Solar water heating, an example of solar thermal technology, has become increasingly popular with Kenyan homeowners. Using the sun to heat water is efficient, saves money, and reduces pollution. There are over 65,000 solar water heaters in use in Kenya today. In fact, Nairobi ranks number one in Eastern Africa nation when it comes to using energy from the sun to heat water.


Sunlight is absorbed by one or more solar collectors, which transfer the absorbed solar heat to water circulated through the collector(s). The heated water is then stored for use throughout the day and night in a hot water storage tank that is highly insulated for it not to loose heat..

Active (forced circulation) systems that use pumps to circulate the water, and
passive (thermosiphon) systems that rely on natural convection for water circulation.
Both types of systems include solar thermal collectors and storage tanks. The collectors can range in size from 3 ft. x 7 ft. up to 4 ft. x 12 ft. and are often used in groups. The storage tanks are usually larger than conventional electric water heaters and generally hold 80 or 120 gallons. The tanks may be plumbed together to increase the storage capacity. The heating efficiencies of either system are approximately the same. In areas that experience freezing temperatures, a heat exchanger system is often used but in tropical areas like Kenya, they are not needed.
An active system (forced circulation) uses an electrical pump to circulate water between the solar collectors and the storage tank. The pump may be either a 120V AC pump or a DC pump. An AC pump is plugged into regular house current and relies on temperature sensors and a differential controller to turn the pump on and off. The sensors indicate whether the water in the collector is sufficiently hotter than the water at the bottom of the storage tank. If it is, the differential controller turns the pump on. Water will then circulate through the system with the hot water in the collectors flowing to the storage tank and being replaced by colder water; then the pump will automatically turn off while the water in the collector heats again. The pump will cycle on and off repeatedly during the day, depending on the amount of heat generated by the sun.

A DC pump gets its power from a small photovoltaic (PV) panel usually mounted on the roof next to the solar collectors. At the same time electricity is being generated to power the pump, sunlight is shining on the solar collectors heating water. When the sunlight is bright enough to generate electricity and power the pump, it is usually also hot enough to heat water. This synchronous use of the sunlight ensures that when the water in the collector is hot, electricity is generated to pump the hot water to the storage tank. The more sunlight received, the faster the water heats and the faster the pump works. A passive system.
A passive (thermosiphon) system relies on natural convection to circulate the hot water. Hot water naturally rises so no mechanical pump (AC or DC) or access to electricity for a pump is needed. It is essential, however, that in a passive system the storage tank be higher than the collectors. As long as the sun shines, water in the collector will heat and move slowly upward into the tank with the colder water descending to replace it. As the storage tank is usually mounted horizontally above the collectors on the roof, the added weight is a consideration.

Not only is Kenya an ideal location for solar water heating for household use, it is also an ideal location for solar pool heating. Solar pool heaters generally do not have to heat the water to the temperature used in most households and the type of solar collector which is used for pool heating is usually different than the glass covered collectors used for domestic water heating.

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