Look who’s investing in solar hot water technology. While the rest of us are worrying that solar thermal lacks the trendy appeal of othersolar tech and wondering when people will realize how much sense itmakes, China is quietly stepping up and installing more solar hot watercapacity than anyone in the world.
In this graph from Solar Heating & Cooling Worldwide, the 2010Edition, you can see that China has installed over 24,000 MW of solarthermal, more than any other individual country in the world. Granted,on a per capita basis, its investment might not seem so radical compared to others. But the Chinese preference for evacuated tube collectorsreveals much more about their clean energy investment priorities.
Evacuated tube solar collectors are known for their greaterefficiency and suitability for colder climates. In a nutshell, thetechnology permits the maximum amount of sunlight to be captured because the tubes’ curved shapes make the collector perpendicular to the sun at all times of day. Unfortunately the added complexity this brings makesevacuated tube collectors more expensive than their flat platecounterparts.
The United States has over 20,000 MW of solar hot water systems inoperation, but the majority of ours are unglazed flat plate solarcollectors, which we use to heat swimming pools. Solar pool heating isrelatively common because of the short payback period involved. Despitethe benefits of using the sun’s energy for swimming pools, however, ourlack of investment in other solar hot water systems, whether flat plateor evacuated tubes, means a much larger portion of our basic waterdemand could be met with solar energy.
The Chinese are setting a good example here by accepting the high upfront costs necessary to spread the most efficient solar hot watertechnology available. Let’s hope the US — not to mention the rest of the world — can follow suit.
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