Solar hot water in Canberra?

By 7 January 2011 38

We are on the market for a new hot water system as our old electric model is cactus.

I’m wondering if anyone has any comments on their experience with solar hot water in Canberra, brands, efficiency, relability?

I am currently comparing Solahart and Edwards. Edwards has a stainless steel tank and seems to have better quality fittings, but the panels are not as efficient as the Solahart ones. I’m concerned that in winter this will mean more days using the booster. Solahart seems to have great efficiency, and gets more RECs than the Edwards, but the tank is steel and hence has to have a sacrificial anode.

Thanks for any info you can give!

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38 Responses to
Solar hot water in Canberra?
Spectra 2:02 pm
07 Jan 11

I am currently comparing Solahart and Edwards.

Don’t spent too long on that – they’re both owned by Solahart, as is Rheem. I’m interested to hear that the Edwards aren’t as efficient, since they’re basically marketed as Solahart’s “premium” brand.

Helen 2:18 pm
07 Jan 11

Can’t really give much advice other than to say that my parents had Solahart installed when they built a house nearly 16 years ago. It’s still going as good now as it was then (touch wood!).

butterfly02 2:40 pm
07 Jan 11

Spectra, it’s my understanding that Rheem actually owns Solahart and Edwards, but yes, Edwards is marketed as the premium brand. A lot of what I have been able to find online refers to people living in areas other than Canberra, not requiring frost-proof systems. The Solahart system has an anti-boil function so that there is not a constant loss of water when the temperature gets up high, but the Edwards does not get hot enough to boil (according to the sales guy who came this morning) as the panels are not as efficient (again accoring to him because they don’t want the system to boil). Hence my concern that in winter I will spend more time boosting the system.
Helen – thanks! Have your parents had to service it often?

Deref 3:00 pm
07 Jan 11

Give some thought to a reverse cycle system. We replaced our old off-peak electric unit with a Rheem unit about a year and a half ago and it’s been brilliant, including through winter.

sepi 3:12 pm
07 Jan 11

We have an Edwards, and it does do that thing of overboiling and voiding a tank full of boiling hot water all down the bottom of the verandah. It did this multiple times last summer on really hot days (maybe 4 times).

Other than that, no issues with it.

Ello Vera 3:21 pm
07 Jan 11

I’d avoid Solahart solely on the basis of their stupid ads. If I see Lisa and her towel one more time I will throw something at the telly. Vacuous, cliche-ridden tosh.

Grail 3:52 pm
07 Jan 11

My parents live in Tuggeranong, their original Solarhart was replaced after 15 years. In the period since it was originally installed, technology has changed and the newer systems should theoretically be more robust.

Pork Hunt 3:58 pm
07 Jan 11

Bloody Cathodics and their sacrificial anodes…

semaj 4:13 pm
07 Jan 11

About 6 weeks ago I put in an Apricus evacuated tube system with electric boost, which I had installed by 6 Star Hot Water and Plumbing.

Couldn’t be happier with the product and the installation. The guys from 6 star where some of the most professional tradies I’ve ever dealt with. They even took every single scrap of rubbish with them when they where done.

Even with all the rainy days we’ve had recently, I’ve only had to use the electric boost once.

Felix 4:25 pm
07 Jan 11

I’ve had a top of the line Edwards for about 8 years. it’s generally good, but does still need some boosting in cloudy weather. I’ve got gas boosting, which is cheaper and environmentally preferable to electric.
I have experienced the boil over effect sepi speaks of on VERY hot summer days, but only a few times each year.
Overall, I think the Edwards is solid and good quality, but I suspect there might be better/newer alternatives available by now. I don’t know all the details, but the evacuated tube systems, like semaj mentions, are meant to be very good – probably worth trying to get some cost/performance comparative data there.

aidan 5:13 pm
07 Jan 11

We have a Hills Evacuated Tube system supplied and installed by Enviro Friendly

There have been other threads about this topic. Here is one I found:

I went for evacuated tubes:

- they are more efficient in cold climates like Canberra
- they are frost resistant (the water doesn’t flow into the tubes, but through a manifold at the top)
- they aren’t affected by boiling (there is a small amount of water in the manifold that can boil and be released as steam, but after that no more water is pumped into the manifold, so no constant boiling)
- they are more expensive than flat plate
- they need to be mounted at 45-55degrees from horizontal (if not they overproduce hot water in the summer and under-perform in the winter and late autumn when the sun angle is low)
- get your pipes insulated (lagged) as the tempering valve combined with losses through pipes made for uselessly cold water in our kitchen (unlike others, we decided to temper our kitchen and utility area as solar hot water can get dangerously hot in summer).

Our unit (30 tube, 250L, electric boosted) runs without any boosting from September to May. We have a household of five (3 kids under ten) and do a fair bit of washing. During summer 3 cold/cloudy days in a row will mean we need some boosting. In winter we boost for an hour or two on days when there hasn’t been pretty much constant sunshine from 10-3. We had a separate switch for the electric booster installed inside so it is convenient to turn on when we need it.

michcon 5:21 pm
07 Jan 11


In April 2010, after considerable research into Solar Hot Water systems we purchased an AAE 30 Tube Solar-Electric System with a 315L Marine Grade Stainless Steel Tank from Planet Power.

There were lots of options available, but I choose this specific system on the following basis:
1. I understood evacuated tubes to be more efficient in this part of Australia than flat panels.
2. The stainless steel tank was approx $700 more expensive than the equivalent vitreous enamel tank, but the cheaper option required sacrificial anodes be replaced every 5 years. After the cost of a plumbers call out fee, labour, and parts, I expected this to be up to $400 every time, so I’d be out in front before the 10 year mark and I don’t intend on moving before then.
3. My preference was for the tank to remain in the internal cupboard, so gas was not going to be an option.
4. I wanted the larger tank to future proof us for when we have kids.
5. AAE is Australian owned, had a good warranty, and offered the strongest glass on the tubes.

The information I found hardest to obtain was how well do solar systems actually perform in Canberra. Hopefully I can assist here.

With Solar systems you can chose to either leave the booster on all time, and it will kick in when needed to assist the solar in maintaining a constant temperature, or you can take matters into your own hands.

I decided to regulate this manually, by flicking the circuit breaker on when the solar gain wasn’t keeping up with the demand (temperature fell to 45 degrees), or if we had a few cloudy days in a row. Usually in winter, this meant boosting it overnight once, or at very worse, twice a week. This also met a requirement to heat the water to minimum 60 degrees every week to kill of any nasty bugs.

Below is a primitive table demonstrating how effective the system has been in lowering our electricity consumption for Hot Water only. We are in a household with 2 adults, and would host guests for a few nights every month, but my wife really feels the cold and during winter would regularly have two long hot showers per day. Q1 is an estimate because we are only a few days into it, so I have based it on the reduction I experienced during Q4. Note also, our system faces North West, so we lose a small amount of solar gain there.

Period Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4
Pre Solar kWh 605 1002 1110 773
Post Solar kWh 45* 353 456 55
Reduction 93% 65% 59% 93%

Overall Reduction 77%

As for the installation, it was completed within a day, and was top notch, I couldn’t be happier. The plumber (Nick) was a young bloke, did a great job, and I haven’t had a single problem with it. Hope this helps.

OpenYourMind 7:03 pm
07 Jan 11

We’ve had an Edwards system for 12mths and it has been great. Still needs a boost on cloudy days, but on the days when it’s just running on solar, it’s a great feeling. From everyone I’ve spoken to, long after you’ve forgotten the cost of solar hot water, it is still delivering.

butterfly02 11:15 pm
07 Jan 11

Thanks for the responses, great details Aidan and Michcon.
Having been around our neighbourhood this evening and taken a poll of those who were home, I can conclude:
Solahart owners have a life and aren’t home on a Friday night.
2/3 Edwards owners hate their system and think it doesn’t work properly.
1 property had the solar panels up just for decoration and didn’t know what brand it was (it had broken several years previously).
Only one place had the evacuated tubes and they weren’t home either. So some more research to do next week into tubes I think.

parle 9:30 am
08 Jan 11

@butterfly02: What’s your current quarterly bill for the off peak electric hot water? Solar becomes even better value the more you use it but there is still a break even point, it might be beneficial to work that out to help with your decision on what system you should get.

AussieRodney 2:34 pm
08 Jan 11

I have a Hills system, installed (I think) by Green Frog. Absolutely love it.

It has evacuated tubes on the roof, the tank inside in the laundry & a pump to circulate the hot water downwards. The hot water is stunningly hot, but gets mixed with cold water to reticulate at the maximum allowable of 55 degrees C.

We put the booster on a timer, which only activates in the late afternoon – if the water is not hot by then, then it needs a boost. IMHO, not worth stuffing around with off peak.

Kan 4:16 pm
08 Jan 11

I wouldn’t touch an Edwards. My parents had a Solarhart for 17 years and it didn’t miss a trick and it saved them thousands of dollars in electricity bills. They replaced it with the supposedly superior Edwards which has given them nothing but trouble for the past five years.

I’ve also heard positive feedback about the Hills systems.

Trad_and_Anon 11:29 pm
08 Jan 11

Hi there – I have been looking into this as I want to put in a solar H/W system. There are so many spivs in this area – and despite supposed accreditation, standards for systems and performance guarantees, I am finding it difficult to locate objective and independent information to validate the claims – and make an informed decision.
Many systems do seem to work; some folks are happy; some are not happy; some installations have gone well and others have been nightmares.
It does appear the evacuated tube systems are the most efficient going and within those systems there are two types: (1) heat pipes and (2) the U tube system. [Google to find the difference.] The U tube system is claimed to be 10% more efficient that the heat pipe; but this is offset against the fact that a standard heat pipe system for a 315L tank is 30 tubes but it is just 15 tubes for a U tube system. I have not been able to find out if both systems run side by side on the same day will produce the same amount of hot water.
The marine grade S/S storage tank is the way to go, because (a) the vitreous enamel tank breaks down under the very hot temps generated (+80Deg C) and it requires the sacrificial anode be replaced every 5 years or so, whereas a S/S tank does not need that sort of maintenance. It will last for 10+ years, so repays the additional investment.
The other thing to watch are the hidden extras: some providers offer an all inclusive price (includes installation ; other providers do not and you have to arrange that yourself or use the provider’s installers (usual quoted cost $900 – $1400 – which is a bit of a rip off). Another hidden cost can be a pitching frame required for flat roofs. These can cost between $80 and $600 and some sort of hotwater fuse to prevent scalding. This can be up to $300.
What I am doing is getting itemised quotations and also asking a plumber who has worked on our drain to see if he can install. Installation is a very simple job and requires apart from a plumber an electrician, if the system is electric boosted.
Then there are RECs. These are trade-able certificates and are nothing more than a hamfisted attempt to use a market mechanism to regulate the “efficient” installation of solar systems. What they really are in reality are a whole lot of propeller economists living out their really grubby fantasies that the market can solve all problems. It over complicates a simple matter and attempts to create an artificial market where one can not exist owing to the nature of the bests. They should just read Adam Smith: somethings cannot be markets. But I digress.
The two systems I have been looking at closely is AAE and Solar Lord, but just today saw a Hills system that I’ll investigate.
I’m gradually learning more about solar hot water than I want to or that it is probably healthy for my sanity to know. It is further proof that more choice is not necessarily better than less and market mechanisms are not good regulators because they require victims to work out which are the dodgy systems so others can learn for their fellow citizens’ mistakes. I have better things to do with my remaining years and my money than live out some propeller heads’ fantasy and theory but the exorbitant cost of electricity (owing to craven mismanagement of Australia’s infrastructure by economists and their willing executioners, the pollies) is forcing my hand. I would like objective standards and tests.
When I work out what to do, I’ll post the results so everyone can enjoy my mistake.
A good site to look at for discussion of different systems is:
I feel better now.

olfella 10:08 am
09 Jan 11

AussieRodney said :

I have a Hills system, installed (I think) by Green Frog. Absolutely love it.

We put the booster on a timer, which only activates in the late afternoon – if the water is not hot by then, then it needs a boost. IMHO, not worth stuffing around with off peak.

I have one of these as well, and like you, absolutely love it. I had off peak before and still use this as my booster. I use the theory that if the tank needs a boost then the thermostat will call for it when the off peak comes on, if not then no harm done.

screaming banshee 9:27 pm
19 Sep 11

As a follow up to this, what sort of prices did your systems come to?

2604 9:58 pm
19 Sep 11

screaming banshee said :

As a follow up to this, what sort of prices did your systems come to?

We have a Hills evacuated tube system, which we installed about six months ago.

It came to about $4200 installed, after all the rebates.

parle 11:12 pm
19 Sep 11

2604 said :

It came to about $4200 installed, after all the rebates.

with current off peak electricity prices and my usage it would take me 247 months to get the $4200 back, all it has to do is not require replacement and for me to not move in that 20+ years and month number 248 would be sweet.

Add to that 20 years of dinner party conversation on how my water from a solar hot water service is amazing, as if hot water never existed before then, and this all sounding pretty good.

dungfungus 8:15 am
20 Sep 11

If you ignore the constant bagging that the Canberra Times give them, get a Dux Airoheat heat pump unit with the defrost chip. Siting is crucial – must be on the North side of your house with plenty of air-space. They are incredibly cheap to run, especially in the warmer months but more importantly they don’t need the sun to shine.

sepi 9:26 am
20 Sep 11

Electricity costs are going up, but the sun will always be there.

I’m very happy to have solar. It is also a good way to reduce energy usage, which is good for everyone, not just me.

Deref 9:32 am
20 Sep 11

Deref said :

Give some thought to a reverse cycle system. We replaced our old off-peak electric unit with a Rheem unit about a year and a half ago and it’s been brilliant, including through winter.

I’ll second that. Ours has been in for a couple of years now and it’s been excellent.

butterfly02 1:38 pm
23 Oct 11

Well, it’s taken most of the year but I am finally reporting back on what we did.
We’ve got a Hills evacuated tube system, which sits on brackets to allow better sun capture during winter.
I think the final cost after RECs etc was about $4500.
Envirofriendly installed the unit, but we have had a few problems. In particular the pumps have been problematic and have required a lot of phone calls and service visits to fix things. Thankfully as it’s still under warrenty this has not cost us anything, but I hope that the current pump they have put on is going to be a good one and will last the distance.
We had to boost for all of winter, possibly partly due to the pump problems.
Since they have fixed it it’s working fine, and no boosting of course with this beautiful weather we’re having.
So in summary, I still don’t know what the best option is, although we are happy with the tubes I think we would also have been happy with the Solahart.
In repsonse to parle, I guess we’re not all doing it just for the money. And yes, it is a long term payback, but as none of us really know what is going to happen with electricity prices it could be shorter than you think.

Deref 1:42 pm
23 Oct 11

Pork Hunt said :

Bloody Cathodics and their sacrificial anodes…

LOL. Good one.

matt31221 8:02 pm
23 Oct 11

I have spoken at length with my collegues about modern solar hot water systems, and the consensus is – this is what everyone around ACT should have gotten instead of plain solar panels for power generation.

Electric storage hot water systems consume alot of power and they make up the majority of your electricity bill (unless you have a kilm or you run your oven 24/7 and have heaps of downlights). They really suck the juice all day long. Aparently the new gen solar hot waters are so excellent and efficient they will smash your electricity bill into little pieces. If all of us had one of these systems each then Canberra would indeed be a green city – even with all the aircons.

2604 10:57 pm
23 Oct 11

matt31221 said :

I have spoken at length with my collegues about modern solar hot water systems, and the consensus is – this is what everyone around ACT should have gotten instead of plain solar panels for power generation.

Yeah, but solar panels with a feed-in tariff allow people to abate carbon for the totally reasonable cost of about $600 per tonne. “Reasonable” because some other mug is paying for it.

mtrax 9:21 am
07 Dec 12

I’m also looking at a Solar Hot water system, and wanted to know if people can recommend some installers , specifically the by Apricus or Hills ie a Evacuated tube with Gas boost.

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