Electric vs Gas Heat at PhotoVoltaic Panels

jhwuJune 29, 2008

Hi, I've been doing some thinking about energy production and use for my home in San Francisco - I live on the west side so its fairly foggy and cool.

Anyways, I've determined that I'd like to install radiant heat - hydronic.

The question then is: how do I heat the water? Its a given that I'll put a ~5KW PV system on the roof. For mechanical complexity and simple roof space issues, I cannot put a solar water heater on the roof.

My choices for heating the water for hydronic heat are then:

1) Closed system (doesn't mix with potable water) electric water heater

2) Closed system (doesn't mix with potable water) gas water heater

Conventional wisdom says that gas is cheaper than electricity ... but I was doing some simple math on the latest energy costs (June 2008) and it doesn't seem to be so....

PG&E charges me:


12 cents per KWh in the summer and 7.5 cents per KWh in the winter -> Average is 9.75 cents per KWh


$1.91 per therm

Given that there is 100,000 BTU in a therm of gas and 3413 BTU in a KWh of electricty, I can say that:

1 therm gas = 29.3 KWh electricity

So, to receive 100,000 BTU energry to power my water heater, I would have to buy $1.91 of gas or $2.86 of electricity.

However, we can consider that Gas water heaters are about 82% efficient at converting energy in natural gas to water heat, whereas electric water heaters are about 98% efficient at converting electrical energy to water heat.

Subsequently, we can say that 1 therm gas = 24.5 KWh electricity.... so taking this efficiency into account, to receive 82,000 BTU of energy in the form of heated water(gas water heater being 82% efficient) I would need to spend:

$1.91 of gas or $2.39 of electricity

Electricity is still about 20% more expensive, but that's where PV panels on the roof come in. Has anyone considered this, or are my assumptions way off?


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I believe there are gas water heaters that are nearly 100% efficient, so efficient in fact that they do not require a vertical duct to exhaust the fumes -- a horizontial one will do. Before you decide, therefore, make sure your efficiency numbers are accurate.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2008 at 7:32PM
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If you were going to heat water for hydronic heating you would use and appliance designed for that purpose (boiler)

Being that your in SF, I doubt your water temp would need to exceed 160 degrees. Your best bet is to use a modulating condensing boiler that would have efficiencies up to 96% with nat gas.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2008 at 1:06AM
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