Energy

Designing homes to conserve energy and use it efficiently, from sources that cause least environmental harm.

Energy sources

Water can be heated using solar energy, electricity, gas, a wetback system, or a heat pump water heater. Each has advantages and disadvantages, though in general solar and heat pump are the most efficient and produce the least greenhouse gas emissions.

On this page:

  • Solar
  • Heat pump
  • Electricity
  • Gas
  • Wetbacks and solid fuel heaters

Energy sources for water heating need to be considered alongside other factors such as system design and capacity, and the choice between storage and continuous flow systems.

Many New Zealand homes have stored hot water using electricity or gas for heating. The remaining 5% use a continuous flow system, generally gas heated, although electric continuous flow systems are also available.

More energy-efficient hot water heating options include solar, heat pump, and wetback systems.

To determine a suitable water heating system, you need to consider size, likely water use, initial and on-going costs – some options can be three or four times more expensive to run than others – and the energy efficiency and environmental impact of the energy used.

Solar

Solar water heating systems are becoming increasingly popular in New Zealand, and provide a highly efficient way to meet part of a household’s water heating needs. Typically, a well designed and installed solar water heating system can provide about 75% of a household’s water heating needs in summer and about 25–45% in winter.

A solar water heating system cannot provide all of a household’s water heating needs – a booster system will be needed. This may be heat pump, electric or gas depending on how the system is configured.

To achieve maximum efficiency, solar systems must be properly designed and installed.

See solar water heating for more.

Heat pump

Heat pump water heaters use heat energy from outdoor air (or in some cases the ground) to heat water in a storage cylinder. Heat pumps use electricity to move heat, but not to create it, and so are a highly energy efficient method of water heating.

Heat pumps can also be used as a booster option for solar water heating.

See heat pump water heating for more.

Electricity

Electricity can be used to heat either storage or continuous flow water heaters, and can also be used as a booster to solar or heat pump water heating systems.

The advantage of electricity is its reliable supply. However, in terms of sustainability and energy efficiency, conventional electric hot water heating is not a preferred option except as a booster system.

Conventional electric systems are less energy efficient than solar and heat pump systems, and generating electricity from fossil fuels produces greenhouse gas emissions. As well as these environmental costs, rising electricity prices also provide an incentive to seek more efficient energy sources.

Gas

Gas can be used to heat either storage or continuous flow water heaters, and can also be used as a booster to solar or heat pump water heating systems.

Continuous flow gas systems or small, high-efficiency gas storage systems may be more efficient than electricity for small households, and may have a slightly lower cost (based on actual energy use) than electrical supply with the same heating capacity. They also have a quicker heat recovery time than electric for storage cylinder systems.

Burning gas on site to heat water produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions than electricity generation using fossil fuels, so is generally seen as more sustainable.
However:

  • gas systems have higher heat losses, with heat being lost in the products of combustion exhaust (although condensing gas burners reduce this lost heat)
  • gas may not be available through a reticulated system, which means gas bottles will have to be used
  • if gas is available through a reticulated system, the gas line may have connection and line supply charges.

Wetbacks on solid fuel heaters

Wetbacks generally provide a boost to the water heating system, particularly in the winter when most required. They are most suitable for cold climates where a lot of space heating is used.

See wetbacks for more.

Updated: 18 June 2013