GE plunges into solar water heater market

GE Consumer & Industrial, which claims it is the first U.S. company to meet newly established Energy Star standards for residential water heaters, announced that it is developing a line of solar water heaters that are designed to meet the 2009 Energy Star guidelines.

Louisville, KY. — GE Consumer & Industrial, which claims it is the first U.S. company to meet newly established Energy Star standards for residential water heaters, announced that it is developing a line of solar water heaters that are designed to meet the 2009 Energy Star guidelines. The water heaters will be the first products to come from a new Solar Lab at GE Appliance Park here. The Innovation Team of GE Consumer & Industrial has installed a rooftop platform of solar energy collectors that will give scientists and engineers at GE data collection and evaluation tools for creating renewable energy products.

“GE re-entered the water heating business about 10 years ago,” noted Kevin Nolan, vice president of technology for GE Consumer & Industrial. “GE has recently driven changes in water heating technology by developing both tankless gas and hybrid electric water heater products — the first to meet newly established Energy Star standards. Using solar energy to heat water for the home is the logical next step in the evolution of waters heaters.”

The solar water heating industry is currently small. Total deliveries in 2007 were only 12,000 units as compared with 9 million of other types of water heaters, according to statistics from the Solar Rating & Certification Corp., Rheem Mfg., and the Gas Appliance Manufacturer's Association. There are estimates that 17,000 solar water-heating units will be sold in 2008.

Solar water heaters typically consume between 50%-70% less energy than a standard gas or electric tank water heater, according to the Solar Rating & Certification Corp. Solar water heaters are on an average three times more efficient than comparable electric tank water heaters, also according to SRCC.

Depending on consumer's location, there may be federal, state and local tax incentives, in addition to utility rebate programs for residential installation.

Water heating is the second most energy-intensive activity in the home, just behind HVAC. Water heating accounts for approximately 15% of a home's energy consumption, according to the Energy Information Administration.

California's Solar Hot Water and Efficiency Act of 2007 has created a goal of installing 200,000 solar water heaters in the state by 2017. In addition, Hawaii has legislated that all new homes built from 2010 forward must have solar water heaters.

During product development and testing, GE will pair solar-thermal power with a number of backup energy sources and designs to maintain performance on cloudy days, ultimately looking for the optimal mix of energy savings and product performance.

Though solar water heaters, set to launch in 2009 in limited markets, are the first products to benefit from the Solar Lab, they won't be the last.

“The Solar Lab will play a critical role in a number of future product designs,” said Nolan. “The solar panels, rooftop platform, instrumentation and data-acquisition software we've created all have multiple applications for renewable energy development.”

TAGS: Solar