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Solar Thermal Already Goes Beyond Electricity

A professor at Australia’s Institute for Mineral and Energy Resources at Adelaide University was recently quoted as saying, “if we want to tackle the greenhouse gas emissions problem, we have to look beyond just electricity.” His comments were made in relation to a research project investigating the possibility of using solar thermal to replace electricity in mineral processing. Well, we have good news: solar thermal already goes beyond mere electrical generation.

Professor Graham Nathan is absolutely correct in principle. We have to look at every possible use of solar thermal if the technology is ever to reach its full potential. But it is important that we make one thing clear: generating electricity is not the only thing we are doing with solar thermal technology.

It is true that large solar thermal power generation plants exist in both the U.S. and elsewhere. It is also true that most of these plants use mirrors to concentrate solar energy on boilers that generate electricity by powering steam turbines. But the model used by these power plants does not constitute the only way to use solar thermal power. Solar America Solutions does something that is completely different but equally important.


Space Heat and Hot Water

Solar America Solutions was awarded a patent in 2015 for our SunQuest 250™ solar thermal collector panel. In awarding the patent, the government recognized the uniqueness of our technology along with the benefits it offers for renewable energy. In short, there is no other panel in the industry that does what the SunQuest 250™ can do.

When we install a system featuring our panels in a commercial building, that system can often generate all the space heat and hot water needed during the daylight hours. With appropriate storage on-site, unused energy can be preserved for use once the sun goes down. More importantly, a Solar America Solutions system can pay for itself in five years or less.

Another remarkable thing about our solar thermal solutions is that they do not require a huge amount of space to be cost-effective. One of our 25-bulb collectors offers 88 square feet of absorption space in an area that is just 3′ x 7′. A single collector is capable of developing 35,000 BTUs per hour and output temperatures upwards of 500° F. That is a lot of raw power in a very small space.

The SunQuest 250™ solar collector panel is the key to a highly efficient space heat and hot water system. Combined with our peripheral equipment and storage solutions, a Solar America Solutions system can significantly reduce the amount of money spent on thermal energy.

The Solar America Advantage

One last thing we want to point out is the advantage our customers have after installing a Solar America Solutions system. Unlike photovoltaic solutions and solar thermal based on concentrated solar panels (CSPs), our systems don’t rely on direct sunlight for energy absorption. We utilize an absorption material that collects energy from ultraviolet rays. That means the SunQuest 250™ continues absorbing and transferring energy even on cloudy days and does not need to “track” the sun.

That advantage is further enhanced by an evacuated tube design that is highly efficient. Evacuated tubes allow for very little heat loss under normal conditions; our use of evacuated tubes makes our systems among the most cost-effective in the industry.

We are thrilled to know that researchers in Australia are looking for ways to harness solar thermal energy for mineral processing. We have no doubt they will come up with a more than adequate solution. In the meantime, we want to remind readers that solar thermal already goes well beyond power generation.


ABC Australia –

German Data Shows Solar Thermal Can Cost Less than Oil and Gas

Data supplied by a German company to planners and installers shows that solar thermal costs less than oil or gas when providing space heat and hot water for large buildings of residential flats. The data is part of a comprehensive spreadsheet made available to the planners of new construction projects. More importantly, the data may be a harbinger of very good things to come for Germany’s solar thermal sector.

It should be noted that the data produced by Rhema, a subsidiary of the BDR Thermea Group, only applies to the energy used to generate space heat and hot water in multi-family dwellings. It does not necessarily indicate that solar thermal is better than gas or oil for every application. Having said that, what the data does show is very important.


Germany is currently in the midst of very high demand for solar thermal installations in response to the requirements of that country’s Renewable Energy Heat Act. According to Rhema officials, their data is important because builders and planners need to know that the solar thermal systems they are advocating actually perform up to expectations while also cutting costs. They want to be confident in the technology they are pushing.

Solar Thermal by the Numbers

Rhema’s data is based on an analysis of both installation and ongoing energy costs, compared to heating area, water usage, and the use of certain appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines. When a 20-year lifespan is assumed for associated equipment, solar thermal comes in at a cost of €43.3 /MWh. Gas-driven boilers come in at 60 eur/MWh while the cost of gas boilers is noted at €80 /MWh.

The data goes on to show cost savings over a 20-year span, comparing solar thermal installations with gas and oil. Solar thermal would save approximately €39,253 over 20 years with a combination of incentives and the use of some conventional heating components. Even without the incentives and components, the savings represented by solar thermal over gas and oil amount to approximately €23,755.

Solar Thermal for Commercial Projects

We find the German data to be very compelling due to the complex nature of deploying solar thermal for space heat and hot water in multi-family dwellings. We have some experience in this area, having installed our own patented SunQuest 250 systems in college dorm buildings. The two environments are similar enough to require common installation designs.

Using solar thermal in this way is a matter of installing solar collector panels on available roof space or land adjacent to the building in question. Obviously, roof space is preferred because it keeps the panels away from vandals and offers desirable open space for optimal UV ray exposure. The solar collector panels absorb the sun’s energy, transferring that energy to a thermal transfer fluid , which can then be moved into a heat exchanger for storage or to produce hot water or space heat.

Solar thermal is more effective for these kinds of applications than photovoltaic because it is exponentially more efficient. Rather than converting sunlight into direct current, solar thermal produces heat that can be used for many purposes.

Solar America Solutions’ patented SunQuest 250 solar panel collector is the workhorse of our highly effective solar thermal system. The collector panel is based on a proven evacuated tube design utilizing materials capable of capturing ultraviolet energy rather than having to rely on infrared (heat) rays from the sun. This means our collector panels can still produce maximum output even on cloudy and overcast days or on the coldest winter days.

The German data clearly shows solar thermal to be superior to gas and oil for some applications. It might be the right solution for your commercial or industrial building as well.


  • Solar Thermal World –

States Investing in Solar Thermal in Greater Numbers

Ask the average American to explain solar energy applications for small businesses and homes, and he or she is likely to immediately think of photovoltaic (PV) systems that convert direct sunlight into electricity. Chances are he or she has never heard of solar thermal energy, let alone understanding how it can be used to provide inexpensive space heat and hot water. Solar thermal in 2015 is where PV was 20 years ago, in in terms of consumer knowledge. However, it is light years ahead in terms of efficiency, productivity and usefulness. States are recognizing this in greater numbers, leading them to invest in solar thermal by way of tax incentives.

Minnesota is a good example of state investment. The Land of 10,000 Lakes recently decided to renew a solar incentive program that provides tax breaks to both small businesses and residential homeowners willing to invest in solar installations. The state Department of Commerce program known as the “Made in Minnesota Solar Incentive Program” has already funded more than 340 projects in its first year of operation. The state hopes to see the same level of success, or better, for 2015.

One of the most important parts of the Minnesota program is that it offers incentives in two ways. First, business owners and residents can take advantage of tax credits to be applied toward solar installations. Second, anyone in the program who generates excess electricity can earn up to $.30 per kilowatt-hour. Combined with energy bill savings, it could add up to quite a bit of money.

Combining Technologies

Minnesota’s solar incentive program is a bit unusual in that it rewards consumers for generating electricity – in addition to providing tax incentives for solar installations. To make the best use of this type of program, participants can combine technologies to provide maximum output. The place to start is a solar thermal installation for space heat and hot water.


Businesses and homes in Minnesota are prime candidates for solar thermal thanks to their cold winters. The solar thermal installation can provide plenty of space heat and hot water throughout the year, reducing the consumption of fossil fuels and grid-based energy significantly. A PV system can then be installed to augment the electricity needed in the structure. Excess energy can be returned to the grid to further reduce overall costs.

What We Do

The program offered by Minnesota is just one example of how the states are promoting solar energy solutions for small businesses and homes. At Solar America Solutions, we concentrate on solar thermal applications for commercial buildings. For example, one of our first projects involved the installation of a roof-mounted system at an Indiana correctional facility. Our system reduced the institution’s total energy bill by providing more than 50% of the space heat and hot water for a cellblock. The state corrections department was so impressed by the results that they are looking at contracting with us for future installations.

The idea behind solar thermal is to utilize energy from the sun to heat a thermal liquid, which can then be used to generate space heat and hot water. It is significantly more efficient than PV technology because there is very little loss of solar energy. What’s more, systems designed around our SunQuest 250 evacuated tube solar collector panel produce heat even on cloudy and overcast days and is not impacted by ambient temperatures.

The future of solar thermal is already here. We encourage you to check with your state to see what sorts of incentives exist for solar thermal installations. Solar thermal could be the perfect energy saving solution for your business, even without government incentives, because of its efficiency levels that exceed 96% efficiency.

  • Sources:
    SC Times –

Solar Thermal Not Catching on in Some States: Are Subsidies to Blame?

In the state of Minnesota, the 2014 subsidies for new photovoltaic installations have long since been exhausted. The fund for solar thermal subsidies still has $120,000 remaining, leading government officials to extend the program through the end of the year despite the previous deadline having already passed. So why the disparity? Could it be that subsidy inequities are to blame?

As with many other states, subsidies for solar thermal in Minnesota are subject to strict regulations that limit equipment manufacturers, installers, and even eligible geographic areas. In a day and age where natural gas and even propane is so affordable, businesses and individual consumers would rather continue using it for their space heat and hot water needs rather than investing in renewables. Those who do choose to invest in alternative energies tend to put their money into heavily promoted photovoltaic instead.

Made in Minnesota (MiM) program coordinator Kim Harvey says she would love to see more consumers take advantage of the funds MiM has available. She specifically mentioned agricultural operations using propane to heat barns during the winter. She said that solar thermal could go a long way toward supplementing winter propane and natural gas use, which, for agricultural purposes, can be significant.

Harvey went on to say that, qualifying commercial projects in Minnesota can receive rebates of up to $25,000 for the installation of solar thermal. MiM Is hoping to receive enough applications through the end of the year to use up the remaining money left in the fund for 2014. The program is making the money available for both commercial and residential applications.


Solar Thermal vs. PV

The subsidy inequities are likely just one contributing factor slowing down the adoption of solar thermal in states such as Minnesota. However, a misunderstanding about the differences between solar thermal and photovoltaic (PV) is also likely adding to the problem. We believe more people would be willing to embrace solar thermal if they understood the principles and efficiencies it brings to the table.

As you know, PV technology converts direct sunlight into electricity that can then be used for a variety of purposes. It is a useful technology for direct electrical generation, but it is highly inefficient and not nearly as cost-effective as it needs to be for a reasonable return on investment.

Solar thermal relies on energy from the sun to heat a thermal transfer fluid. That transfer fluid can then be used to generate space heat, provide hot water needs, or, even provide energy needed to power cooling systems. At Solar America Solutions, we concentrate on meeting space heat and hot water needs.

The advantage of solar thermal over PV is efficiency. According to, the most efficient PV cells on the market works at just over 21% efficiency. The average cell used in the U.S. for commercial and residential applications is 16% to 20% efficient. By contrast, the SunQuest 250 from Solar America Solutions operates at over 94% efficiency.

We achieve such a high efficiency rating by using advanced evacuated tube technology. Evacuated tubes suffer very little heat loss, so almost all of the energy captured from the sun goes directly to providing space heat and hot water. Making the SunQuest 250 collector panel even more attractive is the fact that it uses ultraviolet rays rather than direct sunlight.

Solar America Solutions has already designed and installed systems for agricultural operations, prisons, educational facilities, and more. We would appreciate the opportunity to explain how solar thermal can be put to work for you. Solar thermal can save you tremendous amounts of money on your monthly energy bills.

NC College Incorporates Solar Thermal into Competition Home

A North Carolina college spent months working with a French university to construct a unique house they planned to enter into the annual Solar Decathlon Europe 2014. The competition, which ran in late July and early August (2014), featured entries from colleges and universities around the world. As always, the various student groups came up with some pretty interesting ways to use solar energy to provide the power needs of residential homes.

The team from Appalachian State College and Université d’Angers implemented a variety of solar solutions, including evacuated tube solar thermal collectors to provide space heat and hot water. They used six collector panels, a storage tank, a heat exchanger, and a three-valve system to make it all work together. Furthermore, the solar thermal system was tied together with advanced computer software that tightly regulated distribution and monitored predetermined personal comfort levels.

Solar thermal was chosen for space heat and hot water because of its efficiency and cost-effectiveness. In a real-world setting, Solar America Solutions installations have shown the systems can pay for themselves within 3 to 5 years. The efficiency of solar thermal makes maximum use of the sun’s ultraviolet rays, while the combination of savings and overall cost of installation makes going with solar thermal affordable.


The Solar Thermal Process

The solar thermal process we use at Solar America Solutions is similar to what the American and French students put together for their competition house. That process starts with the collector panels. Rather than using parabolic mirrors to concentrate sunlight on a single point, we use evacuated tube collectors that absorb energy from the sun and immediately transfer it to a thermal liquid. That liquid is then transferred to a heat exchanger where the heat is extracted and either stored or immediately used to provide hot water or space heat.

The efficiency of the system is based on the evacuated tube collector panels. Evacuated tubes are highly efficient, allowing our systems to use 94% of the energy collected from the sun. There is very little energy waste compared to photovoltaic (PV) and concentrated solar panel (CSP) applications.

Both efficiency and output were critical to the university students and their competition home. With each year’s competition, the requirements become stricter as a way of forcing more innovation. For example, in 2010 teams were allowed 15 kW of electricity to meet the power needs of their homes. In 2014 that limit was reduced to 5 kW. With less electricity to work with, the teams needed highly efficient systems that required as little electricity as possible.

Technology for Today

Just as the students competing in the annual Solar Decathlon Europe are, we continue to research and develop better and more efficient solar thermal solutions. Having said that, the technology we have developed is very usable today. Our SunQuest 250 solar collection panel is the most efficient panel in the industry and the anchor of our installations.

To date, our SunQuest 250 systems have been installed in office buildings, correctional facilities, institutions of higher learning, and agricultural operations. In every case, clients have been extremely pleased with the results they have achieved with solar thermal. Many have come back to us for additional installations to meet their expansion goals.

Solar America Solutions is proud to be at the leading edge of solar thermal technology. We would love the opportunity to show you how solar thermal space heating and hot water can be achieved in your commercial or government building. With solar thermal, you can save a tremendous amount of money while also helping the environment.

Difference between Solar Electric and Solar Thermal

Down in Louisiana, state legislators are working on a bill that could see tax credits for solar energy being reduced over the next several years. Meanwhile, legislators up in New York recently passed legislation that would expand such tax credits. This seemingly confusing contrast in views comes down to something very simple: the difference between solar electric and solar thermal.

In both Louisiana and New York, the focus is on solar electric energy used to power homes and businesses. The principle behind solar electric is to use photovoltaic technology to capture energy from the sun’s rays and convert it to usable electricity. It is very good technology, indeed. However, there is a distinct problem in that photovoltaic conversion requires a decent amount of unblocked sunlight.

Photovoltaic power generation is notoriously unreliable in areas like New York where overcast days are a regular occurrence. That’s why solar electric hasn’t really taken off in the Empire State. Increasing tax credits is not likely to change that scenario. That said, embracing solar thermal might be the game changer New York is looking for.

The solar thermal principle, which is what the Solar America Solutions’ SunQuest 250 system is based on, takes advantage of the sun’s UV rays to generate heat. That heat can then be used to provide space heat and hot water, or even drive turbines that will produce electricity. The best thing about the SunQuest 250 solar thermal principle is that it does not require direct sunlight.

Where photovoltaic applications need direct sunlight, the SunQuest 250 evacuated tube solar thermal collector only needs the sun’s UV rays. And if you are not aware, UV rays penetrate cloud cover easily. That’s why it is possible to still be sunburned even on a cloudy day or even the coldest day on the ski slopes.  In fact, the SunQuest 250 works just as well in sub-zero weather as it does in hot summer weather because it is not relying on the heat from the sun (infra-red rays).

Already at Work

Solar thermal principles have already proven effective through installations like ours. We have installed our systems on a university campus, a state prison facility, and even a large-scale poultry farming operation. With every installation, our customers have realized tremendous cost savings by not having to use fossil fuel power sources for heat and hot water.

Solar thermal principles are also being used in California and in several places throughout Europe to generate electricity on a very large scale. Solar thermal collectors transform the sun’s energy into heat; heat that is then transferred to water in order to produce the steam necessary to drive turbines. It is an extremely efficient way to generate large amounts of electricity.

Consider the SunQuest 250 for Your Organization

What makes the SunQuest 250 so good is our evacuated tube system. Evacuated tubes are incredibly efficient, providing a tremendous amount of heat with very little energy loss and no moving parts. Our systems are extremely effective at providing heat and hot water with a very small footprint, using FREE energy from the sun.

We would be happy to show you how our systems could benefit your business or organization. While we are currently focusing on the hospitality, manufacturing, agricultural, educational, and government sectors our technology will work anywhere heat is needed. We believe solar thermal will save you a significant amount of money in relation to energy consumption.