Yes you certainly can do this, but it is more complicated than one would think purely for the reason that most solar hot water heating systems just don’t get that much heat out of the sun in the winter. This is largely because the little solar exposure that they get in the winter months, is short and low in the sky, and does not “contain” much heat but this is largely when you need the most heat from the system because you are trying to use it for space heating instead of burning oil or natural gas. During the summer months, the solar thermal panels work great and should largely or totally offset your water heating usage for many months. In California, it is about 9 months of free hot water. The best way to get heat from the winter sun is to use Evacuated Tube solar thermal array. This type of systems collects the sun from even low angle sun exposure, earlier in the day and later into the evening than flat panel arrays and because of the vacuum around the heated element, looses very little heat to the outside during cold days. This is in contrast to the flat panel systems, when the amount of heat lost by the panel is greater than the amount of heat that the panel gains from the sun. All in all, solar thermal is great for spring, summer and fall DHW heating, but don’t expect great things during the winter months.
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