Solar-powered heaters have been booming in popularity over the last few years. Although they’re primarily used by individuals who frequently live off the grid, solar-powered heaters are excellent investments for residential, commercial, or even industrial facilities.
If you’re in the market for an efficient heating system, you’re in the right place. This article discusses everything you need to know about solar-powered heaters, including how to install and use solar panels for heaters.
Solar-powered heaters are a great way to reduce energy costs and lower your carbon footprint.
There are two types of solar-powered heaters: internal heaters and external heaters.
Internal heaters, or simply solar space heaters, are semi-permanent energy systems that produce electricity through the sun’s thermal power. They’re installed directly onto the walls of your home, powered with the help of energy collectors, thermal regulators, and inner diffusers.
External heaters, on the other hand, function through batteries charged by solar panels. Most prefer this type of solar heating system because they’re convenient. You can carry them anywhere, even when you’re not at home!
Why Buy a Solar-Powered Heater?
The real question here is, why shouldn’t you buy a solar-powered heater?
Solar-powered heaters are efficient, economical, and eco-friendly. They produce an endless amount of energy, for free! In a world where everything has a price, solar-powered heaters are a breath of fresh air.
According to the US Department of Energy, solar heaters cut your heater energy costs by about 50%. After the initial equipment cost, you’ll likely never have to worry about unexpectedly high heater bills at the end of the month.
Since solar heaters are powered by the sun, they don’t release CO2 emissions during operation. This, therefore, lowers your carbon footprint. They’re efficient, too, since about 80 to 90% of the sun’s radiation is converted into heat energy.
But that’s not all. Not only will your electric bills drop, but you can actually get paid for exporting excess heat energy through the government-backed initiative Smart Export Guarantee (SEG).
Depending on how much you export, you may receive a compensation of hundreds of dollars per year.
What Are the Disadvantages of Solar-Powered Heaters?
Despite the multiple advantages brought about by solar-powered heaters, they don’t come without their disadvantages.
For one, they’re entirely weather-dependent. Although they still collect energy during cloudy and rainy days, the energy produced won’t be as efficient. Solar panels depend on sunlight to effectively produce solar energy. Without it, your heater won’t be at its best.
Moreover, solar-powered heaters come with PV panels that require a lot of ground or roof space. This isn’t much of an issue if you have a relatively spacious yard. However, not everyone has this luxury.
To avoid installation issues, make sure there’s sufficient space for the panels before opting for solar heaters.
There’s also the case of maintenance. Solar heaters are relatively maintenance-free. Wears and tears aren’t a problem since there are no moving parts, so you won’t have to worry about replacing the panels as long as they’re tightly secure.
Even so, they do need to be cleaned and checked a couple of times a year. The inverter also needs to be changed every 5 to 10 years. Depending on the brand, inverters can cost a pretty penny.
Solar-Powered Water Heater vs. Solar-Powered Space Heater
Solar energy generates heat in multiple ways, depending on the system you’ve installed. The two main solar heating systems are solar water heater and solar space heater.
Solar-powered water heaters warm air for indoor and outdoor use, while solar-powered space heaters provide heated water for showers, bathroom faucets, swimming pools, and other equipment that require warm water.
Solar Water Heater
If you’re looking to reduce the heating cost of your water systems, solar water heaters (SWHs) are for you. Instead of traditional heating sources, like oil, natural gas, and electricity, solar water heaters instead use the abundant thermal energy generated by the sun.
Solar water heaters can be active or passive. Active heating systems use pumps and controls to circulate and heat water, while passive systems use natural gravity and circulation.
Solar Space Heater
As the name suggests, solar space heaters heat the surrounding space of your home.
Compared to solar water heaters, solar space heaters are large and require more collections, as well as bigger storage units. They’re a bit more expensive, too.
Solar space heaters work by harnessing thermal energy through their solar collectors to heat air and liquid, which are then dispersed through your selected channel.
This system provides instant heating access whenever you want, provided that they’re sufficiently charged. Like solar water heaters, they reduce the number of greenhouse gases and air pollution by 100%.
You’re also qualified for financial incentives, such as a Federal tax credit of up to 30%.
How Do Solar-Powered Heaters Work?
Solar-powered heaters come in two forms: solar space heaters and heaters powered by solar panels.
Solar space heaters are a semi-permanent heating system installed directly into the walls of your house.
Solar panels (which usually rest atop the roof of your house) are connected by collectors, thermal regulators, and inner diffusers, all of which are mounted into the wall. They mimic the conventional electrical lighting systems we all use today.
Hydronic radiant in-floor heating systems use solar power to heat both the heating of your floor and your hot water supply.
Solar thermal heating systems, on the other hand, heat your home through a process called forced air heating with the help of a heat exchanger. The heat exchanger uses a collector to store solar heat, which is then circulated into the air through the ductwork.
If you’re not big on permanent installations, you can instead use heaters powered by solar panels.
This method is as straightforward as can be: simply install the solar panels on your roof or garden and connect them to a battery system. You can then use the battery to operate portable or battery-powered heaters.
If you’re planning to go backpacking or going off-grid for a while, you can take the solar panels and the heater with you to help you combat the cold.
How to Install and Use a Solar-Powered Battery System
Installing a solar battery system is fairly easy and straightforward. With the right solar panel, charge controller, inverter, and battery, you’ll be able to set up a portable solar system in no time.
Before we proceed, allow me to explain the process of solar power collection in a nutshell.
Basically, when sunlight hits the solar panels, an electrical current is created. Said current is fed into the charge controller, where it’s then transferred into the battery.
The battery produces DC power and runs into an inverter. Since most heaters use AC power as opposed to DC power, it’s the inverter’s responsibility to change DC into AC.
Simple, isn’t it? The only hard part is connecting all these parts together, which shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.
What You’ll Need
- Solar panels (at least 120W)
- Charge controller
- 12V battery bank, preferably deep cycle
- Battery box with battery terminals and USB ports
- Portable or battery-powered heater
- Red and black electrical tape
You can buy solar equipment separately or purchase a solar panel kit that includes most of the mentioned items. As for the heater, make sure it’s portable and battery-powered. Plus points if it has high-efficiency ratings and thermostat controls.
Step 1: Prepare the Battery
Before you get started, you’ll first need to prepare the battery. Make sure it’s fully charged so it’s ready to go when your solar panels are up.
Then, place your battery into a battery container. If you can’t find a battery container, any large plastic container with a cover will do.
For more than one battery, make sure that the positive and negative terminals are all equally on the same side. You’ll also have to connect the batteries in parallel through a 2 AWG cable. The larger the inverter, the bigger the cable required.
A single 2 AWG cable works for a 100 amp battery. If you want to run a 2400W inverter, you need 2 AWG cables per jumper. Keep in mind that 1200W/12V = 100 amps.
Step 2: Install the Charge Controller and Inverter
Place the charge controller and inverter inside or outside the battery container, depending on your preference. If you’re using a plastic container, add some holes into the lid and push the controller and inverter wires through.
Connect the charge controller to the corresponding battery ports. You can do this by wrapping bare wire around the battery posts before securing them with clamps or rung connectors.
Make sure that the charge controller isn’t connected to the solar panel before making the connection. This prevents unexpected surges of power that may damage the charge controller.
To tell the positive and negative wires apart, wrap two different colored wires or tape around the cable. For instance, you can use red tape for the positive wire and black tape for the negative wire.
Then, connect the battery bank to the input lugs of your inverter. Check if the inverter properly works by attaching it to the house panel.
Step 3: Connect the Charge Controller to the Solar Panel
Once you’ve attached the wires to the battery, it’s time to connect the controller to the solar panel. The wires should have two loose MC4 connectors that you’ll have to match to the opposite ends of the solar panel. Make sure to match the positive and negative cables correctly.
Once the connectors are in place, you should hear a faint “click.” Turn the connector on to test it. Most charge connectors come with a digital screen where readings are shown. If the screen readings are set to 0, the wires may not be properly secured or attached correctly.
Try to rectify this issue before moving onto the next step.
Step 4: Set Up Your Solar Panel
Place your solar panels in a brightly lit area, preferably where there’s little to no shade.
If you live in the northern hemisphere (US, UK, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, etc), face the panels south. If you live in the southern hemisphere (Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, etc), face the panels north. Tilt the panels at a 30 to 40-degree angle.
If you’re planning to install the panels on your roof, it’s best to call a professional to reduce any risk of injury.
Step 5: Charge the Batteries
Once you had everything set up, leave the battery on the connector until it’s fully charged. Depending on the wattage of the solar panel, the size of the battery, and the weather condition, this can take anywhere between an hour to seven hours.
If you’ve noticed a drop in the charge connector’s output reading, the battery is nearly full. You can then use this battery to charge and power your heater.
Since the charge connector automatically stops energy flow once it’s full, you don’t have to unplug the converter from the solar panel.
How Much Do Solar Equipment and Installation Cost?
In the United States, the average cost of a semi-permanent solar space heater ranges between $3500 to $6000, depending on the size, quality, and heating capacity of the panels. Installation is an additional $100 to $500.
Portable solar panels—similar to what you’d use on RVs and camping trips—cost between $200 to $1000. Charge connectors, deep-cycle batteries, and inverters may cost an additional $500 to $700, again depending on size, power, and quality.
You can find portable solar panel kits with everything included for only $100 to $500. However, keep in mind that they’re only for temporary and off-the-grid use, and may not efficiently produce enough power to operate your heater for more than a couple of hours.
Are solar-powered heaters worth the investment? Yes, absolutely! Whether you’re using solar space heaters or solar-powered heaters, you’ll save a ton of money in the long run. If you’re planning to install solar equipment, I highly encourage you to go for it!