Solar Hot Water for Emerging Economies

Kaitlin Krull from Modernize prepared this article for Cleanleap. 

Solar power is about more than lighting your home…

Regular access to hot water for bathing, cooking, and cleaning is something that most of us in the Western world take for granted. However, people in rural communities throughout the world struggle to safely and economically heat their water on a regular basis. At Modernize, we feel that it is not only important to look after our own homes, but also to find ways for others to access basic amenities such as hot water. Solar hot water systems offer a sustainable and low cost solution to this widespread issue, with the potential to bring hot water to those who do not currently have it. 

What is solar hot water?

Solar hot water systems, or solar thermal systems as they are more widely known, utilize the power of the sun in order to heat domestic water. Water tanks are usually placed on roofs alongside photovoltaic panels in order to heat water without the need for electricity. The power generated from the solar panels activates a non toxic solar fluid, which pumps through the hot water tank and heats the water inside. This kind of water heating is sustainable, economical, and has the potential to provide the hot water essential for bathing, cooking, and cleaning to millions of people who would otherwise not have such access. 

Current uses

Solar thermal systems are currently used throughout mainland Europe and have recently seen enormous development in China, Japan, Brazil, and India. China in particular has latched onto the idea of solar power, particularly in rural communities where many people live without electricity, and has made a pledge to obtain 300 million square meters of solar water heating capacity by the year 2020.

Potential in developing countries

Logically, there is massive opportunity for widespread use of solar thermal systems throughout developing countries, particularly those in Africa where electricity is a luxury and rural settlements outnumber urban communities. Although initial installation costs are relatively high, these solar thermal systems are largely self regulating and require little maintenance over time. After installation, users of solar thermal systems have in theory unlimited access to hot water, provided rain and sun remain constant. Free Hot Water has in the last two years provided a large number of remote African medical clinics with their Maya off-grid solar thermal system, but there is potential for more systems like this one to be distributed throughout the continent in villages and rural communities through charities and philanthropic organizations (such as Practical Action, WaterAid, and Water for Africa).