Solar collectors come in many styles and can be employed in numerous applications. The purpose of this article is to differentiate between solar panels used to heat pools and those used to create electricity.
While this subject may seem academic to some, I’m often asked if the PV (photovoltaic) system on my home is used for pool heating. When I answer no, it’s used to make electricity many are surprised. The most common follow up question I get is, ‘I thought they were the same, what’s the difference?’
Based on my experience educating thousands of homeowners over the past decade, I believe the cause of this misunderstanding is firmly rooted in how most homeowners believe swimming pools are heated. It’s true that electric water heaters and heat pumps are used to heat swimming pools some of the time, but the vast majority of pools are either unheated or they are heated with natural gas. This is where solar pool heating can help.
So in the case where your pool is heated with electricity, the PV (electric solar panels) will do a great job of supplying clean renewable electricity to your pool heater so it can in turn heat your pool. Of course, you’ll likely need a few extra PV panels to get the job done, but in this example, only a single solar energy technology is needed to accomplish the tasks of both powering your home and heating your pool.
Ok, so what if you have natural gas heat for your pool or no heat at all?
Let’s start with natural gas. Natural gas pool heating systems are the most common way to heat a swimming pool. They are effective and efficient, but have the tendency to get very costly especially if you heat your pool outside of the ‘normal’ swim season – say March/April or October/November in Southern California.
It goes without saying that if you have no way to heat your pool then your swim season is typically relegated to those few very warm months when the sun and ambient temperature are enough to bring your swimming pool up to a comfortable temperature. If you live in a coastal area of Southern California, you may find that your pool never warms up to your liking or when it does, it’s fleeting.
Thermal pool panels (HelioPower exclusively offers FAFCO pool collectors) can both extend your swimming season (up to 10 months in Southern California with a properly sized system) and save you a ton of money in the process by dramatically lowering your gas bills.
The process of heating your pool with thermal collectors is quite simple. You set the pool controller to the temperature you’d like your pool to be – say 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The FAFCO system does the rest. Cold pool water is routed up to the thermal panels where it is heated by the sun’s rays. After it’s heated, the warm water exits the panels and is moved into the pool where it brings the temperature up to your desired setting.
Since your pool is now heated by the thermal collectors every day throughout the swim season, the pool maintains its comfortable temperature and is always ready to enjoy. Once the thermal collectors and controllers are installed, outside of routine maintenance and winterization in some climates, heating your pool is free.
This concludes the first part of this series on solar pool heating. Come back and visit our blog often for more information on all things solar and renewable energy.