Are there BIG savings with an all in one solar thermal system?

Solar Broker reviews the pros & cons of ALL in one solar thermal.

Any strategies which reduce installation costs that are implemented by PV installers in the US will get a free boost from the falling price of modules. However there is no such bonus for solar thermal installers, which forces them to count more on selecting specific equipment and other strategies of labor to bring down the costs of their system.  The biggest savings is currently offered by “balance-of-system”, aka, BOS, solar thermal, because the cost of traditional technologies has little potential to go down.

Many installers find the economic challenges of the residential solar thermal community more difficult than commercial and industrial ones, and an all in one system gives a further opportunity for savings in both labor and BOS.  Though they won’t work for every situation; an all in one solar thermal system can help installers save bid on equipment costs, and this can be the difference in the feasibility of a project.

Variously advertised as plug and play, prepackaged, or solar thermal kits, all in one systems are well reviewed by installers and customers for their ease of use and effectiveness. Wagner Solar has even begun removing traditional elements from their all in one system; Secusol.

The Secusol avoids overheating because of its hybrid, “unpressurized drain back system”, and it doesn’t need a separate tank or pump station, as it drains fluid straight into the coil, and the pump attached beneath the heat exchanger, leaving all elements within the unit itself; the entirety of liquid is returned to the system and none is left in the collectors once the pump is finished, so it will never overheat.

“With the collectors and the racking on the roof, we can run the lineside connection in the side or outside, and you won’t see more than a tank with insulation if you put it inside. “ said Stephen Sawicki, director at Wagner Solar.  The Secusol reaps further savings for installers because of its wide range of features including a preset controller, components for siphoning and pouring, and an insulated line set, according to Sawicki.

“It’s common for people to call us during filling simply because it seems too easy. There’s no need to set pressure or anything.” He says. The company says its model allows a decrease in installation time of 50% in contrast to traditional methods.

The Secusol is offered in 12 different designs and kits, with various options like gallon size (66 or 93), placement of collectors, and specializations for specific climates like the Southeast or North.

The Installers

The real test of any product is if it works as effectively in real life.

The owner of SEO Solar Store in Barrington, New Hampshire, Jack Bingham, says that he was asked to installed two prototype Secusol models, and that since that he’s done at least a dozen installations, with most of them in residential homes. Bingham says that it has proved effective against the winter in the North and has been able to produce hot water consistently with no issues. “They’ve exceeded our expectations” he says.

A solar company in Scotia, New York, Allura Solar, has done one Secusol installation, and says the customer has been “ecstatic” about the performance of the machine, Michael Cellini, President of Allura Solar, says.

They’re currently undergoing a second installation with a new method which Cellini says is a great opportunity for the installation. “We can easily do an all in one system with any new build, no matter the floor plan, because we just pre-install conduits in the walls, so that it’s solar ready whether they want it or not” says Cellini.

The layout of the Secusol can be tougher for retrofit. “The collectors have to be above the tank for a drain back system, and this can’t always be accommodated.”  The height of the building of the installation is also important. It’s good for a typical 2 story home if the system is in the basement.  Cellina and Bingham each denote the ease with installing the Secusol, though Cellini says that a one day installation may be difficult.

The Economics

Caleffi Solar in Milwaukee has provided many different residential applications, which offer anything from collectors to tubing to controls. “You only need the screws on the roof to get it up. No torches, no welding, nothing too tough” says Bob Rohr, training manager of Caleffi.

They hope to bring down costs for both installers and customers with different packages. There are many advantages to these setups, with dealers not needing to contend with customers calling about repairs and such.

“We make it so anyone can operate it with no difficulty” says Rohr, even saying that installers benefit with increased access. However the labor of rooftop installations is still a problem, both for physical problems and technical problems, and many companies either keep their systems on the ground or work with roofing companies.

For residential solar thermals, any savings helps, but can all in one make that much of a difference?

“When we first developed these kits it was mostly for residential application, but now we do more commercial work than anything else” Rohr says.  Sometimes the gap can be bridged by savings, and the Secusol is best for customers looking for affordable options. Wagner claims it’s the lowest priced home solar thermal system in its home state.  However, Rohr warns of taking this thrifty, cost cutting strategy too far, saying “You can only go so low with the price and still offer high quality.”

Article written by Jennifer Coleman of Sun Source Solar Energy Brokers, providing solar brokering, brokerage, and solar energy consulting services in Santa Rosa, Marin, Sonoma, Napa, Solano and San Francisco Counties.  For more information, please visit

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