My work in renewable energy involves a lot of technical language and expertise: from engineering plans, to product specifications, to component sizing, and a whole host of calculations. My job is to make sure a system operates at peak performance for a very long time. No mistakes, no excuses.
As a result, actual work tasks are very rational oriented, and over time can get to be somewhat repetitive and routine, drained of any sense of what their real-world impact “feels” like once an installation is done.
So, when my family and I installed a solar hot water system recently, I was pleasantly surprised– reminded really– of how exciting, engaging and transformational it can be to “go solar”.
We have had a solar PV pole-mounted array for three years, and that, too, had a definite impact on how we felt about our home, the sun and our use of electricity.
But, I think that installing a solar hot water system has had an even more dramatic effect.
Like solar PV, I find myself monitoring system performance, looking at the temperature of the tank after a sunny day, projecting how long it might take for the sun to warm water to a certain threshold, figuring the monthly savings on energy.
But, unlike PV, where the actual operation of the system is completely silent and invisible, with solar thermal, you can actually “feel” the heat energy of the sun on your skin when you use it. In the shower, washing dishes, running a load of laundry –there is a different understanding of the “hot” in hot water.
Also, where PV may or may not change actual electrical consumption patterns, solar thermal definitely changes “when” you use hot water. We now look to take showers or do the wash after we’ve had a sunny stretch. If its been cloudy a few days, we may leave washing clothes for later or forestall a hot shower.
And, once we are in that mode of thinking — looking to take advantage of solar gains –using the clothesline follows naturally.
Because we dispatched with our old gas hot water tank in favor of an instantaneous in-line gas heater, each member of our household gets to pick their desired shower temperature on the wall-mounted display unit–no more wasting energy as stored hot water.
In short, having a new solar thermal system has reminded me again that going solar does more than reduce utility bills or contribute to global energy solutions: it literally changes the way we think, act and live in our own home, aligning us more closely with Nature’s rhythms.
Something worth a lot more than I can calculate in a month’s worth of engineering equations.