solar heating, natural gas, flat plate collector
In climate regions with lower average daily solar radiation, such as the Pacific Northwest, a solar energy collector might not economically satisfy year-round domestic water heating demands, requiring an auxiliary unit, such as a natural gas water heater. Previous studies of such hybrid systems have shown that the efficiencies achieved while running in combined solar/gas mode was lower than expected. This inefficiency was attributed to a reduction in gas burner efficiency when the process fluid was partially pre-heated by the solar input. To predict the actual energy and cost savings under various design conditions, the performance of solar/gas hybrid systems must be better understood. In this work, the performance of a commercial hybrid solar/gas system is experimentally characterized to evaluate individual component and overall system efficiency. The hybrid water heating system consisted of three flat plate collectors arranged in series (total area = 6.44 m2), and a 22.3 kW natural gas burner. Under different temperature lifts and solar insolation values, the system was operated at three different modes of heating: solar, gas, and combined solar/gas mode. Efficiency value for each mode was calculated. Based on the experimental efficiency results, a configuration that would provide higher efficiency for combined solar/gas heating is suggested.