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Solar Geysers

Our sun emits massive amounts of energy - far more than we could ever use. In South Africa, solar radiation reaches up to 6.5kWh/m2, one of the highest levels in the world. By comparison, parts of Europe only receive about 2.5kWh/m2. So, in this country, solar energy is an abundant source of renewable energy, making it an obvious candidate when seeking alternative sources of energy.

Solar water heating – how it works

Solar water heaters are based on two facts of physics: darkcoloured objects absorb heat, and hot water rises. Unlike other systems that can be very complex, a solar water heater is simple, as water is the only moving part. This is a huge advantage in terms of reliability and maintenance.

A typical system has three major components: a solar collector, a transfer medium and a storage container.

  1. The solar collector absorbs solar radiation and transfers the energy, in the form of heat, to the fluid within it.

  2. This fluid is the transfer medium. In a direct system, the transfer medium is the potable water from the storage container. In an indirect system, the transfer fluid is generally a mix of water and glycol, which passes the energy to the storage container via an isolating heat exchanger. In areas in South Africa where temperatures drop to below freezing (4°C), an indirect system is recommended.

  3. As with a conventional geyser, the hot water storage container is thermally insulated to retain heat. Solar geysers are usually larger than electric geysers and better insulated. This allows you to maximise your solar gains.

Solar water heaters can be linked to existing geysers or can completely replace them. The system can be installed on top of a roof if the structure is strong enough.

The storage container can be placed elsewhere, for example, inside the roof or a cupboard, but the collector must be where sunlight can reach it.

Geysers mounted on or in the roof are usually placed horizontally, but for better thermal stratification, they should be mounted vertically. Your roofing structure must be checked to see whether it can support the weight of the storage container and collector.

Solar collector types

There are two main types: flat-plate collectors and vacuumtube collectors.

  • A flat-plate collector has a transparent cover made of specially toughened glass, a coated metal absorber plate (coating is usually matt black paint), and a well-insulated weatherproof casing. Flat collectors are robust, economical, and versatile.

  • Vacuum-tube collectors consist of a series of glass tubes connected together. The absorber strip in an evacuated tube collector is placed inside the toughened glass tube, which can withstand considerable pressure. The heat transfer fluid flows through the absorber directly in a U-tube or sometimes in a tube-in-tube system. Several tubes are connected to one another or to a manifold that makes up the solar collector. A heat pipe collector contains a special fluid that vaporises at low temperature. The hot vapour rises in the heat pipes and warms the heat transfer medium in the main pipe before condensing and recirculating. The pipes must be at a certain angle to facilitate the process. Too flat or too steep an angle and the system will not work.

    Vacuum tubes work well with low radiation. They can often produce higher temperatures in applications such as hot water heating, steam production and air conditioning.

Articles and resources:

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Green Energy - Build A Cheap Solar Water Heater

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First Solar Geysers by June from New E Cape Plant - Terence Creamer

Poor community in hot water - Duncan Alfreds, News24

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