A solar-powered shine

Local car wash uses power of the sun to heat water

If you wonder how hot the water is at Glenmont Car Wash, one need only look up.

First, to the banks of opaque tubes on the roof. Then further, to the sun overhead.

Owner Dennis O'Shaughnessy recently completed the installation of a solar water heating system at his Route 9W business, and he says he's already reaping the benefits in decreased energy consumption and customer interest.

Solar water heaters work on a similar principal as a hot water heater for the home does. In O'Shaugnessy's system, water is kept in a series of tubes on the roof of Glenmont Car Wash. There, it basks in the sun, heating the water.

The hot water is drained into a 400-gallon tank in the upper level of the building, and regular municipal water (usually around 55 degrees in temperature), is piped through tubes sitting in the tank. Solar heated water in the tank can get up to 185 degrees.

The tank hasn't gotten that hot in the month the car wash has been using the system, but getting the water to a temperature of around 135 degrees means wash water will be well over 100. Even during a period of rainy weather, the solar system kept the temperature high.

For a business where hot water is a necessity, taking natural gas heating out of the equation means some serious cost savings. O'Shaughnessy said his utility bills run from $50,000 to $60,000 a year, but with the solar heating system he's likely to cut that figure considerably.

It's really a no brainer, he said, especially considering the startup cost.

The system cost about $20,000 to install, just a portion of a yearly utility bill, and with federal and state energy efficiency credits O'Shaughnessy managed to recoup just over half of the investment.

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