Solar energy is plentiful and environmentally friendly, and hot tubs are voracious consumers of energy, so using solar panels to power your hot tub is a particularly environmentally responsible decision to make. Hot tubs need lots of energy to keep their water hot, however, and most affordable solar energy systems will struggle to keep up with the demands placed on them by an operating hot tub, especially in cool climates.
Hot Tub Energy Use
Hot tubs use electricity to power pumps that circulate water within the tub and push it through jets to create turbulence. The majority of a hot tub's energy expenditures, though, go toward heating the water and maintaining its temperature, both while the tub is sitting idle and while it's in use. The water loses heat much more quickly when the tub is uncovered and its jets are turned on, so the tub's greatest energy demands come when it's in use. Theoretically, solar systems can be used either to supply electricity to meet the tub's demands or to heat the water directly.
Photovoltaic solar panels contain materials that convert solar energy to direct-current electricity, which is then converted to AC electricity and delivered to your home's electrical service. Such a system could supply the electricity required to run your hot tub and heat its water, but a system capable of producing enough electricity to maintain adequate water temperature, even in a warm climate where heat losses are relatively low, would cost tens of thousands of dollars to install at the time of publication.
Solar Water Heaters
A more cost effective way to use solar power to heat your hot tub is to use a solar water heater. Instead of supplying the electricity to power your tub's water heater, a solar water heating system does the heating itself, either by directly heating the water or transferring solar energy to the water via solar collectors and heat exchangers. After it's heated, the water is stored in an insulated tank until your hot tub needs it. Solar water heating systems typically cost a fraction of the price of photovoltaic systems, but in many cases, the solar heater will need help from an electric heater to keep the water at the proper temperature.
The federal government offers tax credits of 30 percent of the cost of qualified solar systems to homeowners who install electricity-generating solar systems or solar water heating systems. However, solar water heaters used solely to heat water for swimming pools or spas do not qualify for the tax credit, and a solar heater used to heat your home's water supply must contribute at least half of the home's water-heating energy in order to qualify, as of time of publication.
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