Water heating installations are a great starter product. One or two modules are small enough to take to the site in the back of a van or pickup, they can be installed in a day, they can be assembled from kits and they are often ground mounted, avoiding the complication of roof mounting. They let a factory start on easy sells. It’s like giving your child radishes to plant in the garden: success is assured. Because fuel-burning water heaters (natural gas, heating oil and propane) are so inefficient (60%), their payback is very high. They sell more easily than larger systems because their cost is low compared to the price of the house: their risk is lower.
Heating an entire home is a bigger job. Instead of one or two modules, 6 to 12 are needed depending on the how cold the climate is and how big the house is. Most house heating is roof mounted – the roof is often the only space available for all those modules. Roof mounting brings with it extra complication: we don’t want to be liable for a leaky roof and roof mounting has safety issues. Moreover, many houses are heated by inexpensive natural gas (5¢/kw-hr); home heaters that are much more efficient compared to water heaters (60%). The module’s heat brings less savings and the payback is lower. House heating is not a good starter product.
But once a factory has a year of installing water heaters under its belt, house heating is an easy next step. Often the same homeowner that bought a water heater is now convinced that it really works. His risk and hesitation in buying a bigger purchase for his home is much less. While the payback period for house heating may be more, it’s still a good deal.
Commercial/industrial solar installations are also targets for a mature factory. Many commercial businesses use heat in their operations. Besides apartment houses, laundries, hotels, hospitals and restaurants use heat both for cleaning and for building heating. Industry needs heat for food processing, fabrics, plating and other applications that boilers do now. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has found that commercial/industrial rooftops available in a community are approximately equal to the residential rooftops.
Moving into bigger installations of residential heating and commercial businesses is key to the long term success of a factory. Once established, the factory can make more income on fewer larger installations than on many small water heating installations.