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Renewable Energy 29 (2004) 1503–1514

Techno-economic appraisal of an integrated

collector/storage solar water heater
M. Smyth , P.C. Eames, B. Norton
Centre for Sustainable Technologies, School of the Built Environment, University of Ulster,
Newtownabbey BT37 0QB, N. Ireland, UK
Received 5 November 2002; accepted 12 October 2003


Integrated collector/storage solar water heaters, due to their simple compact structure and
inherent freeze protection, offer a promising approach for solar water heating in colder cli-
mates. Such a system, designed specifically for application at a Northern latitude, has been
developed incorporating a heat retaining storage vessel mounted within a concentrating cusp
reflector supported by a novel exo-skeleton framework. The performance was determined
experimentally under real operational conditions in the Northern Irish climate. A detailed
cost analysis is presented and payback periods, substituting different local fuel/power sour-
ces, determined.
# 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction

An integrated collector/storage solar water heater (ICSSWH) was patented in

1891 [15]. Due to their simple compact structure and inherent freeze protection,
this type of system may offer a promising approach to permit the widescale adop-
tion of solar water heating in colder climates. The main component of an ICSSWH
is the collection/storage vessel. Arthur [5] illustrated that a simple cylindrical shape
offers the best practical solution to maximising the storage volume to exposed sur-
face area. Lindsay and Thomas [19] demonstrated that for a single vessel ICSSWH
system to be viable economically in climates with limited insolation, it is necessary
to maintain thermal stratification within the store. Lavan and Thompson [18]

Corresponding author. Tel.: +44-028-9036-8119; fax: +44-028-9036-8239.
E-mail address: (M. Smyth).

0960-1481/$ - see front matter # 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
1504 M. Smyth et al. / Renewable Energy 29 (2004) 1503–1514


Aap aperture area (m2)

Asystem surface area of system (m2)
cwater specific heat capacity of water (J/kg K)
Iave insolation incident on the collector aperture (W/m2)
Iave,daily cumulative daily incident solar energy on the collector aperture (MJ)
ifuel fuel inflation rate
m mass of water (kg)
npay payback period (years)
Qcol thermal energy collected (MJ)
r2 regression coefficient
S fuel cost saving (£)
Tamb average ambient temperature (K)
Tave,heating average water temperature averaged over the heating period (K)
Tend average water temperature at end of heating period (K)
Tstart average water temperature at start of heating period (K)
tICS total cost of ICSSWH (£)
U heat loss coefficient (W/K)
Dt time of test interval (s)
DT temperature difference (K)
gcol collection efficiency
goptical optical efficiency

indicated that vessels with low aspect ratios promote internal mixing. Vessels
mounted in a north–south alignment have higher aspect ratios and thus maintain
higher levels of thermal stratification. Reiss and Bainbridge [29] suggested that
‘long thin vessels are more suitable than short squat vessels’ and simulations con-
ducted by Eames and Norton [11] showed that an aspect ratio of 3:1 was an
acceptable value. Tiller and Wochatz [35] suggested ‘storage volume/glazing ratio
of 51–69 l/m2 operate better for systems in cooler climates’.
A concentrating reflector increases the solar energy collection of a cylindrical
vessel, with a low surface area to volume ratio. Theoretical analyses of reflector/
collector combinations [12,13,17,31,33,34,37] suggest that use of a concentrator
improves significantly system thermal efficiency and for N–S mounted ICS vessels,
a cusp CPC reflector profile may offer optimum geometric concentration [26]. The
reflector must be carefully designed to be effective for its given location and cli-
mate. In climates with a high ratio of diffuse to direct radiation, a wide CPC
acceptance angle is required for significant diffuse solar energy collection [20,27].
Winston and Hinterberger [38] showed that truncation of a CPC reflector results in
only a small reduction in concentration ratio with no loss of acceptance angle.
Carvalho et al. [8] suggested that truncation of a CPC reflector can increase CPC
M. Smyth et al. / Renewable Energy 29 (2004) 1503–1514 1505

cusp optical efficiency by 2%, due to increased acceptance of diffuse radiation. CPC
cusp reflector modifications to reduce gap losses [22], can reduce optical losses
significantly and increase optical efficiency by up to 10%.

2. ICSSWH design and construction

The prototype ICSSWH incorporates a heat retaining ICS vessel [30] with a
capacity of 57 l and an aspect ratio of 3:1 mounted in a N–S alignment at the focal
point of a concentrating reflector. A solar selective absorber film [3] enhanced inso-
lation absorption and reduced long-wave radiation. The specification of this system
is presented in Table 1. Davis [9] and Bishop [6] have developed similar solar water
heaters, however the present system incorporates particular design attributes inten-
ded specifically for the UK climate and prevailing UK economic and fiscal con-
ditions. The selected reflector profile was a truncated, McIntire ‘‘W’’ modified [22],
concentrating cusp reflector profile. Optical characteristics were predicted using
ray-trace techniques [28]. The reflector had a 45 half acceptance angle and was
truncated to give an aperture opening of 0.9215 m2. The absorber was oversized by
8% to give a total concentration ratio of 1.15. The reflector co-ordinates used for
the ray-tracing were transferred to a numerically controlled milling machine and
used to produce a set of timber profile templates. A series of slots made in each
contour permitted nine timber slats to be fixed to form a rigid exo-skeleton frame-
work that supported the reflective panels. Details of the unit’s construction are dis-
played in Fig. 1. The panel substrate material was 1 mm thick rigid polystyrene
sheet. The sheet was placed into the curved contour of the reflector profile and fas-
tened at each end to form a parabolic reflector surface. This lightweight reflector
construction has the benefits of ease of assembly, which suits mass reproducibility,
ease in replacing reflective panels, ready application of a reflective film onto a flat
panel and good thermal insulation.

Table 1
ICSSWH system specification
Full system Dimensions 1:1 m  1:2 m  0:6 m
Weight 35 kg (empty and without outer casing)
Aperture area 0.9215 m2
Glazing material 4 mm thick float glass
Reflector Reflector profile Truncated modified cusp
Half acceptance angle 45 with 32% truncation
Concentration ratio 1.15
Reflector material 1 mm thick polystyrene substrate with
ECP-305 specular silver reflective film [2]
Vessels Dimensions 0.27 m //1.0 m long
Capacity 57 l
Vessel material 1 mm thick aluminium
Vessel coating Maxorb selective absorbent foil [3]
1506 M. Smyth et al. / Renewable Energy 29 (2004) 1503–1514

Fig. 1. Detail of final structure assembly (inset: exo-skeleton structure).

The ICS vessel was supported at each end within the collector cavity at the focal
point of the concentrating reflector. Spaces in and around the collector framework
were insulated with polystyrene foam and the complete unit was enclosed in a gal-
vanised sheet steel weatherproof casing. The aperture was covered with a 1 m 
1 m sheet of single 4 mm thick float glass, held within a timber frame. The collec-
tor frame was fastened to the unit by four fixing brackets and a foam gasket sealed
the join between the unit and glazing. The complete unit was coated with black
bituminous paint to produce a weatherable exterior finish.

3. Estimated unit costs for large-scale production

The total materials and construction cost to produce the prototype ICSSWH
was calculated to be £ 391.79 with 2002 UK prices as shown in Table 2. This total
cost is based on the costing of sufficient materials and appropriate assembly techni-
ques for fabricating a single unit. Projected mass-manufacturing costs per unit
would be significantly lower due to bulk purchase of materials and specialised pro-
duction procedures. The design for manufacture method [32], which includes
design for fabrication and design for assembly techniques, suggests that a consider-
able improvement in production costs may be realised. Whilst it is difficult to pre-
dict the actual reduction in costs when moving to large-scale production for this
particular unit, Miles [23] has presented reductions in component cost ranging
between 18% and 62% and assembly costs ranging between 28% and 74% for vari-
ous consumer items. If average range values for the ICSSWH are assumed, it may
M. Smyth et al. / Renewable Energy 29 (2004) 1503–1514 1507

Table 2
Fabrication costing breakdown of the ICSSWH
Costing Component Description Cost/unit (£) Total
breakdown cost (£)
Material costs Vessel One 57 l aluminium tank 57 57
Timber Profiles, 1:44 m2 =15 mm 13.9/m2 20.01
Endplates, 1:44 m2 =15 mm 13.9/m2 20.01
Ribs and struts, 15 m=20 mm  0.66/m 9.90
20 mm softwood
Glazing frame, 4 m=15 mm  0.66/m 2.64
50 mm softwood
Reflector 1.4 m2 of 1 mm polystyrene 1.57/m2 2.19
1.4 m2 of ECP-305 reflective 20.35/m2 28.49
ABS. coating 0.85 m2 of Maxorb film 9.77/m2 8.30
Casing 3.84 m2 of 0.8 mm galvanised 4.80/m2 18.40
sheet steel
Glazing 1 m2 of 4 mm glass sheet 11.75/m2 11.75
Tank plate 0.14 m2 of 10 mm acrylic sheet 8.30/m2 0.14
Pipework 0.4 m length 15 mm / copper 1.30/m 0.52
Two 15 mm / plate unions 1.50 each 3.00
One 15 mm / isolating valve 2.10 each 2.10
Insulation 5.28 m2 25 mm polystyrene 2.91/m2 15.36
0.4 m length 15 mm pipe 0.60/m 0.24
Gasket 4.6 m 20 mm roll 0.25/m 1.15
Silicon 1/4 tube 2.00/tube 0.50
Fittings Nails, bolts, brackets, etc. Various 6.60
Total material cost £ 199.49
Fabrication/ At 30 craftsman man-hours [16] 6.41/h £ 192.30
assembly costs
Overall unit cost £ 391.79
(inc VAT)

be possible to reduce material and assembly costs to approximately £ 120 and £ 94,
giving an envisaged mass-production cost of £ 214 per unit.
For UK installed solar water heating systems, in broad terms approximately 1/3
of the overall cost is component parts, 1/3 is gross profit (nett profit, product mar-
keting, company growth and investment, research and product development) and
1/3 is installation [24]. Applying this to the ICSSWH, we have an installed cost of
£ 642 (including value added tax (VAT)). In the UK, from 1st April 2000 a
reduced VAT rate of 5% was applicable to fully installed solar systems but a VAT
rate of 17.5% remains for owner installed ‘do-it-yourself’ (DIY) systems. The
1508 M. Smyth et al. / Renewable Energy 29 (2004) 1503–1514

narrow price differential may render a system installed by an experienced com-

petent installer possibly a more rational choice for an end user. Using appropriate
VAT values, the projected cost for a fully installed solar water heating systems is
£ 503 and is £ 428 for a DIY fitted system.

4. Experimental characterisation

The ICSSWH was mounted securely to a purpose-made supporting structure, in

a north–south alignment facing due south, as shown in Fig. 2. The fixed inclination
used of 64 from the horizontal has been recommended as optimal for collection at
a latitude of 54 N [29]. Heavily insulated rubber hose to and from the unit allowed
movement of the unit, reduced the possibility of damage from water freezing in the
pipes and limited thermal conduction along the pipework from the ICS. Cold
water supply was from a storage header tank located at high level.
A total of 20 ‘T’ type Copper–Constantan thermocouples were employed to
measure temperature throughout the unit and test apparatus. The thermocouples

Fig. 2. Detail of test facility.

M. Smyth et al. / Renewable Energy 29 (2004) 1503–1514 1509

located within the ICS vessel were mounted at uniformly spaced heights within
each vessel to enable a good estimate of average water temperatures to be made.
Insolation incident upon the aperture was measured by a pyranometer fixed at the
same inclination as the unit’s aperture.
The unit was monitored experimentally for 190 periods of 24 h starting at sun-
rise to determine the daily collection efficiency and thermal retention achieved over
each night period. The diurnal collection performance is presented with no system
draw-off for each 24 h period. A separate series of tests were conducted to deter-
mine performance with draw-off. Measurements of water temperature, ambient
temperature and insolation were taken at 5 min intervals and averaged every half
hour. The experimental methodology employed to determine system performance
was similar to that employed by Tripanagnostopoulos and Yiannoulis [36]. The
latter test procedure is a combination of test methods proposed by the European
Solar Collector and Systems Testing Group [1] and gives a realistic representation
of ICSSWH performance.
The total amount of solar energy incident on the aperture area over the test per-
iod is given by,
Qincident ¼ Iave Aap Dt ð1Þ

ð Tend 
Iave ¼ I ðtÞ dt =Dt ð2Þ

The measured fluid temperatures within the vessel were used to estimate the
mean temperatures of the entire vessel and using Eq. (3) the amount of thermal
energy collected and retained was determined. The heating/collection period is
defined as the time in which Tave,vessel is increasing.
Qcol ¼ mcwater ðTend  Tstart Þ ð3Þ
Considering first order effects only, the heat balance of the system with no draw-off
can be approximated by

mcwater ðTend  Tstart Þ ¼ Iave ðgoptical ÞAap Dt  UAsystem ðTave;heating  Tamb Þ ð4Þ

mcwater ðTend  Tstart Þ

gcol ¼ ð5Þ
Iave Aap Dt

UAsystem ðTave;heating  Tamb Þ

gcol ¼ goptical  ð6Þ
Iave Aap Dt

Eq. (6) is superficially similar to the Hottel–Whillier–Bliss equation for instan-

taneous performance of the solar collector component of a distributed solar water
heater [7,14], however in contrast to the instantaneous Hottel–Whillier–Bliss equa-
tion, Eq. (6) applies to cumulative diurnal overall system performance. Plots of
1510 M. Smyth et al. / Renewable Energy 29 (2004) 1503–1514

Fig. 3. Diurnal collection efficiency of the ICSSWH.

efficiency against DT=Iave can be made where

DT ¼ ðTave;heating  Tamb Þ ð7Þ

Fig. 4. Annual variation of monthly ICSSWH collection efficiency and insolation incident on the collec-
tor aperture.
M. Smyth et al. / Renewable Energy 29 (2004) 1503–1514 1511

A plot in the form of Eq. (6) for 190 days heating period data is shown in Fig. 3.
The efficiency of the heat retaining ICSSWH, using the operating range of between
55% and 35%, defined by Tripanagnostopoulos and Yiannoulis [36], is as shown in
Fig. 3. The optical efficiency, (i.e. where the characterisation line bisects the gcol
axis) can be seen in Fig. 3 to be 65%. Over a period of a year, the ICSSWH has an
average collection efficiency of 43.6%, with a maximum monthly collection
efficiency of 52%. Fig. 4 illustrates the monthly ICSSWH collection efficiencies
together with insolation incident on the collector aperture.

5. Economic viability

The payback period of the ICSSWH was determined from the equivalent savings
in alternative fuels. Table 3 details the characteristics of the various fuels con-
sidered (2002 prices) and from these values a cost saving in fuel was calculated and
an annual reduction in fuel expenditure determined. The total yearly solar energy
incident on a surface at 52 N at an inclination of 62.5 is 3518.6 MJ/m2 [25].
v v

Using an average feasible collection efficiency of 43.6%, the potential annual

energy saving of this unit is 1534 MJ. The payback period of the ICSSWH was
determined using Eq. (8) [10].
ln½ðtICS ifuel =SÞ þ 1
npay ¼ ð8Þ
lnð1 þ ifuel Þ
Table 3 details the cost per MJ for various fuels and indicates the payback peri-
ods for the ICSSWH based on the annual cost savings for various other fuels. The
payback times are presented in undiscounted and discounted (3.2%) form, where
values of present worth factors were determined from tables given in Duffie and
Beckman [10]. The fuel inflation rates used in Eq. (8) were based upon the UK real
price index for fuel from 1987 to 2002 [4]. Assuming a life expectancy of approxi-
mately 20–25 years, from Table 3 the payback periods for both modes of instal-
lation is acceptable for less efficient fuels such as solid fuels and electricity. Using
timber bought from a local supplier gave the lowest undiscounted payback period,
6.8 years for a DIY fitted system and 7.8 years for a fully installed system. In com-
parison, displacing liquid petroleum gas gave undiscounted payback periods near
the life expectancy of the unit and may thus still be economically acceptable. For
natural gas and domestic heating oils, for both modes of installation, the payback
periods are greater than the life expectancy of the unit by up to 8 years. Dis-
counted payback times were significantly longer, with several compared fuels
exceeding 30 years.

6. Conclusions

In the climate of and prevailing fuel prices in Northern Ireland it is unlikely that
the cost of the unit, at present, would be repaid if it substituted natural gas and

Table 3
Comparative domestic energy costs per MJ and equivalent fuel cost savings with the ICSSWH
Fuel Type Energy Energy Fuel cost Unit cost Annual Average Payback period (years)
equivalent conversion (pence/unit) of useful fuel cost fuel cost
Undiscounted Discounted
[21] efficiency based on 2002 energy saving (£) inflation
(%) [21] N. Ireland fuel delivered based on rate (%) [4] Fully DIY Fully DIY
prices (£/MJ) energy installed fitted installed fitted
saving of system system system system
1534 MJ
Timber Softwood 16 MJ/kg 20 12/kg (local 0.0375 57.53 3.3 7.8 6.6 8.9 7.6
Coal Anthracite 31.2 MJ/kg 30 23.6/kg (local 0.0252 38.66 3.3 11.0 9.6 13.1 11.2
Bitumen 26.6 MJ/kg 30 16/kg (local 0.0201 30.83 3.3 13.3 11.6 16.4 14.0
Oil Kerosene 54.5 MJ/l 56 19/l (local 0.0062 9.51 3.1 >30 28.6 >30 >30
35 s oil 51.25 MJ/l 56 21.5/l (local 0.0075 11.51 3.1 28.1 25.1 >30 >30
Natural gas North sea 39 MJ/m3 62 1.91/kW h 0.0086 13.19 1.7 29.6 26.1 >30 >30
(Phoenix gas)
LPG Butane 28.2 MJ/l 62 23.7/l (local 0.0136 20.86 1.7 20.4 17.7 29.5 24.4
Propane 25.5 MJ/l 62 16.9/l (local 0.0107 16.41 1.7 24.9 21.8 >30 >30
M. Smyth et al. / Renewable Energy 29 (2004) 1503–1514

Electricity On peak 3.6 MJ ¼ 90 9.38/kW h 0.0302 46.32 1.9 10.0 8.6 11.9 9.9
1 kW h (N.I.E.)
Off peak 3.6 MJ ¼ 80 3.34/kW h 0.0116 17.79 1.9 22.8 20.0 >30 28.6
1 kW h (N.I.E.)
M. Smyth et al. / Renewable Energy 29 (2004) 1503–1514 1513

domestic heating oils when used as the main form of fuel for domestic water heat-
ing. However, improvements in unit performance, manufacturing cost reduction
and life expectancy may render the unit economically viable. Other factors that
may contribute to the economic viability of the ICSSWH are installation as part of
new-build dwellings, thereby reducing installation costs, greater hot water require-
ment and greater than projected increases in fuel price.
The heat retaining ICSSWH presented exhibits a good solar collection perform-
ance for a comparatively low overall cost. The exo-skeleton design of the collector,
using a plastic substrate accurately reproduced the CPC profile, permitting the sys-
tem to attain an optical efficiency of approximately 65%. The unit had an operat-
ing efficiency of between 55% and 35%, depending on the conditions, with the
potential to displace 1534 MJ of energy used for water heating in a domestic UK
It has been demonstrated that it is possible to reduce the manufacturing costs
and hence the retail price of the ICSSWH unit. Taking advantage of tax incentives
for installation of solar water heating systems on domestic dwellings in the UK,
the total cost is sufficiently low, to give payback periods that can, for some fuels
under current conditions, compete with traditional forms of water heating.

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