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Posts tagged ‘Solar Thermal Collectors’

Solar Thermal Is a Process Heat Machine in Mexico and Chile

One of the first installations we ever worked on at Solar America Solutions involved fitting a poultry farm with a solar collector panel array and peripheral equipment to be used to power a second egg washing machine for their operations. Though that installation was technically for hot water only, you could make the case that we were providing process heat. Since then, we have worked on a number of projects directly involving process heat.

Given our involvement in solar thermal for commercial applications, you can understand how pleased we were to learn of a successful project in Mexico involving solar thermal process heat from mining operations. Yes, solar thermal technology is not limited exclusively to generating space heat and hot water for commercial buildings. It has many more applications limited only by the imagination of designers and engineers.

SunQuest 250

The Mexican project, which was based on a similar project installed in Chile in 2013, provides process heat for copper mining. The project consists of 39,300 m² of solar collector space and a 660 m³ storage tank. Installation was completed in early September. Project officials expect the installation to provide nearly all the process heat needed by the mine.

Learning from the Previous Example

Installation at the La Parreña mine in central Mexico was completed in partnership with the Gabriela Mistral mine in Chile. That earlier project was completed in 2013 and has since produced some 142,000 MWh of process heat for mining operations. However, there is a distinct difference between the two. The project in Chile is large enough to be considered an independent Energy Service Company, requiring it to be managed by a third-party partner. The Mexican installation is far smaller. The mine operators themselves can manage it.

Getting back to the solar thermal installation in Chile, it operates at a near break-even pace. In other words, the 142,000 MWh produced by the installation is almost identical to the amount of energy the mine has used over its 35 months of operation. What goes into the system goes out nearly entirely. It should also be noted that the plant generates a minimum of 80% of its own power at any given time. They have to if they want to avoid government fines.

How It All Works

The solar thermal technology deployed at the mines in Mexico and Chile is based on the same principle we use here at Solar America Solutions. Solar energy is captured by a collector panel that immediately converts it to heat energy and transfers it to a thermal liquid. That thermal liquid is then circulated through a heat exchanger before going back to the collector panels.

Heat from the exchanger can then be distributed in any number of ways. For the mining operations, it’s used mostly for electrolytic refining. In other industrial applications, it could be used to wash down equipment or parts, concentrate liquids, dry materials, or even wash eggs as demonstrated by our poultry farm project.

The potential of solar thermal is really limited only to space constraints. For the typical commercial office building, a rather small number of patented SunQuest 250™ solar thermal collectors installed on the roof would be sufficient for hot water and space heat. More area would obviously be required for industrial applications requiring space heat, water, and process heat.

For more information about solar thermal technology or our patented SunQuest 250™ solar thermal collector, please feel free to contact us anytime. We believe the future of renewable energy resides in solar thermal, and we want to get you on board right away.


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Simplicity Is Key to Solar Thermal Installation in Denmark

As a leading player in America’s solar thermal industry, we have heard all the arguments against renewable energy. The sun doesn’t always shine, the wind doesn’t always blow, and there is no way to depend on renewable sources to the same degree we can depend on fossil fuels. Well, officials in Marstal, Denmark have heard the same criticisms. That hasn’t stopped them from generating more than half of the heat required by a town of 2,300 via solar thermal.

Marstal is just one of a small number of communities occupying space on Aero Island off the southern coast of Denmark. It is a community that has long lived according to the dictates of the sea. It is a community that has long depended on nature to supply its most basic needs. So when they decided to embark on a solar thermal project to provide district heating, they were determined to make it work despite the region’s reputation for frigid weather. And work it does.


On the outside of town is a field with more area than six football fields, filled with solar thermal collector panels. Those panels are connected to a network of underground pipes through which flows water used to provide central district heating. The panels collect solar energy, then transfer it to a thermal liquid that is circulated through a heat exchanger. The extracted heat is then transferred to the water circulating through the system.

Year-Round Space Heat

So far you haven’t read anything that would suggest this installation is unusual. Still, you might be wondering how Marstal manages to generate 55% of its heat in an environment that gets limited sunshine during the winter months. They deployed a simple solution that has proven very effective. The Marstal heating project does not rely on anything other than an insulated, underground tank that holds water heated by solar thermal panels.

That’s right; something as simple as burying an insulated tank stores enough heated water to provide more than half of the space heat the town needs year-round. Obviously, it would be better to have a storage solution that could provide 100% of the heat, but that solution is not yet available. In the meantime, a system that provides 55% of the heat is remarkable. Even more impressive is the fact that it puts no additional strain on Denmark’s electrical system.

Denmark is a nation in which roughly 60% of the structures are connected to district heating. This is motivation for Danish officials to figure out how to provide cost-effective centralized heat without having to depend on fossil fuels. They have found that solution in solar thermal.

If They Can Do It in Denmark

It’s not unusual for us to hear that solar thermal is impractical for year-round space heat and hot water. We beg to differ. What many people don’t know is that our patented SunQuest 250®™ solar thermal collector doesn’t need direct sunlight in order to be effective. That’s why it generates energy even in the dead of winter.

Our solar collector panel utilizes evacuated tube technology along with an absorption material that captures ultraviolet energy instead of direct sunlight. That means our collector panel is absorbing solar energy even on cloudy and overcast days. With a properly designed system including efficient storage, an installation based on our patented SunQuest 250®™ solar thermal collectors can provide virtually all the hot water and space heat for your commercial building. If they can do it in Denmark on such a large-scale, we can certainly do it for your building as well.


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Nicaragua Says Yes to Solar Thermal Air Conditioning

When you think solar thermal, you typically think about space heating and hot water. So what would you say if we told you about a project in Nicaragua in which solar thermal will be used for air conditioning? Indeed, Nicaragua’s largest hospital complex just finalized an agreement this past September that will result in the installation of a monstrous 14,000+ square foot system to provide hot water and subsidize air conditioning.

The hospital is a 400-bed complex that broke ground in 2015. Some two years after the fact, hospital operators will be able to flip the switch on the new solar thermal system and immediately start saving a ton of money. They will spend upwards of $4 million on the system; the total building project is estimated to eventually cost $125 million.


Liquefied Gas Savings

Designers have created a system that will use energy from the solar thermal installation to provide nearly 100% of the hospital’s hot water and up to 40% of the air-conditioning. The hot water would normally be supplied by liquefied gas, which can be very expensive in Nicaragua, leading engineers to focus mainly on the hot water solution. As for the air-conditioning, solar thermal will supplement an existing electrical system.

They expect excess energy not consumed by hot water needs to be redirected in a way that reduces the load on the electric compression chillers that will handle the bulk of the air-conditioning. At peak efficiency, engineers expect solar thermal can contribute to between 30% and 40% of the energy needed.

To make solar thermal usable for air-conditioning, heat energy has to be used to generate the electricity compressors and chillers need to operate. One way to do that is through steam. However, officials in Nicaragua say that steam is the one thing not being replaced by solar thermal. Exactly how engineers intend to utilize the solar thermal installation is not known yet, but they will likely direct excess heat energy into an adsorption chiller system, much like a propane refrigerator uses.

The Potential Is Huge

At Solar America Solutions, we are always excited to hear about projects like this one. It shows us that the potential for solar thermal is enormous if engineers just put their minds to coming up with new ways to use it. A few years back, we published a blog post about a group of enterprising college students who developed an ingenious way to use solar thermal for air-conditioning without generating electricity. These are the kinds of ideas that are driving the technology forward.

Meanwhile, solar thermal is being used around the world to provide heat, hot water – and, yes even air-conditioning – in the largest of commercial buildings. Property owners are quickly waking up to the fact that solar thermal is incredibly efficient and cost-effective. Furthermore, a system utilizing evacuated tube collector panels is usable for nearly any kind of installation thanks to its high heat output with a remarkably small footprint.

Solar America Solutions’ patented SunQuest 250®™ solar thermal collectors are the most efficient collectors in the industry. With just a very small footprint required on a rooftop or land area, one of our solar thermal solutions can generate as much as 65% of the energy needed for your building’s hot water and space heat.Over the years, we have installed our systems in prison cell blocks, university dorms, and even a Midwest poultry operation.

Hospital officials in Nicaragua are impressed enough with the benefits of solar thermal that they’re willing to spend $4 million on it. They are doing it because they know it will work. So what’s stopping you?


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Setting the Solar Thermal Example in Argentina

The solar thermal industry is always looking for new ways to introduce our technology to property owners who would benefit from less dependence on fossil fuels for space heating hot water. Perhaps a more efficient solar thermal installation at the White House might help. A similar installation in Argentina seems to have done a great deal to encourage property owners there to invest in solar thermal.

The Argentine government has been hard at work drafting and approving legislation to promote solar thermal among commercial and residential property owners. Along with financial incentives and mandated solar water heating systems for public buildings, the government has been searching for other means to encourage property owners to adopt solar thermal. Argentine president Mauricio Marci eventually made the decision to order a 260-liter system to be installed in his home in Olivos.


The company responsible for installing the system explained to the media that they experienced a 50-fold increase in solar thermal inquiries just as a result of the publicity alone. Sales have doubled as well. In October, the company sold 600 systems, which will exceed anything they have done in the past should the robust sales continue. Prior to the presidential installation, the company averaged about 3,000 systems annually.

Other solar thermal companies are doing very well in Argentina as well. As many as 15,000 new solar thermal systems have been installed in each of the last two years, according to some estimates. More importantly, the installations are saving consumers money.

Energy Prices out of Control

It’s easy to see why solar thermal is gaining popularity in Argentina when you look at the cost of fuel in that country. Largely subsidized by government to this point, energy prices are expected to increase as much as 500% in some cities as the government phases out subsidies. The result has been one of property owners looking for alternative sources of energy before their utility bills start going up.

Solar thermal is one of the best solutions for space heat and hot water. A well-designed and promptly installed system can generate more than 60% of the space heat and hot water a commercial building requires. Right now, Argentina is focusing on solar thermal for public buildings in an attempt to reduce energy consumption at the commercial level. But it looks like more widespread adoption is occurring organically.

We Need a Good Example

Solar thermal in Argentina has the benefit of exploding energy prices to help drive it. Here in the U.S., energy prices have dropped dramatically in recent years creating an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ problem for solar thermal in many cases. We need a good example, a strong example the public can look at to see how beneficial solar thermal can be.

Over the years, Solar America Solutions has installed space heat and hot water systems incorporating our patented SunQuest 250®™ solar thermal collectors in various types of commercial and public buildings. We know how efficient the technology is. We know how much money our clients save by adopting solar thermal in place of fossil fuels. We firmly believe that if there were a way to put solar thermal at the forefront of the energy discussion, more property owners would take a serious look at it.

Perhaps a more efficient solar thermal installation at the White House would do the trick. But since that’s not likely to happen, our industry needs to find other ways to get the word out. The more solar thermal is adopted as a preferred renewable energy source, the better off we will all be.


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Australian Scientists Reach Solar Thermal Record

Scientists at the Australian National University have set a new record for solar thermal efficiency and in so doing have set the bar for future solar thermal development. According to various news outlets, the researchers were able to achieve 97% efficiency in converting solar energy into steam power. Earlier this year, the same researchers achieved a 34.5% efficiency in converting solar energy directly into electricity.

The Australian National University is well known for its excellent work in the field of solar energy, so few were surprised by their most recent accomplishment. That’s not to say there was no skepticism during the development of the project. In fact, some of the researchers were skeptical that the solar collector panel used to set the record would actually meet the projections engineers made when designing. But all turned out well in the end.

In this particular setup, the scientists used a giant, dish-shaped reflector to concentrate the sun’s energy on a high-powered collector unit, which heated up water and created steam to power an electric generator. Researchers attribute their high efficiency to the design of the dish reflector.


Why This Is Important

What the researchers in Australia have done is essentially the same thing we do at Solar America Solutions – at least in principle. The two main differences are the fact that they are dealing with large scale power generation meant to replace coal-fired and natural gas plants while we focus on rooftop installations for hot water, industrial process water, and space heat, and the fact that they are using a giant dish where our patented SunQuest 250®™ solar thermal collectors have an exceptionally small footprint.

What we share is the vision to use powerful solar energy to generate thermal energy that can be used for any number of purposes. This is why the Australian project is so important. It proves that solar thermal is incredibly efficient when harnessed in the right way and using the right equipment and strategies. Efficiency is indeed its greatest asset.

When you convert solar energy directly into electricity, there are some inherent limitations in both conversion and application. So while the 34.5% efficiency achievement earlier this year (2016) is impressive, it pales in significance when compared to the 96% efficiency we have achieved with solar thermal. When you are converting solar energy into commercial levels of thermal energy, the possibilities are nearly endless.

Hot Water, and Space and Process Heat

Australian researchers are looking at high-capacity power generation using solar thermal. Here at Solar America Solutions, we focus on commercial applications that provide hot water, space heat, and heated industrial process water. We are helping our customers save money by reducing the amount of outside energy they have to purchase to meet their needs. And we’re doing it with our patented SunQuest 250®™ solar thermal collector that is among the most efficient evacuated tube collectors on the market.

Where hot water and space heat are the focus, Solar America Solutions installations are perfect for hotels, office buildings, dormitories, government buildings, hospitals, educational institutions, and more. As for process heat, there are almost no limits. Wherever steam or hot water is used to drive industrial equipment or processes, solar thermal can be deployed. One of our earliest installations was at a poultry farm that required process heat and hot water for egg washing.

The future of solar thermal looks very bright thanks to the ongoing efforts of researchers and product developers. We look forward to seeing what the Australian researchers come up with next, even as we continue to develop our solar thermal technology here in America. If 97% efficiency is possible, how much closer can we get to 100%?


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In Costa Rica Solar Thermal Could Be an Economy Driver

In the U.S., we tend to think of solar water heating as a way to save a little money by generating some of our own power rather than relying entirely on the grid. We hardly ever think of solar thermal technology as something that could drive the economy and attract new businesses to local areas. In Costa Rica, things are a bit different. The economy of the Central American country is impacted heavily by electricity prices to the point that solar thermal could be an important factor in economic expansion by attracting new businesses to the region.

Costa Ricans currently spend an inordinate amount of money on electric service. Even worse, nearly 40% of the money spent is directly related to heating water for residential and commercial purposes. It is a lot of money by any standard, but things are exacerbated by the reality that demand for electricity has increased four times over the last two decades. This has led to a doubling of the price as well. Electric service is simply too expensive in Costa Rica.


High demand and the subsequent high prices hamper business in Costa Rica for obvious reasons. Yet certain kinds of businesses, such as manufacturing, find themselves in an even worse position. They end up paying more for their electricity once they reach a certain capacity every month, by way of additional surcharges for extra capacity. Higher electric bills for manufacturers make Costa Rica unattractive for new businesses. Solar thermal may be the solution.

New National Targets

In order to combat increased electricity costs in a nation where sunshine is ample, Costa Rica has established new solar thermal targets to be reached between now and 2030. For example, the targets call for a minimum of 10% of all residential properties to have domestic water heating systems powered by solar thermal. Targets are also in place for new builds and commercial facilities. Right now there are no official estimates as to the current solar thermal capacity in the country.

The Costa Rican government is offering the usual collection of incentives and credits in order to encourage people to adopt solar thermal for water heating. Interestingly enough, the incentives are not as critical in that country as they might be here. Why? Because solar thermal is already a big money saver when compared to the prohibitively high cost of electricity in Costa Rica.

Attracting New Business

A robust market for solar thermal in Costa Rica would definitely help to bring both prices and demand down. It would make it more affordable for residential owners to provide their own domestic water heating systems without spending a small fortune on grid electricity. And it would certainly be attractive to new businesses looking to establish new operations in Costa Rica. In short, solar thermal could be an economy driver in a country that business owners currently find unattractive.

We have seen firsthand how installing solar thermal collectors and water heaters can save a tremendous amount of money for commercial enterprises. At Solar America Solutions, commercial applications are what we specialize in. We know the enormous potential of solar thermal for water heating and space heat, having successfully installed our own systems in a variety of commercial buildings.

Solar thermal for commercial applications using our SunQuest 250 collector panel harnesses ultraviolet energy from the sun, eliminating the need for direct sunlight. Our customers save money by not having to purchase as much electricity for hot water and space heat requirements. And, in most cases, our systems pay for themselves within 3 to 5 years.


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Scientific Breakthrough Shows Solar Thermal Can Compete with Fossil Fuels

An important scientific breakthrough in Australia has proved, at least in theory, that properly applied solar thermal technology can compete with fossil fuels in the modern world. Researchers at the CSIRO Energy Centre have successfully used solar energy to create supercritical steam at temperatures and pressures high enough to drive turbines that would normally require fossil fuels to operate.

We believe this breakthrough is just as important to what we do on a small scale as it is to large-scale electricity production. After all, both involve harnessing the solar thermal concept to produce efficient, safe, and cost-effective renewable energy.

The Australian researchers accomplished their breakthrough by concentrating solar energy with a series of high-powered mirrors. They were able to generate enough heat to produce steam at a temperature in excess of 1,000°F and pressure of 23.5 megapascals. If you do not know what those numbers mean, it is safe to say that the high temperature and pressure is more than enough to drive electricity generating turbines at a large-scale power plant.

The breakthrough is important when you consider that today’s solar thermal power generation projects rely on sub-critical steam at lower temperatures and pressures. Sub-critical steam just does not have the raw power to force electric turbines to reach their capacity. Supercritical steam does.

So what does this mean to Solar America Solutions and our industry? It is further verification that solar thermal can compete with fossil fuels. We are already competing, though not on the scale needed by the standard power plant. Nonetheless, the energy our SunQuest 250 produces is enough to provide most, if not all, the space heat and hot water your commercial building requires.


The SunQuest 250

The SunQuest 250 solar collection panel is currently capable of producing up to 35,000 BTUs per hour and 475°F. Yes, we do have a long way to go before we reach the supercritical temperatures achieved by the Australian researchers. However, even at current levels, our solar thermal collector system is more than adequate for its intended purposes.

We can equip your commercial building with a system custom-designed for your needs. As an example, we installed one of our earliest systems at a poultry farm looking to replace its older, boiler-based system for washing eggs. The SunQuest 250 more than met the expectations of the farm’s operators. They contacted us and asked us to come back when it was time to expand their facilities further.

Solar America Solutions has provided solar thermal collectors and heating systems for a variety of institutions, including correctional facilities and college dormitories. Regardless of the size and scope of your commercial building, we can design and install a system more than capable of providing for your hot water and space heat. Most of our customers save enough to pay for the system within 3 to 5 years, and often less than that! After that, all of that savings from the system that has a life expectancy of over 25 years, goes back into your company coffers. The savings is typically more than 50% of the customers fuel costs.

What has been accomplished in Australia is just the tip of the iceberg for solar thermal. One thing is clear: solar thermal can compete with fossil fuels on both small and large scales. The next task for the researchers in Australia is to find a way to make their idea commercially viable. Our task at Solar America Solutions is to continue working on the SunQuest 250 to make it even better.

Net Metering Policy Changes Approved by California Senate

Supporters of solar thermal collectors and the SunQuest 250 have received a real boost this week as California’s state Senate approved a bill aimed at restructuring electric rates and ensuring those in the state that have embraced renewable energy continue to be paid for the excess power that they feed into the grid.

Amendments to the California Utilities bill, AB 327, approved by the Senate on September 9th, are set to create a stable economic environment for the solar industry as a whole and have been welcomed by everyone involved with solar energy.

“This bill, with the amendments, at its core, removes numerous artificial regulatory barriers to solar adoption, said Bryan Miller, president of The Alliance for Solar Choice to Clean Energy Authority.


solar energy

The passed bill resolves a long-standing feud between utility companies and the solar industry over the management of net metering. Utilities are of the belief that solar thermal collector panel customers that are credited with the full rate of electricity that they put back into the grid does not fully compensate the companies that provide them with the infrastructure and is too costly to keep up. Conversely, solar leaders argue that net metering does not reflect the true value of solar energy and the infrastructure investments that this renewable energy source saves the utility companies.

Clean Energy Authority says that the amendments accomplish four solar industry goals:

1. Lifting the suspension of net metering in California that will happen as part of the current law at the end of 2014.

2. Removing uncertainty about how the current 5 percent net metering cap is calculated.

3. Providing a framework to allow net metering even after utilities reach 5 percent of their peak load.

4. Removing the 33 percent limit on renewable energy generation inherent in the language of the state’s renewable energy portfolio standard.

SunQuest 250 customers to benefit

What the new bill does is supports the growth of solar energy in the state of California, and Solar America Solutions customers are the people that will benefit most. The SunQuest 250 solar thermal collector panel is most advanced and efficient product of its kind and is fully scalable to be suited to both domestic and commercial applications.

With the amended AB 327 bill in place, customers can now reap the benefits of SunQuest 250 more than ever before, and the fact that Solar America Solutions’ manufactured evacuated tube collectors are proven to produce 30,000 BTUs (British Thermal Units) per hour, means that owners can get a level of efficiency that is greater than any other type of solar collector currently on the market. This means more energy, greater savings on bills, and extra money in your pocket.

The bill will become law following a signature from Governor Jerry Brown and more states could follow the lead of California in paving the way for the long-term success of solar energy.
The future in the Golden State is looking bright and, with our solar thermal collectors, brightness equals energy – lots of it!

Reducing Energy Consumption with Solar Thermal Collectors

Last fall Solar America Solutions embarked on a pilot program in partnership with the Indiana Department of Corrections to reduce the energy consumption at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility using solar thermal collectors. The Carlisle, Indiana facility was fitted with 15 SunQuest 250 collectors to be used to provide heat and hot water to a brand-new cellblock.

The results of the pilot program were to be compared with traditional energy usage with the intent of utilizing the SunQuest 250 system on the remaining cellblocks and possibly several other building at the facility. The project at Wabash Valley is just one example of how Solar America Solutions is putting its technology to work in real life applications.

Based on December’s results, Wabash Valley Correctional Facility will be able to reduce its gas energy consumption by more than 50%. That represents a huge savings not only to the Department of Corrections, but also for the taxpayers at large. That can’t be a bad thing.

The Secret to the SunQuest 250

For generations, American companies and researchers have been developing a variety of ways to use solar thermal energy (heat) as a supplement to more traditional energy sources. However, we have never been able to use solar heat on a large-scale basis due to fundamental limitations of traditional technology. The SunQuest 250 changes all that by altering the way the sun’s energy is harnessed.

Rather than using traditional infrared principles, Solar America’s SunQuest 250 employs an evacuated tube solar thermal collector panel powered by ultraviolet rays; herein is the first advantage. Since ultraviolet rays penetrate cloud cover, and are not affected by ambient temperatures, the system works even on cold and cloudy days. There is no longer a need for bright sunshine to achieve productive solar energy.

The other secret to the success of the SunQuest 250 system are the evacuated tubes. When the sun’s UV rays penetrate the dark film inside the vacuum tubes, heat (and lots of it) is generated by friction.  That heat is sent to the collector’s header where it is passed on to a circulating transfer fluid that delivers the heat to a highly insulated thermal storage tank. The vacuum environment in the tubes prevents heat transfer loss for an extremely efficient and productive result.

Eight Powerful System

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the SunQuest 250 system is its raw power. Just a single evacuated tube solar thermal collector panel is capable of generating tremendous amount of heat energy. But the scalable system allows additional panels to be added for almost limitless potential.

Today it is the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility; tomorrow the system could be deployed on vast college campuses, large-scale government facilities, and even commercial power generation plants. Solar thermal principles take electrical and heat generation to the next level on a scale that was unthinkable just two decades ago, and Solar America Solutions is concentrating its development efforts on large-scale application using free heat from the sun!

Solar America Solutions is thrilled to be able to offer the SunQuest 250 system to government agencies, hospitals, schools, and manufacturers. We believe the technology behind solar thermal collectors is the next great leap in solar energy. We are happy to lead the way into the future.