Solar hot water heating, in Canada, can produce about one half of the water needs for a family of four. The system comprises of three separate parts:
1) The Collector(s): the collectors usually come as flat plates or panels which convert solar energy to heat energy, by allowing a transfer fluid, usually glycol or sometimes water to pass through the panel, and become heated by the sun.
2) The Heat Exchanger: the heat exchanger transfers the collected heat from the transfer fluid to the storage tank(s) thanks contain potable water.
3) Storage Tanks: the storage tanks as the name might imply, stores the heated potable water until such time as a call for hot water is made.
Solar thermal systems are very efficient. Small photo voltaic panels supply the electricity to run the pumps that move the fluids. Electronic sensors monitor panel temperature to ensure that there is sufficient available energy before activating the system.
Once a call for hot water is made, fresh water is brought into the storage tank from the bottom as the solar heated water is drawn of the top of the tank. This water is then taken to a conventional (gas or electric fired) hot water tank. If there is no need to heat the water any further the water continues on into the house. If the water requires additional heat, the hot water tank will bring it up to temperature prior to release.