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Commercial Solar Water Heaters ? - Page 6

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Posted by jaykchan on September 1, 2005, 4:29 pm
 
I am wondering whether your system will be cheaper if you simply buy
the components from China instead of trying to manufacturing here in
US. Based on info that I came across some where in the net, there are
whole street of stores selling solar water heaters in some areas in
China (I don't remember the details). Moreover, China is already
manufacturing solar water heaters (in quantities I believe). You "may"
be able to get the cost down and make it a price competitive product in
this way.

Labor cost is much lower in China. You may take advantage of this fact
in the beginning to get the US market at least "started". When the US
market become big enough for your solar power heaters, you can look for
capital to build a highly automated factory in US to produce your solar
water heater; then you can keep the cost down while keep your business
near the final market. I am puzzled that no one has already started
doing this...

I guess the natural gas price is still low enough that people still can
afford not using solar power for water heating. As long as local supply
of natural gas is still plentiful, people will not be attracted to
solar water heating. That's until the local supply runs low and people
need to start importing natural gas from other regions through natural
gas terminals, and be exposed to global energy price and the
competition of natural gas from other countries (China has started
using a lot of natural gas to replace the use of coal). Then people may
realize that they have been paying very little for natural gas, and
will start reviewing all their alternatives. Hopefully, solar water
heater will be on top of the list of alternatives. I guess the keys are
when will be the time when local supply of natural gas will run low,
and how expensive the global price of natural gas will be.

I am just speculating. I am not an expert in this area. I am hoping
that someone can give us an insight on this issue as of why solar water
heaters are not taking off in US.

Jay Chan


Posted by Morris Dovey on September 1, 2005, 10:22 pm
 
jaykchan@hotmail.com (in
1125592180.923621.31770@g44g2000cwa.googlegroups.com) said:

| I am wondering whether your system will be cheaper if you simply buy
| the components from China instead of trying to manufacturing here in
| US. Based on info that I came across some where in the net, there
| are whole street of stores selling solar water heaters in some
| areas in China (I don't remember the details). Moreover, China is
| already manufacturing solar water heaters (in quantities I
| believe). You "may" be able to get the cost down and make it a
| price competitive product in this way.

Possibly. CNC tooling has allowed me to do a fairly good job of
minimizing the labor content. From what you say, I'm surprised that
they're not already exporting to the USA.

| Labor cost is much lower in China. You may take advantage of this
| fact in the beginning to get the US market at least "started". When
| the US market become big enough for your solar power heaters, you
| can look for capital to build a highly automated factory in US to
| produce your solar water heater; then you can keep the cost down
| while keep your business near the final market. I am puzzled that
| no one has already started doing this...

See above. By myself I can already produce more than I can sell.
Expanding current capacity is largely a matter of installing more of
the same machinery and hiring people to do painting and/or assembly.

| I guess the natural gas price is still low enough that people still
| can afford not using solar power for water heating. As long as
| local supply of natural gas is still plentiful, people will not be
| attracted to solar water heating. That's until the local supply
| runs low and people need to start importing natural gas from other
| regions through natural gas terminals, and be exposed to global
| energy price and the competition of natural gas from other
| countries (China has started using a lot of natural gas to replace
| the use of coal). Then people may realize that they have been
| paying very little for natural gas, and will start reviewing all
| their alternatives. Hopefully, solar water heater will be on top of
| the list of alternatives. I guess the keys are when will be the
| time when local supply of natural gas will run low, and how
| expensive the global price of natural gas will be.

I suspect you're correct. For many people in my area, natural gas
isn't an option. Most farms heat with oil, propane, or electricity.

| I am just speculating. I am not an expert in this area. I am hoping
| that someone can give us an insight on this issue as of why solar
| water heaters are not taking off in US.

[1] Most people want simple "magic bullet" solutions. They don't want
the redundancy of solar plus conventional systems. There's a feeling
that if solar can't do the entire job, then it can't be very good.

[2] Operating cost is not (yet) a principal factor in purchasing a
water heater, and conventional (non-solar) systems are both less
expensive to purchase and require less/fewer skills to install.

[3] The belief is that there will be no natural gas supply problem.
The price may rise, but the supply will be reliable.

China's increased use of hydrocarbon fuels will simply accelerate the
onset of problems for both countries. As we all compete for the same
fuel, we drive the price of fuel up. At present China is enjoying
prosperity as a result of low-labor cost production of goods for
consumers in other countries. China's standard of living (we all hope)
will improve and as a result the Chinese economy will become
increasingly energy hungry - driving fuel prices higher globally until
a high percentage of their customers need to choose between purchases
of Chinese goods and fuel for warmth and transportation.

Although we all talk about cheap Chinese labor, Chinese brains and
education are and will be far more important - just as brains and
education became more important than what we once thought of as "cheap
Japanese labor". What remains to be seen is whether the Chinese are
culturally capable of choosing "win-win" strategies. My guess is
"yes"; but I'm not an expert.

I think I'd enjoy collaborating with interested Chinese (and
anyone/everyone else!) to develop alternative energy solutions from
which we all benefit. /My/ problem is that I haven't a clue how to
initiate that kind of effort nor how to persue it with the resources
currently available to me.

--
Morris Dovey
DeSoto Solar
DeSoto, Iowa USA
http://www.iedu.com/DeSoto/solar.html



Posted by Rob Dekker on September 2, 2005, 12:42 am
 

Thanks Morris. So we are talking about a $-4k retail value system once it is
sold in stores.
That does indeed restrict the market, but it should still be large enough for
you to grow nicely
(without need for external capital).
Does Iowa state (your neck of the woods?) issue rebates for solar systems ?


Yeah. I know what you mean.
I have not looked into this enough.


For some strange reason PV systems seem to be more in the picture
than passive thermal systems. Even in the California 'million solar roof'
initiative.
I have no idea why that is, because it makes no economic sense at all.
I think people in your state are just smarter in that respect.


Is that even true for a changed system ?

In most of California, a simple direct pumped system would suffice, because of
the
extremely low chance of freezing (a simple freeze-prevention valve will do).
A direct pumped system can even be hooked up to a standard water heater,
relieving the need to sell the solar system with a water heater.

I figure that in Iowa you need a indirect system, requiring a larger collector
(for the reduced efficiency), and a special water tank (one with a
heat-exchanger).
Not to mention the extra requirements with anti-freeze fluids and expansion tank
and such.

An indirect (freeze-safe) system must be considerable more expensive, and
certainly
more difficult to install and maintain than the simple system we need here,
right ?


I think you are right.
But often it is a chicken-and-egg problem of consumer awareness :

If your water heater breaks, you go and buy a new one.
You go to the store, and all you see is gas and electric water heaters.
If there were a 'solar' option, or even a water heater that is same price but
'solar-ready' (a heater which has extra openings where a solar panel can
be plumbed-in later on, then I'm sure it will create at least awareness
and with awareness comes interest and market..


I'm sorry, you are right. A "fool-proof" system does not exist.
What I meant was that Murphy's law should be considered when
designing the system. Ball Valves / pressure relief valves / air vents,
temp sensors etc should be mountable in only one direction and
order or be pre-mounted on the collector or tank entries.
Stuff like that.


Your fear seems to be shared by other commercial and political solar
activities. That is too bad, because in order to be successfull,
you really need to believe that you can do it, and that you have the right
product and process to get into the market and grow.

I know that there was a wave of activity in solar water heaters in the 70s and
80s.
That died out, and I sense that there is some fear to get back into the market.
I wonder if that failure has something to do with the current reluctance to
embrace commercial solar-heating again.
I did not live in the US at that time. What happened ?


You won't know customer satisfaction until you start having customers.

I sense that you feel good about the design of your system, but do not yet
feel so good about the market. Somebody else will feel good about the market
and not have a good design yet. Keep your eyes open for a business partner..



Posted by Morris Dovey on September 2, 2005, 2:05 am
 Rob Dekker (in RdNRe.4536$oJ2.2542@newssvr17.news.prodigy.com) said:

| Does Iowa state (your neck of the woods?) issue rebates for solar
| systems ?

Iowa? Solar systems? Eh?

| For some strange reason PV systems seem to be more in the picture
| than passive thermal systems. Even in the California 'million solar
| roof' initiative. I have no idea why that is, because it makes no
economic sense at
| all. I think people in your state are just smarter in that respect.

Probably not smarter - I would guess they feel a need to spend their
money /very/ carefully.

|| The bad news is that while the cost of materials needed might be
|| somewhat less, the reduction in total cost would be noticably
|| smaller - possibly insignificant.
|
| Is that even true for a changed system ?

I would guess so. Mutiple product lines tend to increase costs - not
reduce them unless there is sufficient activity to justify separate
(simultaneous) production.

||| So the market might be ready for a good commercial system.
||
|| I think the "early adapters" might be; but the bulk of the market
|| isn't quite.
|
| I think you are right.
| But often it is a chicken-and-egg problem of consumer awareness :
|
| If your water heater breaks, you go and buy a new one.
| You go to the store, and all you see is gas and electric water
| heaters.
| If there were a 'solar' option, or even a water heater that is same
| price but 'solar-ready' (a heater which has extra openings where a
| solar panel can
| be plumbed-in later on, then I'm sure it will create at least
| awareness
| and with awareness comes interest and market..

You're right - it /is/ a chicken-and-egg problem. Unfortunately, the
solution to the problem is education/advertizing at a level beyond my
means.

||| Beyond that, a regular plumber should be able to learn how to
||| service a simple solar heater system after in a day of training or
||| so....
||| Where there is a market, service people will sprout up...
||
|| True. My question is: "How many homeowners will have to do without
|| needed service/repair visits until that sprouting takes place?" The
|| very first homeowner who can't get the service needed will become
|| an anti-solar evangelist. The twenty-fifth will be an enterprise
|| ELE (extinction level event).
|
| Your fear seems to be shared by other commercial and political solar
| activities. That is too bad, because in order to be successfull,
| you really need to believe that you can do it, and that you have
| the right product and process to get into the market and grow.

Unfortunately, my confidence and a "great" product aren't enough. As
soon as I enter the powered/plumbed appliance arena, I expose myself
to every kind of litigation you could possibly imagine. I hate the
entire CYA concept, but this arena absolutely requires product
liability protection. Even a completely spurious lawsuit could be
crippling.

| I know that there was a wave of activity in solar water heaters in
the 70s and 80s.
| That died out, and I sense that there is some fear to get back into
the market.
| I wonder if that failure has something to do with the current
reluctance to
| embrace commercial solar-heating again.
| I did not live in the US at that time. What happened ?

In a nutshell [1] no one made any serious money, [2] a lot of the good
work that did get done was done by people that were regarded as not
'mainstream' (and therefore weren't credible.)

| Keep your eyes open for a business partner.

I have been. I've also been looking for collaborators in countries
where people are less able to afford hydrocarbon fuels and might be
more receptive to workable alternatives.

--
Morris Dovey
DeSoto Solar
DeSoto, Iowa USA
http://www.iedu.com/DeSoto/solar.html



Posted by Iain McClatchie on September 1, 2005, 7:21 pm
 
Did you really look around?  Heliodyne makes panels and pre-engineers
systems which appear to be sold by lots of web-based stores.  I haven't
looked, but I don't think these are available at Home Depot.  The price
is also higher than you asked for, because the panels are built for
conditions and handling much worse than you will probably expose them
to.  That's what you get with pre-engineering.  Alternatively, you can
pay more for custom engineering (or engineer it yourself) and less for
materials.

http://shop.altenergystore.com/itemdesc~ic~HELHP-2-4X8PV~eq~~Tp~.htm

I'm not terribly familiar with the market.  I know AEC makes panels as
well, and SRCC publishes tests that they do on hundreds of different
pre-engineered systems from at least a dozen manufacturers.  So, it's
not like the absolute level of activity is tiny here in the States,
it's just that it's a (very) big country and there is not much market
penetration right now.

http://www.solar-rating.org/   <- SRCC site


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