Colwood homeowners Hilary Mackey and Lawrence Surges chose to have the newly designed CamoSun solar hot water heater installed in their house to save money and help the environment.

Sunny side up for Solar Colwood

Solar Colwood hopes to turn a corner with a new, locally developed solar hot water heater set to save money for homeowners.

Solar Colwood hopes to turn a corner with a new, locally developed solar hot water heater set to save money for homeowners.

James Smyth developed the system over two years at Camosun College, where he also teaches the solar renewable program. The design itself isn’t particularly innovative, but the modifications are.

Due to the West Coast’s temperate climate Smyth realized he could simplify the system and replace non-freezing heat transfer fluids, such as glycol, with potable water. This means there’s no need for a heat exchanger, an extra pump or the anti-freezing liquid.

“The idea of the system is to reduce the costs without the affecting the performance,” Smyth said. “This system does as much or more than most other systems on the market, but for about half the price.”

The system was an easy sell for Hilary Mackey and Lawrence Surges, the first homeowners to have the system installed in Colwood. They already made the switch to a ductless split heat pump through the program and say the timing seemed right to add the hot water heater.

“We liked the environmentally friendly aspect,” Surges said. “We’re in our mid- to late fifties so we feel that it’s worthwhile to make a significant investment up front in order to manage risk in the future by reducing our exposure to rising power rates.”

“We figure we’re good to go for the duration,” Mackey said. “Hopefully we’re here for the whole run. So that’s a lot of savings over time.”

Smyth installed a system at Camosun and the college was pleased enough with the results to let him use the name The CamoSun for the product. Some of the proceeds from the sale of the system also go back to the college.

Smyth assembles the system himself, often on site, allowing him to adjust it to the specifics of the house.

The cost including installation runs in the $5,000 range, compared to the usual $9,000 to $10,000 range for most two-panel systems.

Solar Colwood organizers see the new technology as perhaps the second coming for the program, which has seen slow uptake since the initial burst at its inception. People keen to make the switch out of environmental concerns jumped on the program, but uptake has slowed since.

Solar Colwood participant energizer Glenys Verhulst believes with the reduced costs of the new system, and some special offers from Solar Colwood, there will be a renewed interest.

“(It’s) a shining example of what the Solar Colwood program set out to do,” Verhulst said, “which was to encourage local, green energy innovation. So by driving demand for solar hot water systems in the community, it then created conditions … to create this innovative new system.”

With a special grant in place for the summer, homeowners can qualify for grants covering 40 per cent of the cost for the system. Pending federal approval, Solar Colwood will also be expanding its solar hot water heater incentives to include all of Greater Victoria, which includes grants for this system.

For a free home assessment for energy-saving options contact Solar Colwood at 250-216-7527.