Almost Everyone Has a Solar Water Heater In Dezhou, China (Video)

If China's addicted to solar hot water heating, the city of Dezhou is it's dealer (and one of it's biggest customers). A new video from Greenpeace, above, highlights the build-up of solar among residents and as an industry.

Some facts from this shining example: Of the city's 5.5 million residents, almost all living in the new town use solar heating, and about 90 percent of homes in the old town have solar heating. In 2007, 800,000 people had jobs in the solar panel industry, or about one in three people of working age in the city. That figure is expected to grow to 150,000 by 2020. No wonder: Dezhou is home to the world's biggest solar water heater manufacturer.And compared with an electric heater, a solar heater in Dezhou, which starts at about US$190, pays for itself in five and a half years. The numbers in Western countries, by comparison, make us want to shield our eyes.

In Serious (Solar) Hot Water
China's got a long march ahead when it comes to photovoltaics, and it's beating a steady path. But it's already the world leader in solar hot water by far, with 60 percent of the world's capacity, says the Worldwatch Institute.
Solar expert John Perlin cites a claim that by 2010, the number of solar water heaters installed in China will equal the thermal equivalent of the electrical capacity of 40 large nuclear power plants, compared with a global capacity of solar hot water of more than 140 nuclear plants.

To the consumer, the appeal of solar hot water is largely economic: basic models of evacuated tube solar hot water systems start at around 1,500 yuan (US$190).

Though that upfront cost is about 80% more expensive in the West, where solar hot water has struggled to take off, costs are coming down thanks to China, and the benefits are big, as Lloyd Alter recently mused.

The evacuated tube solar hot water heaters ... are getting really cheap now that the Chinese manufacturers are cranking them out- the salesman told me that he could put one on my house for $ 3,000 and that it could serve a family of four.

That would replace a conventional electric hot water heater that uses roughly 15kWh of energy per day. A natural gas heater probably uses pretty much the same, albeit cheaper, energy. But essentially, putting that solar heater on the roof offsets 15kWh worth of energy per day from other sources.

Lloyd might be glad to know that the Toronto government recently launched a program with natural gas giant Enbridge and a local green energy marketer to subsidize the heavy upfront costs of solar thermal systems.

Government efforts have helped in China too. In the southern city of Shenzhen, for example, all buildings under 12 stories are required to have solar hot water heaters.

Big Biz
Dezhou's not the only beneficiary of the solar hot water industry. China has over 1,000 solar thermal system manufacturers with revenues of over 20 billion yuan ($3 billion), and employs 600,000 people.

But Dezhou's Himin Group is the world's largest manufacturer, with 2007 annual profits totalling RMB67.97 million (about US$10 million).

And Dezhou's got some serious competition from the other side of Shandong province: In Rizhao, China's "sun city," 99 percent of households in the central districts use solar water heaters, and most of the lighting and traffic signals are powered with photovoltaic solar power. The city, which has been lauded as one of China's "the Environmental Protection Model City," has cut carbon dioxide emissions by almost 53 thousand tons per year.

But officials in Dezhou say they've eliminated the need to burn 540,000 tonnes of coal, which would have released 1.35 million tons of carbon dioxide.

Do we smell a solar rivalry?

Looking Up
Another benefit to note: using solar to heat water instead of coal dramatically improves air quality, which helps to lure foreign investors and increase tourism.

The weather in Dezhou doesn't look particularly inviting in the video. But when the sun's out, foreign investors aren't shying away: in December Goldman Sachs and CDH Investment jointly invested nearly US$100 million in Himin.

As Himin's CEO Huang Ming tells Greenpeace, "I wanted an industry with a bright future."

More on Solar Hot Water on TreeHugger
Big Steps in Building: Put Solar Hot Water Heaters on Every Roof
Solar Hot Water First, Then Photovoltaics
China's Suntech Will Build Solar Panels in the US
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