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Solar Powered Heat Tapes (Everything you Need to Know)

During cold weather, material insulation is crucial for preventing cold weather problems, like ice dams and icicle formation.

While insulation is important, it may not by itself be sufficient to freeze protect materials during the winter. That’s where heat tapes come into play.

The problem with conventional heat tapes is that they’re cost-inefficient– they consume a lot of power, which can add a significant amount to your electricity bills.

So, what’s the ultimate solution to completely cold/freeze-protect materials during cold weather?

Solar-powered heat tapes.

Solar-powered heat tapes eliminate the electricity costs associated with conventional heat tapes but provide the same insulation from cold weather. They melt any ice that may attempt to form on your materials by just leveraging free power from the sun.

This article uncovers what solar-powered heat tapes are, how they work, possible applications, and literally everything you need to know about heat tapes powered by solar.

What is a Solar Powered Heat Tape?

A solar-powered heat tape is a component that provides power to heat materials at remote locations and prevents them from freezing.

Conventional heat tapes are a hidden source of high electric bills and can get serious if you’re going to install them on numerous materials.

Solar-powered heat tapes are the perfect solution as they rely on the free energy from the sun but still perfectly protect materials from the effects of cold weather conditions.

Components of Solar Powered Heat Tapes

Solar panel

The solar panel harnesses solar energy and converts it to electricity. It should be mounted near the structure that needs to be heated to reduce the need for connecting cables.

MPPT

The MPPT controls the amount of current that flows in the batteries, thus guarding them against extreme current damage. It’s the same power tracker used in typical PV systems.

Battery

A battery stores some solar power from the solar panel and delivers it to the heat tape when there’s no production going on. Batteries make it possible to run your solar heat tapes even in the most unusual places, like your basement.

Solar inverter

Since the solar power stored in batteries is in DC, it has to be converted to AC before it’s delivered to the solar heat tapes. The solar inverter does this conversion.

Cabinet enclosure

To guard the electrical components from outdoor elements, they’re usually enclosed in a cabinet, except the solar panel that needs to be exposed to the sun.

Solar Powered Heat Tapes: Installation Guide

Determine the amount of tape you need

To determine how much tape you need, analyze your surface area and the extent of cold temperatures expected, then consult the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Clean the surface

Brush off dust, dirt, cobwebs, and any other debris that may have accumulated on the surface before you begin the installation.

If any dust is left on the surface, it may ignite when current is passed through the solar-powered heat tape and destroy the material.

Wrap the heat tape on the surface

Wrap the heat tape perfectly and tightly around the target surface without leaving gaps or overlaps. You can use electrical tape to secure the solar-powered heat tape firmly on the surface.

Insulate the heat tape and the heat taped material

Insulation protects the heat tape and the material from harsh environmental conditions. Additionally, insulation helps minimize any heat loss that may occur between the heat tape and the environment.

Usually, foam insulation is used due to its excellent weatherproofing properties.

Insulation may take the form of the material you want to insulate. The foam insulation for pipes, for example, is cylindrical and has a slit through which the pipe is inserted.

Connect the heat tape to the solar inverter

When everything is perfectly installed on the material, connect the power cord of the heat tape to the outlet at the inverter.

Before leaving your heat tape plugged in, test your installation as described after these precautionary measures

Some precautionary measures:

  • Never install solar heat tape to a material that touches the ground to avoid power surges due to grounding of the heat tape.
  • Always ensure water is running through or on the materials before switching on the solar-powered heat tape.
  • Ensure that there’re no flammable components near the vicinity of the solar-powered heat tape to prevent fire incidents.
  • Avoid using extension cables between the inverter and the heat tape’s power cord, as too many wires may also bring grounding problems.
  • Don’t install solar heat tapes on materials that can melt when the tape heats up.

Please note: Poor installation of solar-powered heat tape is a major risk, as even a tiny structural defect could cause serious fire risks and property damage.

How to Test a Solar Powered Heat Tape?

On perfectly installing a solar-powered heat tape, you must first test it to ensure that everything is intact and working as needed.

  1. Unplug the power cord of the solar-powered heat tape from the inverter.
  2. Remove any insulation covering the solar-powered heat tape.
  3. Feel with your hands if they’re any surface defects on the tape, such as cracks.
  4. Stop the test if there’re any surface defects and replace the heat tape with a new one.
  5. If there’re no surface defects, take a plastic food grade bag, fill it with ice, secure it on top so that there’s no water flow, and fix it on top of the thermostat.
  6. Leave the ice-filled thermostat for 30 minutes and then connect the power code of the solar-powered heat tape to the inverter.
  7. At this temperature, the heat tape should start to warm up on running power through it.
  8. If the heat tape doesn’t warm up, then the heat tape or the thermostat may be defective, so remove everything and install everything afresh.
  9. Repeat the process for the new unit until you’re sure that everything works perfectly.

How do Solar Heat Tapes Work?

Solar-powered heat tape’s main role is to generate heat to protect the wrapped surface or material during cold weather.

A solar-powered heat tape has a conductor material running through its length. When electricity from the solar inverter flows through the solar heat tape, and there’s some kind of resistance, heat is produced.

The heat melts any ice that may be on the material and prevents any further accumulation. This could save you from the hassle of having to broom or rake away the ice that forms on your materials during the cold season.

Generally, the tape will generate temperatures around 500◦F, but some can stretch even above 1000◦F.

Like conventional heat tapes, solar-powered heat tapes should consume about 9W per linear foot of heated surface. But with solar heat tapes, you do not have to worry about the costs associated with this power consumption.

Although a solar-powered heat tape comes with a built-in thermostat, it’s recommended that you switch it off or unplug it when it’s not snowing.

Characteristics of Solar Powered Heat Tapes

The power rating of the solar panel

Considering that solar heat tapes consume around 9W per foot of material, the solar panel should be rated 10-20 watts.

Installing heat tape on a lot of materials may require a large solar panel or several small panels.

Voltage

Depending on the brand, a solar-powered heat tape has a specifically recommended running voltage.

The standard voltage ratings for solar heat tapes are 12V, 24V, 36V, 48V, and 120V. The higher the voltage rating the more heat the solar tape can produce to warm up your materials.

Size

The size of the solar heat tape should be determined then the extent of the surface you want to freeze protect. The average size, though, is 1-20 meters (3-65ft).

Operating temperature

Solar-powered heat tapes should only run when the temperatures are below 32°F. Using solar heat tapes above these temperatures is dangerous, and it’s not even advisable since no ice will be forming on your materials.

Whether your solar heat tape comes with a manual toggle switch or an automatic timer and thermostat controller, you should always ensure that it’s switched off when the temperatures are below 32°F.

Flexibility

A good solar heat tape should be highly flexible, so it can be installed even on oddly shaped surfaces. You will typically use solar-powered heat tape on pipes, so it should be flexible enough to wrap around the cylindrical shape of pipes.

Cost

Solar-powered heat tapes can cost a lot upfront if you take into consideration the cost of the solar panel, batteries, MPPT charge controller, solar inverter, and the tape itself.

What’s interesting is that you won’t spend any money running the solar heat tape because it’ll be powered entirely by the sun.

As mentioned earlier, conventional heat tape consumes around 6-9W per foot per hour. If you run several hundred feet of heat tape in your establishment, you are likely to also increase the cost of your electric bills significantly.

The same can’t be said for solar-powered heat tapes.

Applications of Solar Powered Heat Tapes

At the home level, solar-powered tapes are used to guard roofs, roof gutters, garden hoses, PVC pipes, and gas line regulators against freezing in cold temperatures.

For commercial applications, solar heat tapes are used to maintain process temperatures, prevent materials from freezing and protect products that are sensitive to low temperatures.

A solar-powered heat tape can also be installed on the windshield of a vehicle to prevent the accumulation of ice during cold temperatures.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are solar-powered heat cables and how are they different from heat tapes?

Solar-powered heat cables are the stiffer variation of solar heat tapes. Solar heat cables can still be wrapped on conventional surfaces, such as pipes, but they can’t be used on irregular surfaces.

While solar heat tapes come in fixed lengths, heat cables can be cut to length and terminations added as needed. Solar-powered heat cables tolerate installation defects better than solar heat tapes hence are easier to install.

Can you leave solar-powered heat tapes plugged in?

Solar-powered heat tapes should be left plugged in only when the temperatures are below 32° F (0° C). Leaving heat tapes plugged in during high temperatures is wasting the solar you generated.

Of course, this isn’t a big deal like in the case of grid-powered heat tapes, but it’s not good practice to waste energy you’ve already produced. On the worse, fire incidents may happen when the temperatures get too high.

Do solar heat tapes work at night?

As long as there’s enough power to run the heat tape it’ll definitely work even at night. However, solar heat tapes aren’t effective at night and will just waste most of the stored power.

Therefore, you should turn on your solar-powered heat tapes during the day and turn them off at night. Setting up an automatic timer for solar heat tape can be helpful here.

Can a solar heat tape cause a fire?

Despite the usefulness of solar-powered heat tapes in preventing freezing problems on materials, they can cause fires if structural malfunctions happen.

Usually, the heat tape should be able to vary the temperature based on the existing outdoor temperatures. However, if the material is non-regulating and the temperature rises indefinitely, a fire can sparkle.

Therefore, it’s very important to turn off solar-powered tapes when the temperature is above freezing.

Conclusion

Solar-powered heat tapes provide electricity for heating materials in a cost-effective, efficient, and convenient manner.

If you have a gas well near your home or a factory you can use solar-powered heat tapes to guard the regulators against freezing and halting any daily processes that need gas.

People who live off-grid are most likely to benefit from solar heat tapes. If you’re used to climbing up your roof to broom away from the ice during winter, you can install solar heat tapes to save yourself all these hassles.

Install your solar-powered heat tapes today and you’ll never have to worry about icicles, ice dams, or any other cold weather-related problems such as water freezing in pipes.