The Case for Multifamily Solar Hot Water

Don’t Disregard Multifamily Solar Hot Water

Michael Arms

As the popularity of solar photovoltaics (PV) continues to grow, the viability and efficiency of solar hot water systems often goes overlooked. While solar PV uses the sun’s energy to generate electricity, solar hot water systems are capable of fully servicing a building’s hot water needs and cutting down long term energy expenses.

However, public understanding of solar hot water systems is often curbed by widespread misconceptions regarding price and efficiency. As California leads the way towards a more sustainable existence, it is time to address the concerns facing solar hot water systems and the value they offer to multi-family properties.

“In  multi-family housing where there is a centralized water heating system, solar hot water systems work well and operate at  significantly higher efficiencies due to a larger, more constant load profile,” explains William Chen, VP of Engineering and COO of San Diego based, Adroit Energy, Inc. CSI data reports that Adroit is responsible for the most multi-family housing installations in San Diego County since 2000.

“The return on investment for multifamily solar hot water systems can be as fast as 2 years thanks to generous federal local utility incentives,” says Chen.

The California Solar Initiative (CSI) happens to offer the highest rebates in the country – as high as 50% of the raw cost – for renewable energy systems in multi-family housing. Add that to a 30% Federal Incentive Tax Credit and bonus MACRS depreciation and property owners will be paying  just a small fraction of the total system cost . This makes energy independence and sustainable living accessible to the lower and median income families who make up the largest proportion of multi-family housing residents, according to the National Multi-family Housing Council.

Chen explains multifamily property owners have the most money gain since government incentives and rebates are currently reaching as high as 80% of the total cost. Chen continues, “If you have adequate space for this system, it is truly a no-brainer. With multiple sources of financing available, you can obtain the system with no cash out of pocket but still receive the significant utility rebates in the form of a check within 45 days after install.”

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California via US News indicates that the availability of rebates from the state and federal government is responsible for nearly half of the growth in solar systems since 2000.

Although the cost of thermal heating systems is heavily subsidized, there is also substantial concern regarding the efficiency and effectiveness of solar hot water systems in meeting the needs of multi-family housing units.

“The average system can easily offset 80% of hot water loads annually. The remaining 20%, which is more difficult to cover during stormy winter days, is simply covered by your conventional water heater so you will not notice any differences at all in water temperatures.” says Chen.

Additionally, because most of these residences already use a centralized water heating system, retrofitting a central solar hot water system to the existing structure cuts down on installation time and costs. This makes solar hot water systems ideally suited to serve multi-family properties.

The efficiency of solar hot water systems, together with the availability of generous federal and utility incentives and long term savings, makes this an appealing option for multi-family properties seeking to lead a more sustainable style of living.


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