Hot Water Systems Lab Offers Side-by-Side Testing

Just as President Barack Obama steps up his campaign for energy efficiency, the Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC) celebrated the opening of its new Hot Water Systems Laboratory in Cocoa.

Water heating is the second largest home consumer of energy, and the performance of some systems on the market today have never been tested under realistic and extreme weather conditions. Testing in the lab will help provide answers the solar industry, utilities and home builders are looking for to increase energy efficiency.

Mr. Robert Hassett, U.S. Department of Energy's Building America Solar Heating and Cooling Technology Manager, cuts the ribbon at the opening celebration of FSEC's new Hot Water Systems Laboratory. He's joined by (from left to right) Danny Parker, principal investigator, Subrato Chandra, project manager, and Carlos Colon, task leader.
Mr. Robert Hassett, U.S. Department of Energy's Building America Solar Heating and Cooling Technology Manager, cuts the ribbon at the opening celebration of FSEC's new Hot Water Systems Laboratory. He's joined by (from left to right) Danny Parker, principal investigator, Subrato Chandra, project manager, and Carlos Colon, task leader.

“This project is an important part of Building America’s goal of zero energy buildings by year 2020,” said Robert Hassett, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Heating and Cooling Technology Manager. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Building America Program funded the lab at FSEC, a research institute of the University of Central Florida.

The facility, which opened on Wednesday, will be a hub to test solar, tankless and conventional domestic water heating systems for efficiency.

“Solar water heating is an excellent way to save energy on water heating and reduce whole-house energy use, but utilities are specifically interested in knowing whether or not solar is providing relief to the power grid during peak times. Our testing will answer their questions,” says Subrato Chandra, the Building America Industrialized Housing Partnership project manager. This information is key to utility “buy-in” to more aggressively sponsor solar water heating systems.

This side-by-side testing will evaluate the impact of systems on the utility power grid according to time-of-day usage, and will also enhance and validate simulation models for solar water heating systems. Danny Parker, principal investigator noted, “Solar integrated collector and storage (ICS) systems, where the storage tank is on the roof and sensitive to weather, have never been verified before, only simulated, so we’re interested in seeing how they work particularly on winter mornings.”

Seven systems are currently responding to the same conditions and schedule of use to compare their energy performance and time-of-day electric loads. Over 90 channels of data are being collected. This flexible facility will evaluate how the water heating systems perform without the influence of family usage habits.

“Our tests are performed under more realistic, yet controlled conditions. We’re using real inlet water temperatures and varying the quantity of water being used, something that hasn’t been done before,” says Carlos Colon, task leader of the project.

The seven systems currently being tested are:

1.  Standard 50-gallon electric water heater

2.  40 sq. ft. collector/80-gallon tank flat plate direct solar water heating system with a differential-controller

3.  32 sq. ft. collector/40 gallon integrated collector storage (ICS) system with a standard 50 gallon electric tank for backup

4.  40 sq. ft. collector/80 gallon tank flat plate PV-pumped direct solar water heating system

5. 40 gallon conventional natural gas water heater

6. Tankless natural gas water heater

7. Tankless electric water heater

Current tests will run for a full year under its current configuration with the option of testing additional systems.

The Florida Solar Energy Center, a research institute of the University of Central Florida, is the largest and most active state-supported energy research institute in the country. Current divisions and their research activities include Advanced Energy Research: alternative transportation systems, hydrogen fuel and fuel cells; Buildings Research: energy-efficient buildings; and Solar Energy: solar water and pool heating and solar electric and distributed generation systems. For more information about the center, visit or call the FSEC Public Affairs Office at 321-638-1015.

16 thoughts on “Hot Water Systems Lab Offers Side-by-Side Testing

  • February 2, 2009 at 3:05 am

    After traveling the country and writing about our adventures, my wife and I will be returning to our home state of Florida. We are both very excited regarding our “going green” efforts. We also advise & help others to be more energy efficient and kinder to Mother Earth.
    When we return, both my wife and I are interested in becoming involved in renewable energy, in particular, solar water heating. It seems to me that this would be the initial effort of any household, new or existing, to capture the benefits of the sun’s energy.
    What institutions can I attend to prepare myself for this exciting field. Would it be UCF or the FSEC in Cocoa? Are you looking for help at the FSEC and its Hot Water Systems Laboratory? I have a BBA and an electro-mechanical background in large printing equipment. I am looking for the necessary education and experience to prepare me for this field.

    Thank-you, Steve Carroll

  • February 10, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    I’m looking forward to the results. As always, this looks like nice straight-forward research that is desparately needed. It looks as though the laboratory may be installed in a trailer. If so, it would be nice to repeat the same set of experiments in another climate next year.

    Good luck, Bill Rittelmann

  • February 18, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    I’m having a solar vacuum tube hot water system installed on my home this week. It will supply more than the 50% for the hot water usage in my home and it also will be used to hook into a hydronic heating system in the air handler to heat my home in the winter. The sun is the future. I have a Zero Net home as my whole house runs off the sun for all it’s energy needs and I sell power back to Progress energy each day. I have a 5kw system on my house and love it! I’d love to hear who wins and look forward into the results so I can share them with others. Pete

  • February 21, 2009 at 10:41 pm

    Have you done any testing with Desuperheaters / HRU’s with Air Conditioners

  • March 4, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    This sounds very interesting. I’m looking forward to the results as well.

  • March 14, 2009 at 10:03 am

    I am interested in your system – Would I contact a certified CV installer
    I am in the St Petersburg, FL area
    I look forward to your recommendation.

  • March 17, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    I have been thinking about making my own solar water heater. Mine will just be an old heater tank in an insulated wooden box with a glass cover as a collector. Very simple and affordable. In lieu of using this as my actual heater that I would need to wait for the mid-day for optimum heat, I will put it in line, or in series, with my regular water heater. This will feed preheated water into my water heater. So, as I take my shower after work, preheated water fills my water heater.
    Could someone see how well this might work?

  • March 17, 2009 at 8:42 pm

    As a new report says, solar water heating is the most efficient way to use solar energy. I think this project is great

  • April 6, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    An added bonus would be to use a DWHR system like the Eco-GFX to increase the efficiency of these types of installations. 60 years life expectancy, 55% efficiency, no moving parts, no maintenance required and is 100% recyclable.

  • April 7, 2009 at 6:47 am

    What you’re talking about constructing is an integrated collector storage solar hot water heater. It will work fine in series with your existing system. . Use foamboard (polyisocyanuride) for insulation. One caveat is how often the weather temps get down to 38 degrees. Pipes have been observed to freeze & split even above 32 degrees – insulate the piping well, consider using valves & boiler drains to shut down, drain, & bypass the system for a bout of cold weather. Unless you are willing to monitor the winter temps religously or you live in a place that has 1/2 freeze per year, I would suggest using a different system.

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  • August 6, 2009 at 11:02 pm

    Installing a solar water heater can increase a value of an energy efficient house. Thanks for your research lab hopefully price will come down and make it affordable to everybody.

  • September 17, 2009 at 6:32 pm

    What website can we use to check on the ongoing progress and test results for the various systems?

  • September 18, 2009 at 9:09 am

    Not to be slow, but it looks like several of the systems have different size water tanks- any idea how they’re going to account for this in the data comparisons?

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