A History of Solar Water Heating

Greg Pahl shares a history of solar water heating, including when the first solar water heater was patented, when solar heating hit the mainstream market and the downfall and resurgence of the solar industry.

The history of solar water heating is varied, with solar energy currently finding a resurgence in America.

The history of solar water heating is varied, with solar energy currently finding a resurgence in America.

PHOTO: FOTOLIA/JISIGN

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Learn about the history of solar water heating in the U.S.

A History of Solar Water Heating

The first commercial solar water heater was patented in 1891; within five years, about 30 percent of the homes in Pasadena, California, had solar domestic hot water systems installed.

Although the solar hot water heating industry had spread to Florida by the 1930s, copper shortages during World War II (coupled with economic incentives offered by electric companies to switch to their hot water heaters) crippled the burgeoning solar hot water industry.

It was almost more than a half century later when solar hit the mainstream market again, revitalized by the OPEC oil embargo and skyrocketing fossil fuel prices. Federal and state tax credits of the early 1980s for renewable energy systems gave the solar industry a major, if short-lived, boost. Almost overnight, a huge number of companies sprang up all across the nation to serve a seemingly insatiable demand for a wide array of solar installations. Then, in 1986, the Reagan Administration pulled the plug on solar incentives.

"It almost entirely killed the industry and stopped virtually all [renewable energy] technological development in this country," says Christel Bieri, the vice president of marketing at Heliodyne, Inc., in Richmond, California. Heliodyne was one of a handful of U.S. solar manufacturers that survived the industry crash.

Today, motivated by consumer demand for environmentally friendly and economically sound technologies, the solar industry is witnessing what many hope will be a full-fledged energy revolution — a switch from a fossil-fuel based economy to a one powered by the sun, wind and water.