Solar hot water in Rockford

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11660429437889.jpg’, ‘Photo courtesy of’, ‘Installation on the World's Largest Laundromat, Berwyn, Illl.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11660429367889.jpg’, ‘Photo courtesy of’, ‘Solar Service's first installation in 1977 in Lincolnwood, Ill.’);

At first glance, people might not see the solar hot water panels atop the Spin World laundromat. The city asked the firm installing the panels to minimize their visibility along south Main. Ten 40-square foot panels on the roof of the building capture the sun’s energy striking flat plate collectors and transfer that heat to the water passing through them. From there, the water travels to a storage tank. Through a heat exchanger, it heats the water in an existing tank. The water is then sent into the laundromat.

According to Susan Song, family spokesman for Spin World, her father, James, was inspired by a visit to the World’s Largest Laundromat in Berwyn, which uses a similar system to cut their natural gas bill. After the visit, the family negotiated with Solar Service to have a system installed on their facility in Rockford.

Through a rebate from the Illinois Renewable Energy Resources Program and federal tax credits, the actual cash outlay by the laundromat owners was less than half the cost of the $60,000 system. According to Brandon Leavitt, owner of Solar Services, Inc., of Niles, the system should pay for itself in six to eight years based on current natural gas prices and average performance in Illinois.

Since the sun heats the water before it enters the existing gas water heater, there will always be hot water. The system is totally automated and has only two sealed water pumps, so there is little to go wrong. According to Leavitt, similar systems have operated for 30 years without any problems.

Solar water heating is a well-established technology. In the early 1900s, it was the dominant source of hot water in Pasedena, Calif. Cheap natural gas displaced it in the 1920s. In 1941, half the households in Maimi had it until the utility gave customers free electric water heaters. As both natural gas and electric prices rise, solar water heating is making a comeback.

Reducing our consumption of natural gas is an urgent necessity as supplies in North America are peaking, and competition for more costly global supplies intensifies. Natural gas is extremely important in heating our homes and businesses, and as a resource for local industries and agriculture.

A prolonged cold spell or heat wave can cause sudden shortages, adversely affecting our economy and comfort. A long-term decline in supplies will force a reorganization of our fossil fuel-dependent economy.

Capturing solar energy keeps more energy dollars in the community, provides a measure of energy independence and lessens the release of air pollutants. The community benefits, as do local businesses and customers.

As another form of solar energy, solar hot water systems will play an important role in a sustainable energy future. It is encouraging to see some local business interests embracing sustainable energy sources. The local solar resource is immense and non-polluting. Its capture and use is increasingly cost effective. All it takes is a little imagination and determination and some cash outlay to make it happen.

Congratulations to Spin World.

From the Dec. 13-19, 2006, issue

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