Evaluating and Designing Ultra-low-cost Solar Water Heating Systems

EPA Grant Number: SU835499
Title: Evaluating and Designing Ultra-low-cost Solar Water Heating Systems
Investigators: Nelson, Brent
Current Investigators: Nelson, Brent , Alsadiq, Saleh , Beckham, Matthew , Cacal, Kaila , Caton, Joseph , Chott, Austin , Griffin, Thomas , Heine, Christopher , Li, Shuo , Ocana, Jesse , Savage, Kathryn , Woodruff, Devin
Institution: Northern Arizona University
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Phase: I
Project Period: August 15, 2013 through August 14, 2014
Project Amount: $14,429
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2013) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Energy , P3 Awards , Sustainability


Solar water heating technology is well-established and well-understood. However, the relatively high cost of solar water heating systems has limited the user adoption of solar water heaters in the US even in regions with abundant solar resources. The project described in this proposal aims to evaluate and design ultra-low-cost solar water heaters and compare their performance to commercial systems. The goal is to make minor sacrifices in performance in order to achieve significant reductions in cost, potentially opening new markets among individuals for whom the typical payback periods of solar water heaters are not economically viable. This project will explore novel ways to achieve solar absorption and insulation at minimum costs by identifying inexpensive materials and approaches.


Three main approaches will be used to assess the feasibility of low-cost solar water heating systems, and will be implemented within the context of an engineering capstone design course and an MBA course on technology commercialization. The first approach will be to compare the performance of commercially available solar water heating system components to home-built low cost versions of the components. The components will be compared by their thermal performance per cost. The second approach will be to build a prototype low-cost solar water heater using the knowledge gained from the first approach, and then compare the thermal performance of the prototype to that of a commercial system. Finally, the third approach will be to perform market analysis and prepare a commercialization plan to assess the economic viability of such systems.

Expected Results:

This project will have three key outputs:

  1. an evaluation of the thermal performance of ultra-low-cost solar components, with components being characterized by their absorbed solar energy per cost;
  2. a built demonstration prototype of an ultra-low-cost solar water heater, whose absorbed energy per cost will be compared to a typical commercial system; and
  3. an economic analysis of the commercialization potential of ultra-low-cost solar water heaters.

Supplemental Keywords:

energy conservation, alternative energy source, renewable energy, solar energy, solar thermal heating

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report