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Evacuated Tube Collector

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Solar Evacuated Tube Collectors for Solar Hot Water

solar heating iconIn the previous tutorial we looked at Solar Flat Plate Collectors and saw that they consist of a blackened metal absorber plate and water pipes enclosed within a sealed glazed and insulated metal (or wooden) box. Pipes called riser, soldered to the absorber plate carry liquid that is heated by the sun and in a direct heating system, water is heated as it circulates through the panels to the storage tank. In indirect systems, the sun’s energy heats a glycol/water mixture that cannot freeze and which, in turn, heats the water in the tank.

While this type of solar hot water systems is cheap and easy to install, the problem with flat plate collectors is that they are “flat”. This produces one limitation to their efficiency as they can only operate at maximum efficiency when the sun is directly overhead at midday. At other times, the sun’s rays are striking the collector at varying angles bouncing off the glazing material thereby reducing their efficiency.

Solar hot water systems that use Evacuated Tube Collectors as their heat source overcome this problem because the solar collector uses individual rounded tubes which are always perpendicular to the sun’s rays for most of the day. This allows a solar hot water system using an evacuated tube collector to operate at a much high efficiency and temperature for a much longer period than a conventional single flat plate collector installed system. Also, another advantage of solar evacuated tube technology is that the weight and roof structural problems caused by standard flat plate systems are eliminated as the solar tubes are not filled with large amounts of heavy water.

Evacuated Tube Collector

roof mounted tube collector
An Evacuated Tube Collector

The Evacuated tube collector consists of a number of rows of parallel transparent glass tubes connected to a header pipe and which are used in place of the blackened heat absorbing plate we saw in the previous flat plate collector.

These glass tubes are cylindrical in shape. Therefore, the angle of the sunlight is always perpendicular to the heat absorbing tubes which enables these collectors to perform well even when sunlight is low such as when it is early in the morning or late in the afternoon, or when shaded by clouds. Evacuated tube collectors are particularly useful in areas with cold, cloudy wintry weathers.

So how do solar evacuated tube collectors work?. Evacuated tube collectors are made up of a single or multiple rows of parallel, transparent glass tubes supported on a frame. Each individual tube varies in diameter from between 1" (25mm) to 3" (75mm) and between 5′ (1500mm) to 8′ (2400mm) in length depending upon the manufacturer. Each tube consists of a thick glass outer tube and a thinner glass inner tube, (called a “twin-glass tube”) or a “thermos-flask tube” which is covered with a special coating that absorbs solar energy but inhibits heat loss. The tubes are made of borosilicate or soda lime glass, which is strong, resistant to high temperatures and has a high transmittance for solar irradiation.

Unlike flat panel collectors, evacuated tube collectors do not heat the water directly within the tubes. Instead, air is removed or evacuated from the space between the two tubes, forming a vacuum (hence the name evacuated tubes). This vacuum acts as an insulator reducing any heat loss significantly to the surrounding atmosphere either through convection or radiation making the collector much more efficient than the internal insulating that flat plate collectors have to offer. With the assistance of this vacuum, evacuated tube collectors generally produce higher fluid temperatures than they’re flat plate counterparts so may become very hot in summer.

Evacuated Tube Collector

evacuated tube collector

Inside the each glass tube, a flat or curved aluminium or copper fin is attached to a metal heat pipe running through the inner tube. The fin is covered with a selective coating that transfers heat to the fluid that is circulating through the pipe. This sealed copper heat pipe transfers the solar heat via convection of its internal heat transfer fluid to a “hot bulb” that indirectly heats a copper manifold within the header tank. These copper pipes are all connected to a common manifold which is then connected to a storage tank, thus heating the hot water during the day. The hot water can then be used at night or the next day due to the insulating properties of the tank.

The insulation properties of the vacuum are so good that while the inner tube may be as high as 150oC, the outer tube is cooler to touch. This means that evacuated tube water heaters can perform well and can heat water to fairly high temperatures even in cold weather when flat plate collectors perform poorly due to heat loss.

However, the downside of using evacuated tubes is that the panel can be a lot more expensive compared to standard flat plate collectors or solar batch collectors. Evacuated tube solar collectors are well suited to commercial and industrial hot water heating applications and can be an effective alternative to flat plate collectors for domestic space heating, especially in areas where it is often cloudy.

Evacuated tube collectors are overall more modern and more efficient compared to the standard flat plate collectors as they can extract the heat out of the air on a humid, dull overcast days and do not need direct sunlight to operate. Due to the vacuum inside the glass tube, the total efficiency in all areas is higher and there is a better performance even when the sun is not at an optimum angle. For these types of solar hot water panels, the configuration of the vacuum tube is what’s really important. There are a few different vacuum tube configurations, single wall tube, double wall tube, direct flow or heat pipe, and these differences can determine how the fluid is circulated around the solar hot water panel.

Heat Pipe Evacuated Tube Collectors

In heat pipe evacuated tube collectors, a sealed heat pipe, usually made of copper to increase the collectors efficiency in cold temperatures, is attached to a heat absorbing reflector plate within the vacuum sealed tube. The hollow copper heat pipe within the tube is evacuated of air but contains a small quantity of a low pressure alcohol/water liquid plus some additional additives to prevent corrosion or oxidation.

heat pipe collector

This vacuum enables the liquid to vapourise at very lower temperatures than it would normally at atmospheric pressure. When sunlight in the form of solar radiation hits the surface of the absorber plate inside the tube, the liquid in the heat pipe quickly turns into a hot vapour type gas due to presence of the vacuum. As this gas vapour is now lighter, it rises up to the top portion of the pipe heating it up to a very high temperature.

The top part of the heat pipe, and therefore the evacuated tube is connected to a copper heat exchanger called the “manifold”. When the hot vapours still inside the sealed heat tube enters the manifold, the heat energy of the vapour is transferred to the water or glycol fluid flowing through the connecting manifold. As the hot vapour looses energy and cools, it condenses back from a gas to a liquid flowing back down the heat pipe to be reheated.

The heat pipe and therefore the evacuated tube collectors must be mounted in such a way as to have a minimum tilt angle (around 30o) in order for the internal liquid of the heat pipe to return back down to the hot absorber plate at the bottom of the tube. This process of converting a liquid into a gas and back into a liquid again continues inside the sealed heat pipe as long as the sun shines.

The main advantage of Heat Pipe Evacuated Tube Collectors is that there is a “dry” connection between the absorber plate and the manifold making installation much easier than with direct flow collectors. Also, in the event an evacuated tube cracking or breaking and the vacuum becoming lost the individual tube can be exchanged without emptying or dismantling the entire system. This flexibility makes heat pipe evacuated tube solar hot water collectors ideal for closed loop solar designs as the modular assembly allows for easy installation and ability to easily expand by adding as many tubes as you want.

Direct Flow Evacuated Tube Collector

Direct flow evacuated tube collectors also known as “U” pipe collectors, are different from the previous ones in that they have two heat pipes running through the centre of the tube. One pipe acts as the flow pipe while the other acts as the return pipe. Both pipes are connected together at the bottom of the tube with a “U-bend”, hence the name. The heat absorbing reflective plate acts like a dividing strip which separates the flow and the return pipes through the solar collector tubes. The absorber plate and the heat transfer tube are also vacuum sealed inside a glass tube providing exceptional insulation properties.

direct flow collector

The hollow heat pipes and the flat or curved reflector plate are made out of copper with a selective coating to increase the collectors overall efficiency. This particular evacuated tube configuration is similar in operation to the flat plate collectors, with the exception of the vacuum provided by the outer tube.

Since the heat transfer fluid flows into and out of each tube, direct flow evacuated tube collectors are not as flexible as the heat pipe types. If a tube cracks or breaks it can not be easily replaced. The system will require draining as there is a “wet” connection between the tube and manifold.

Many solar industry professionals believe that direct flow evacuated tube designs are more energy efficient than heat pipe designs, because with direct flow, there isn’t a heat exchange between fluids. Also, in an all-glass direct flow construction the two heat tubes are placed one inside the other so the fluid being heated passes down the middle of the inner tube and then back up through the outer absorber tube.

Direct flow evacuated tubes can collect both direct and diffuse radiation and do not require solar tracking. However, various reflector shapes placed behind the tubes are sometimes used to usefully collect some of the solar energy, which may otherwise be lost, thus providing a small amount of solar concentration.

Other Considerations when using Evacuated Tube Collectors

Due to the sealed vacuum within their design, evacuated tube collectors can get very hot, exceeding the boiling point of water during the hot summer months. These high temperatures can cause significant issues in an existing domestic solar hot water system such as overheating and cracking of the evacuated glass tubes.

To help prevent this from happening in hot summer climates, bypass valves and large heat exchangers are used to “dump” the excess heat as well as mixer valves which mix regular (cool) water with the hot water, to ensure the temperature and pressure levels never exceed a preset limit.

Also, heat pipe collectors should never be exposed to direct sunlight without a heat transfer fluid flowing through the heat exchanger. Doing so will cause the empty heat exchanger to become extremely hot and which may crack due to the sudden shock once cold water begins to flow through it.

Even though evacuated tube collectors are capable of heating water to +50 degrees Celsius in the winter, the outer glass tube of an evacuated tube does not heat up like a normal flat plate solar collectors when in use. This is due to the inherent insulation properties of the vacuum inside the tube which prevents the outer heat tube from being cooled by the outside ambient temperature which can be well below freezing.

Thus in the colder winter months, these types of collectors can not melt away the large quantity of snow that falls on them at any one time which means clearing the snow and ice from the glass tubes daily can be a problem without breaking them.

Even if it is very snowy or very cold, enough sunlight will get through to keep the tubes well above freezing and still be able to preheat the water which can then be heated further by a standard electrical immersion heater or gas burner reducing the costs of heating the water in winter.

Evacuated Tube Collectors are a very efficient way of heating much of your hot water use just using the power of the sun. They can achieve high very temperatures but are more fragile than other types of solar collectors and are much more expensive to install. They can be used in either an active open-loop (without heat exchanger) or an active closed-loop (with heat exchanger) solar hot water system but a pump is required to circulate the heat transfer fluid from collector to storage in order to stop it from overheating.

In our next tutorial about Solar Heating, we will look at another way of heating water using a type of batch collector known commonly as an Integral Collector Storage system or ICS, and see how they can be used to both generate and store the solar hot water.

38 Comments » for Evacuated Tube Collector
  1. Peter Peter says:

    Thank you for this informative site.

    This may seem like a stupid question but …

    Will an evacuated tube system work upside-down ? That is … with the manifold at the bottom of the system ?

    My setup is to heat a fishpond in a garden and i would like to use smallest possible pump, hopefully powered directly by solar panel as described by an earlier contributor …

    If the manifold is at the bottom of the tube array then a small solar pump is feasible … water only needs to be lifted a few centimetres.

    I am not worried about a loss of efficiency … any contribution the system makes to warming the pond water is acceptable.

    • Evacuated tubes consist of an internal heat pipe which transfers heat from the attached absorber to the manifold. If the heat pipe is a solid rod or dry tube then it could be installed upside down as you have suggested. If the heat pipe is a wet type containing a liquid which vaporises due to the presence of heat rising upwards and then condenses back to a liquid in the manifold heat exchanger, then this type can not be inverted. Determine which type of evacuated tubes you have, dry or wet. Also with the manifold at the top and the tubes open at the bottom allows leaves, snow, or debris to easily slide down stopping them from getting stuck.

  2. Kristian Kristian says:

    Dear Administrator
    At what temperature is there a risk for the evacuated glasstubes to start cracking?

    • There are many different reasons why a tube may crack, such as stress, incorrect installation, vibration, type and thickness of glass, etc. and not just thermal shock

  3. cap cap says:

    i have a question about my solar collector – it’s a small one, just 10 4′ tubes, with antifreeze in the loop. ONE of the 10 tubes is clear… 9 of the tubes are covered with frost… what gives? obviously something is different somewhere, but what? the roof is slanted and covered with snow, so i’m not particularly motivated to go up and do any close checking!

    • RJM RJM says:

      It would appear that the one tube is compromised and lost the vacuum. The efficiency of the Evacuated Tubes is about 95% meaning very little heat escapes hence the frost on the other tubes. You just need to replace the glass tube!


    hello i live in montreal. i have oil heat and water radiators. i would like to install evacuated tubes on the south side (back yard) of my house. i have large shade trees . and a large apartment building shading me in summer, but in winter i get about five hours of direct sun due to trees being free of leaves in winter. my idea is to run a separate system from my existing radiators (because i think that cast iron is not rated for a pressurized system. i just want to get ‘some free heat’ when the sun shines, not replace the existing system or tie into it. i was thinking of having the system circulate into a large (200 gallon ?) tank (with glycol?). then have that tank either just sit in my basement and radiate out heat, or attache a network of copper pipes to the outside of the heated tank and do a heated floor circuit throughout the basement. can you advise me of a good supplier/ consultant/contractor in montreal

    • We do not live in Canada, therefore we can not recommend any supplier or contractor in Montreal.

    • Darel Darel says:

      Chris I have installed cast iron radiators to use the excess heat that is not needed for domestic hot water. You don’t have to have a high pressure system to run hot water through a radiator, and cast iron will withstand normal system pressure. I pressure tested my Radiators to 60 psi before installing them.

  5. Maja Maja says:

    hello, I’m building a small off-grid home in Denmark where it is very cold in winter. Therefore I’m looking for a heating system with vaacum solar panels. My idea is to combine them with a normal water radiator. What I’m hoping you can help me with, is if you have already designed heating systems, or if you know anyone else who has, that I can learn from?

    Looking forward hearing from you 🙂

    Regarda Maja

  6. Alan Maynes Alan Maynes says:

    Please have a salesman call me so that we can visit and I can ask some questions. I am very interested and motivated to install a hot water and space heating solar collector. I have a solar home and this is the last piece of the puzzle I need to be 100% solar.

  7. kristian rastas kristian rastas says:

    In winter months could there be a way to increase the efficiency of the evacuated tubes by putting a reflecting board or metal sheet underneath the tubes? so the sun rays which goes in between the tubes, hit this sheet and reflect back heat and light onto the tubes. And if possible which material would be best to use as a reflector?

  8. Abduldaem ABo alshamat Abduldaem ABo alshamat says:

    What might happen if we replace the water with oil ..

  9. Benson Mkindi Benson Mkindi says:

    very educative masterpiece.

  10. Carl Fromm Carl Fromm says:

    Are there any commercial designs available where overheating is controlled by an automatic shading of the collector as opposed to dissipating excess heat by circulating water (or heat transfer fluid) through an air-cooled coil ?

  11. h budayr h budayr says:

    Some tubes of the evacuated tube collector system for solar energy that i use at home in jordan keep cracking and exploding.why does this happen and what can i do to stop it or reduce the is time and money consuming.

    Thank you

    • Evacuated tubes are generally made of a thick double layered glass which are evacuated (hence the name) for providing insulation. The outer wall of the inner tube is coated with a heat absorbing material which helps transfer the solar heat to the water via heat pipes which can heat the water to very high temperatures, over 180 deg.C

      If you are experiencing cracking of the tubes, then they are subjected to stress, either mechanical, (mounting frame is twisted, not squared or even), vibration (wind force) or movement (lack of expansion from fixing clamps) for example, or extreme temperature differencies, too hot in the day or too cold in the night.

  12. Mitha Mitha says:


    I would like to know how many square meters of vacum heat pipe would i need for heating a house 100 squere meters large. And how eficiency is heat pipe system in fogy frezze conditions aproximatly -10 degre celzius?
    Thank you for your anwser
    Greatings Mitja

  13. Wayne Wayne says:


    I am doing a research project using evacuated tube collectors as a preheat device for water distillation. I was looking at the information you have about evacuated tube collectors and was wondering if I could get permission to use the images alt-36.gif and alt-37.gif from your website in my research paper.


  14. Marco Lima Marco Lima says:

    Hi, I understand that there are different variables such as water inlet temp, angle of panels etc but considering an ideal situation, what is the max temp range a panel can produce if heating a system fed storage tank (4-600 gal)? 150-160f?

  15. Salah Salah says:

    Hi guys:
    Can we make heat pipe(filled fully with water as fluid ) with single phase as in flat plate collector along with heat exchanger with storage tank above the heat pipes??

  16. tree tree says:

    I ԝas recommended this websіtе through my cousin. I’m not positive whether or not this put up is written viа him as nobody else underѕtand such detailed approximɑtely my trouЬle.

    You are amazing! Thanks!

  17. Hiralal Patil Hiralal Patil says:

    Really today I read entire information to understand the process of solar water system.
    Thanks & regards!
    Hiralal Patil

  18. Glen Glen says:

    Given that each tube works independently in my view is the winner for EVT.
    What I question is the following:
    If the heat transfer medium needs to be replaced on a flat plate collector due to degradation caused by heat, what is the frequency of replacement of a heat pipe??
    A sealed copper rod, not something that can be done by average Joe.

    • The life cycle of an evacuated tube will depend on many factors including design, materials used, working environment, etc. and is defined by the manufacturer but a life expectancy of 20 years plus is not unreasonable.

      Again, depending on design a complete evacuated tube assembly can be changed if faulty, ie, the glass tube cracks, but the heat absorbing rods and plates inside not, as its in a sealed vacuum.

      • Peter Machesney Peter Machesney says:

        Most vacumn tubes are Sydney type , therefore the heat pipe is removable . The vacumn is within the glass envelope.

  19. Joe Joe says:

    Evacuated tube collectors are surely of a bright future, especially that they collect and deliver high energy compared to any other solar system. I can imagine that in the future they will transfer the heat via graphine, since it is the best heat transporter known for now.
    But there is still an issue of how to efficiently compensate the high pressure when producing too much heat during the sunny summer times. If this issue is solved properly, it could make a breakthrough in solar efficiency and use.

    We share, because we care.

    • Abduldaem ABo alshamat Abduldaem ABo alshamat says:

      Hey man i think the valve could solve the problem and plus i saw a video on youtube that in order to prevent the fluid circulation from stopping and cause a failure someone connected the a DC water pump to a PV solar panel so that if there is sun there would be circulation if there isn’t .. there would be no circulation it’s really a brilliant idea

  20. M asad M asad says:

    Solar flat plate collectors consist of hardened metal, the drawback is that they can be more expensive compare to the pipe collectors. In addition, useful considerations have provided for solar usage of evacuated tube collectors. Then entire information is useful to understand the process of transferring hot water into the tube.

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