begin with, solar is a good option for heating swimming pool water. Swimming pools are often the biggest energy users in a hotel, in part because guests like the temperature to be warm—in the eighties. Hotel owners and operators often don’t realize that their pool can be converted into a solar storage tank.  They don’t think of the fact that pool water can retain heat easily.


However, if hotel, motel and condo owners heat up their pools early in the morning using solar thermal energy, the pools can serve as thermal storage tanks, holding onto the warmth through cloudy periods during the day.


What’s more, solar hot water can be less expensive and more efficient than solar electricity. Here’s why: Solar electric technology involves converting electrons to produce heat. It’s not always easy to make the electrons go where you want them to go, and stay there. For example, when it’s very hot outside, solar panels can get too hot to efficiently produce electricity. Solar thermal power, on the other hand, can directly heat water and retain 20 percent more energy.


These benefits don’t just apply to swimming pools. Demand for hot water for showers, dishwashers, laundries, baths and other uses can be met with solar hot water.


Of course, in order to realize the benefits of solar thermal power, you need space for solar collectors. A rule of thumb is that you should have space for solar panels on a roof, carport, garage or other area that’s equal to about one-third to three-quarters the square footage of a pool’s total area.


If you take the dive and invest in solar hot water, you are eligible for tax credits. For example, the federal government offers a 30% Business Energy Investment Tax Credit for investments in solar water heating. The federal government will decrease that credit starting in 2019, which makes now a great time to look into the technology.


A number of states also offer incentives. For example, the renewable rebate program in Illinois, funded by the Renewable Energy Resources Tax Fund, pays up to 25% of project costs for commercial systems, or $1.25/watt, according to the Clean Energy Authority.




New York State, which also offers incentives for solar hot water, touts the benefits of solar hot water heating, saying, “Solar water heating is one of the most common ways to directly harvest the heat of the sun. Solar hot water technology has been around for many decades and is quite efficient (typically 65 to 70 percent). The equipment is affordable and usually lasts for decades with very little maintenance — and, of course, the solar ‘fuel’ is free.”


A solar hot water system generally is made up of a collector, a storage tank, piping and valves, controls and pumps. “The most common collector is the robust and well-tested flat-plate collector; a more recent design is the evacuated tube collector,” says the Clean Energy Authority.




“In our region, the best type are typically the active closed loop systems with flat plate collectors,” said Rob Holdsworth, Vice President of Engineering for

Evolution Energy Partners.


If you’re wondering if your facility could benefit from solar hot water heating, ask yourself:

–Is hot water likely a large part of my fuel bill? The answer is likely yes if you own or operate a hotel, motel, nursing home, condo or health club, to name just a few.

–Do I have enough space to house solar collectors? Again, the rough rule of thumb, at least for pools, is that you need space equal to about one-third to three-quarters of the area of your pool.

–Does my company qualify for state tax credits?


While you’re trying to decide whether solar hot water is right for you, keep in mind that solar hot water heating has been around a long time, with the first commercial solar water heater patented in 1891, according to Mother Earth News. Within five years, nearly 30% of the homes in Pasadena, Calif. boasted solar water systems.

Whether your customers are keen on warm pools, hot showers, or warm-temperature clothes washing, solar may be just what you need to lower your energy costs, reduce your carbon footprint and ensure your customers are comfortable.


A History of Solar Water Heating