The world is trying to tell you something: Get a solar water heater. Well, maybe not the world, but definitely California and the federal government. According to the Los Angeles Times, California has recently set aside $350 million in funds to provide rebates to Californians who opt for solar-powered water heating. The rebates may bring down the cost of a solar water heating system by as much as 25%. In addition, the federal government is offering a 30% tax credit.
Typical solar water heaters employ roof-mounted solar panels that consist of shallow, glass-topped boxes that have pipes running through them. Everything inside the box is painted black. Water, or a fluid that exchanges heat with the water later, flows through the pipes and the panels act like little greenhouses, heating up the fluid in the pipes. Heated water is then transferred to an insulated storage tank, just like in a regular water heater, for use later. Solar water heaters will generally have some sort of electric pump to get the water to the roof and a gas or electric backup to heat the stored water further, if necessary.
A ballpark estimate is that a solar water heater could provide half or more of the hot water for a house in a suitably sunny area—and it’s probably not too much of a stretch to describe LA as “suitably sunny.” To figure out how much you could save, you can use the “Solar Estimator” at Solar Estimate.org. The site can also guide you to retailers.
Of course, if you do get a solar water heater, you’ll be using less non-renewable energy from day one, so your karma savings will be astronomical.