Solar water heater rebate program expands

We live in interesting times. Never before have we witnessed so much change in so little time. Whether we resist or embrace change, it is still inevitable, but if we actively embrace the changes we like, we can often minimize the change we’d prefer to avoid.

For example, almost everyone in this country uses some sort of fossil or other nonrenewable fuel to heat water. We all like the convenience, but few of us like the changes that are occurring on the planet due to greenhouse gases or nuclear catastrophes. Solar hot water systems can help change that.

In January I wrote about new solar hot water system incentives and mentioned that Southwest Gas was due to roll out a new program soon. The Southwest Gas Nevada Smarter Greener Better Solar Water Heating Program (that’s the official name in its glorious entirety) is now up and running.

Now, most Nevada residents have access to a solar hot water rebate program. Homeowners in Southern Nevada with electric water heaters have NV Energy’s RenewableGenerations program. Southwest Gas customers with natural gas water heaters can use the Smarter Greener Better solar water heating program. Both rebate programs require professional installation and equipment that has been certified to meet certain performance standards. All the program details can be found at solarwaterheatingrebate.com.

Heating water with the sun is relatively simple and very efficient. The technology has matured and modern systems are reliable and very robust. They can be used in practically any climate, and Nevada is obviously one of the best for solar energy. While there are many variations and design options, a basic domestic solar water heating system consists of a roof-mounted collector, a solar hot water tank and a heat exchanger.

A freeze-protected liquid is heated by the solar collector on the roof and pumped through the heat exchanger that heats the potable water in the solar tank. Your normal water heater draws in preheated water from the solar tank and only turns on when the water temperature drops due to high demand or excessively cloudy days. Thus you have the best of both worlds: clean energy from the sun along with the reliability of your traditional hot water system if and when it is needed. Keep in mind that this is just a single example. A good contractor will provide a system tailored to any given set of circumstances.

The efficiency of solar hot water systems is good news for homeowners with limited roof space. For example, a 4-foot-by-10-foot solar collector panel might meet the water heating needs for a typical residential system (sizes obviously vary due to occupant requirements). That’s a much smaller footprint than a typical photovoltaic system (one that produces electricity rather than hot water), which can be more than 10 times the size.

The actual residential rebate amount is based on system performance, which is rated in therms per year (or kilowatt/hours for electric systems). The rebate is $14.50 per therm or 30 percent of the system cost, whichever is less, with a cap of $3,000. There is also a 30 percent federal tax credit for renewable energy systems for those who qualify. Check out the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency at dsireusa.org for more details.

The combination of incentives makes this a very good time to explore your renewable-energy options. If you do, be sure to follow the program details carefully. Also, for those of you in a homeowner’s association, remember that it is your right (per Nevada law) to install a solar energy system but the best course of action is to always follow the rules of your community. Make sure you communicate clearly with your HOA and provide all the information it needs to properly approve your system in advance.

The accelerating transition to clean, renewable energy is very exciting and long overdue. It’s part of the solution to some of our most pressing problems, including national security and global warming. Join the energy revolution. Help make the world a better place. Be the change.

Steve Rypka is a green living consultant and president of GreenDream Enterprises, a company committed to helping people live lighter on the planet. For more information and links to additional resources relating to this column, or to reach Steve, please visit www.greendream.biz.

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