A child of the first oil embargo, the solar pool heating industry came into being in the late l970's amid a climate of economic and political of crisis. It was a period of public panic about long gas lines and ambitious government programs designed to create "energy independence". In the words of the Carter administration, increasing the security and reliability of domestic energy sources through the development of solar and related renewables had become the "moral equivalent of war". Big things were expected from solar.
To promote alternative sources of power and spur the development and commercialization of solar and related renewables, Federal and state governments instituted a wide range of tax incentives. Until then, such government support had only existed for oil, gas and nuclear development.
In 1977, the
California legislature passed a 55% solar tax credit that included solar
pool heating. The legislation gave birth to a new industry full of
enthusiasm, ambitious plans, and exuberant but somewhat inflated rhetoric
about "saving the planet" and freeing America from the chokehold of Middle
Eastern oil. There were "moonbeam" visions out of Sacramento of California's
solar heated pools steaming away in the middle of December.
Swimming pools are like huge outdoor storage tanks without lids, requiring a massive and continuous source of energy to replenish heat loss from evaporation and nocturnal cooling.
Solar's attractiveness was its ability to effectively heat this large volume of water, to do a lot of "heavy lifting". But what made solar pool heating attractive, also made it challenging. All this heavy lifting from an infant solar industry required a lot of solar panels to "harvest" the sun, a lot of roof to "plant" the panels, and a lot of well-regulated flow to carry that heat back to the pool
Aside from some random backyard experiments, none of this had been done before. The industry was starting from scratch. There were no precedents, guidelines, codes. No tradition or standardized parts. Installations required multiple trade skills in plumbing, roofing and electrical. The experience and expertise to properly design and install a solar pool heater began during this initial period. It was a bumpy start.
and legitimized by the government, the overriding concern was to delivery
a product. Get it on
the roof. Expectations were wildly optimistic. Little attention was paid to the nuts and bolts supervision of actual installations.
The tax credits turned out to a double-edged sword. Driven by tax and not operational considerations, a lot of systems were oversold, undersized and poorly installed. Some worked; many did not. The California tax code, drawn up to spur creativity and rapid growth, encouraged multiple system functions. By maximizing the tax credits for systems that could do more than one thing, the government inadvertently encouraged some of the more exotic, and unreliable system designs.
Without a history of industry standards, the solar pool heating pioneers were on their own. During this initial phase of solar development, even the most serious companies began to discover that solar was easier said than done. That theory was easier than practice. Or as the old saying goes, "Conception is easy; delivery is the hard part."
In this initial
phase, there was a lot of energy, creativity, but not much discipline, quality
control, documentation or controlled testing. In a rush to save the
planet and to cash in on the current government boondoggle, shortcuts were
Random parts from unrelated industries were cobbled together to create new and inventive designs. Solenoid and sprinkler valves, rubber radiator hoses and steel band clamps, ABS and PVC pipe tested in both straight-line and serpentine flow patterns. Advocates insisted that the industry must think outside the box. In reality, the industry had no choice. There was no box.
It seemed that nearly nobody wanted to spend time worrying about panel connections to the roof, or compatibility of materials and components, or electrical or plumbing codes or materials' resistance to the degrading effects of ozone, ultraviolet or unbalanced chemicals or flow patterns. Those were minor details, in the opinion of many. They had a world to save; they were willing to let someone else sweat the small stuff. And in the final analysis, practically no one did.
After this initial burst
of tax driven growth,
problems began to surface on multiple fronts
First there were the tax scams. Inferior quality, "undersized" systems were often sold at inflated prices. But with a $3,000 California tax credit ceiling, solar pool heating abuses were small potatoes when compared to nuclear, oil and gas and other energy-related government boondoggles. And to their credit, the government programs did get solar started. But, it was a bit of a boondoggle, nonetheless.
Then there were the materials and installation challenges
Even the strongest advocates were also forced to recognize that the sun's powers can cut both ways. They discovered that while sun may heat, it also dries out and warps certain materials, causing product deterioration and failure. And as the plumbing industry had warned, chemically treated pool water when heated to high temperatures can became corrosive and began to eat away metals. Additionally, panels that were not securely fastened to roofs blew away in high winds, while others fell victim to freeze damage.
By the early l980's, widespread product and system failures were beginning to mount. At one point, one of the larger manufacturers was forced to recall a whole generation of collectors with a flawed square tube design prone to bucking and cracking. To its credit, replacements were successfully made and the firm remains in operation today.
Additionally, installation complaints began to pour in from the roofing industry about careless panel attachments and roof leaks and from pool professionals about solar-induced flow and filtration problems. Opposition from both industries mounted.
After the first few years of strong public support and an almost internet-like "irrational exuberance" about the product's potential, the solar pool heating industry began to get a strong dose of reality.
Visions of solar heated pools steaming in the middle of winter gave way to the reality of a sloppy, unprofessional collection of leaky panels and unsightly pipes. Inflated promises and projections began to deflate.
In 1983, the California governor initiated the phasing out of California solar tax credits, and all that "California dreaming" of solar pool heating had become a slightly nightmarish embarrassment.
Solar comeback - A tempered
vision and some
real practical improvement & tangible results
After a few years of reevaluation and retooling necessitated by the cut back of government funding, precipitously falling oil prices and a statewide economic slump, the industry began a cautious, chastened comeback.
This time there was little talk of revolutionary breakthroughs, rather a serious study of what went wrong and how to correct it. This period of evaluation set the stage for the steady, plodding, incremental and perhaps unspectacular, but honest progress that continues through to the present.
Most cost-effective use of solar available
Today in 2003,
after learning valuable lessons from its initial phase of trial and error,
solar pool heating can now
be confidently recognized as the most cost-effective use of solar available on the commercial market.
The solar pool
heating industry learned a lot from the experiments and mistakes of the "tax credit
days". Over the last
two decades, the industry has built on a foundation of experience that recognizes challenges facing a technology that must interface the effective design and training of electrical, plumbing and general construction skills and the importance of communicating with and listening to related roofing and pool professional industries.
The first decade of the solar pool heating experience took its toll on numerous solar companies. Many companies went bankrupt and disappeared forever; some were disbanded and reorganized by new owners. Only the most persistent and durable survived. But through this economic survival of the fittest, consumers can now enjoy improved and field-tested solar pool heating systems that are not only more efficient and cost-effective, but also fundamentally more reliable and trouble free.
Progress can be measured today by more comprehensive consumer warranties, broader acceptance by the roofing and swimming pool industries, and the sheer number of quality systems installed.
Check it out for yourself
This web site has been prepared to assist you in making an informed decision regarding your purchase of a solar pool heating system. Once the fundamentals are addressed, solar pool heating can be a remarkably simple and cost-effective technology. However, obtaining accurate and detailed information can still be difficult and confusing.
We at Environmental Solar Design, Inc. believe that solar pool heating should be designed and tailored to your specific needs and budget, and presented in such a way that is easy to understand. We pride ourselves on providing you with the straight facts about what solar heating can and cannot do.
We feel that this approach serves you best. Unfortunately even without the tax credits, some elements of phase one solar salesmanship still abound. These questionable tactics range from frantic claims of the highest Btu per panel test rating to claims of revolutionary design breakthroughs that defy not only common sense but the laws of physics. Generally these sales-inspired exaggerations provide a lot of hot air, but little useful solar information.
Here are a few articles and web
sites that should help you gain better understanding of pool
solar and how it works:
Call us for a solar analysis
If after reading through the compilation of articles and information links that we are providing, you want to know more design and price specifics, phone us. We can set an appointment with you to survey your property to determine the feasibility of solar.
The solar technician who surveys your property will be an experienced professional who's there to find out your pool heating needs and design a system to meet those needs.
Initially he or she will ask you a few key questions and determine the optimum orientation for both efficiency and aesthetics. They will determine the best mounting approach for the panels from the four different "roof-sensitive" ESDI mounting assemblies. They can discuss the variety of controller designs that best fit your heating needs and budget, and discuss with you our employee solar training program.
Many of our professionals have over 20 years field experience and can provide you with a unique personal history of panel and system evolution and the reasons for our current designs. Collectively, the current ESDI installation staff brings over 150 years of solar heating experience to your job. They have a nice story to tell.
have any questions
after reviewing the articles
and link, phone us at
Bob Ellis - CEO
Environmental Solar Design, Inc.
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