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Posts tagged ‘solar thermal systems’

UK Rail Station Experimenting with Solar Thermal

At the Birmingham International railway station in the heart of England, millions of passengers every year make their way through a vast concourse on their way to and from their trains. That concourse includes restaurants, cafés, shops, public seating areas, and restrooms. It is now getting an energy upgrade thanks to a pilot program designed to test the viability of solar thermal for providing the hot water the rail station needs to operate every day.

The Birmingham pilot is a little bit different in that initial plans don’t call for the solar thermal system to be the exclusive provider of hot water to the station and its tenants. Instead, the solar thermal system will preheat water coming in from the city’s main supply before sending it on to the rail station’s dual gas-fired boilers that will finish the job.


That said, a successful test of the system may lead engineers to switch exclusively to solar thermal and use the gas fired boilers only as a supplement when necessary. But that decision is still some time in the future. For now, they want to see how well solar thermal works for the purposes they have intended.

Using Evacuated Tube Solar Collector Panels

Like all other highly efficient solar thermal systems, the star of the show in Birmingham are the ten evacuated tube solar collectors mounted on the rail station’s roof. These collectors absorb solar energy from ultraviolet rays, then transfer that energy to a thermal liquid. The benefit of this system is efficiency. An evacuated tube loses very little energy in the transfer process, so almost all the energy absorbed is sent into the system.

The heated thermal liquid is forwarded to a heat exchanger where heat energy is extracted before returning to the collector panel. Extracted heat can either be stored or used immediately to heat water. In principle, the system is rather simple.

Engineers in Birmingham have decided to use their system to preheat a mains water supply that enters the property at roughly 10°F. Water temperature should be as high as 95° before leaving the solar thermal system on the way to the gas-fired boilers. They will increase the input temperature of the water to 140°. But here’s the thing: the solar thermal system should be able to push the main water to 140° or higher during the warm summer months all by itself, eliminating the gas-fired boilers.

Throughout the pilot program, a heat meter will keep track of the system and analyze its benefits and financial savings based on the UK’s Renewable Heat Incentive program. If the system proves successful – and there’s no reason to believe it will not – we can easily see similar systems installed at rail stations around the country.

Solar Thermal Is Where It’s At

For years, our focus for solar energy has been on systems that convert sunlight directly into electricity. While these systems have proven their worth in some areas, they have not proven to be as efficient and cost-effective as solar thermal for space heat and hot water. In short, solar thermal is where it’s at.

The Birmingham International rail station is on the verge of learning how beneficial solar thermal can actually be. But they are by no means the first. Here at Solar America Solutions, we have already been part of numerous installations at all kinds of commercial and government buildings. Throughout the U.S., countless property owners have come to realize that the best way to provide space heat and hot water using renewable energy is to go solar thermal.


  • Modern Building Services –

Solar Thermal for Space Heat and Air-Conditioning?

We are intimately familiar with solar thermal energy being used to create space heat and hot water. In fact, our patented SunQuest 250®™ solar thermal collector is one of the best tools on the market for designing solar thermal systems that pay for themselves in short order. But what about using solar thermal for air-conditioning? It’s possible, as evidenced by a brand-new project now underway in Nicaragua.

A report from Sun & Wind Energy magazine claims that a hospital in Managua, Nicaragua has ordered nearly $4.5 million in equipment and services from an Austrian company contracted to install a solar thermal plant on hospital grounds that will provide hot water and energy for air-conditioning. The project is being funded via a soft loan put together by a number of international partners. The United Nations Industrial Development Organization and National Cleaner Production Centre of Nicaragua are also involved in the development of the project.


The target of the project is Hospital Militar Dr. Alejandro Dávila Bolaños, the largest hospital in Nicaragua with 400 beds. The ultramodern facility was opened in 2015 in Nicaragua’s capital with built-in plans to make it as energy efficient as possible as new technologies became available. Adding the solar thermal plant will be the first major upgrade to the hospital since it opened.

A Major Rooftop Installation

Solid is the Austrian company that has obtained the contract to install the system in Nicaragua. Plans call for a solar thermal plant with 4,450 m² of collector space on the roof of the hospital. If all goes according to plans, the completed installation will provide all of the hot water needed throughout the facility while also contributing significantly to air conditioning.

Solid may have won the contract in part because of their reputation and experience. They have been part of more than 300 projects globally, and their reputation for successful implementation of solar thermal technology most definitely precedes them. Project officials believe the Nicaraguan installation will not only save the hospital money, but it will also reduce its emissions by up to 1,100 tons of CO2 annually.

Adapting Solar Thermal to Air-Conditioning

The idea of using solar thermal as a power source for air-conditioning is not something we talk about a lot in this country. Applications here are mainly for space heat and hot water – primarily because the heat generated by solar thermal systems is easily transferable for these applications. However, adapting solar thermal for air-conditioning is no harder than adapting it to process heat.

For example, let’s say we designed a rooftop installation consisting of SunQuest 250™ solar thermal collectors, thermal heat exchanger units, and storage tanks. All of the thermal energy produced by the system could be transferred to space heating equipment or water heaters in a standard installation. But it could also be used to generate energy that would power air conditioners.

We are not privy to the details necessary to describe exactly what the plans are in Nicaragua, but we cannot imagine the system would be too complicated. Solar thermal energy production is flexible enough that it can be used in a wide variety of applications. Providing power for air-conditioning is just one of them and both adsorption and absorption chillers that convert heat to commercial air conditioning have been in use for many years. We would like to see solar thermal collectors being used as the primary heat source for that application on a more wide-spread basis.

We look forward to seeing how the Nicaragua project works out. According to Sun & Wind Energy, similar projects funded by international soft loans are planned for other parts of the developing world as well. Right now is a great time to be part of the emerging solar thermal industry.


1.Sun & Wind Energy Magazine –

Solar Thermal: Can the ESCO Model Work Here?

Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) in the U.S. endeavor to save customers money by guaranteeing lower pricing structures over a set period. These companies do not produce energy themselves; they install and pay for energy saving equipment and processes for their customers then pay the monthly utility bills for them, at a rate that should be lower than they would have been without the improvements. Their customers then pay them a monthly rate that is derived from taking an average of what their energy bill would have been without the improvements. The ESCO then makes a profit on the difference and the customer gets a fixed energy price and free improvements to their systems. Since ESCOs were introduced into the U.S. market, there has been plenty of debate over whether or not they indeed offer significant savings.

In other parts of the world, ESCOs are starting to develop models that include generating energy through solar thermal. The question we are looking to answer is how the ESCO model can best take advantage of the fuel savings realized by installing solar thermal systems for their customers. We think it can be significant and, in fact, we are working with our first ESCO project now and they are monitoring the results. We are confident that this test will open many future commercial applications for ESCOs that utilize our SunQuest 250 evacuated tube solar thermal panels for their business model.


What They Are Doing

Spain offers an excellent example of how ESCOs in other countries are using solar thermal to generate energy. Rather than just purchasing energy from utility companies, ESCOs are building their own solar thermal installations, metering the energy they produce, and then selling the energy to customers for the purposes of providing space heat and hot water. It is a very popular option in Spain for hotels and nursing homes. Some ESCOs are also deploying solar thermal for large, multi-unit residential buildings.

Making it all possible is a government program that provides low-interest loans to ESCOs. To date, the program has loaned some €2 million to ESCOs willing to install solar thermal systems. The funding has provided for 42 registered companies that have thus far completed 18 projects. The Spanish government says there is still €3 million available under the program. It is possible the program could be extended if all of the money is used in the future.

Bringing the Model Here

Solar America Solutions believes the model being used in Spain and elsewhere is very workable in the U.S. The biggest hindrance seems to be financing and consumer buy-in. While solar thermal installations are not excessively expensive, they are not yet mainstream enough to be an obvious consumer choice. However, we believe the benefits of new and efficient solar thermal panels will gain public interest and will become a key component to ESCO’s energy saving options.

Once a solar thermal system is paid for, it becomes a pure profit generator year after year. The amount of energy that could be saved would more than pay for future equipment upgrades while still generating significant profits for the ESCO.

At the customer level, greater savings could be realized through static energy costs. ESCOs are already built on the model of providing improved energy-saving systems at no charge and assuring their customers that their energy costs will remain stable for the next 20+ years. Customers would pay less be able to budget their energy costs without having to hedge against unanticipated energy cost increases.

Solar America Solutions could be a huge part of this model if ESCOs could be convinced to take a serious look at it. Our SunQuest 250 evacuated tube solar panel provides a very powerful base on which to build an efficient and cost-effective thermal energy system. Just a single SunQuest 250 is capable of producing over 30,000 BTUs per hour and stagnation temperatures as high as 490°F. Even more important is the fact that the panel does not require direct sunlight. It utilizes ultraviolet rays instead, so it performs quite well even on cold, cloudy and overcast days.

We believe solar thermal can be a viable platform for ESCOs to produce energy. Let us hope the model catches on here in the United States.


  • Solar Thermal World –

3 Reasons Plastic Solar Collectors Will Probably Not Catch on

Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems has been working on a solar collector panel made from extruded polypropylene. The idea behind the plastic collector panel is to bring down the cost of solar thermal installations for commercial, industrial and residential systems. Researchers at the Institute believe they can produce a low cost workable panel under a program known as the ExKoll project.

At first glance, it might appear that a plastic solar collector panel would have plenty of potential for solar thermal systems on a budget. However, the technology is just not there yet. There are inherent problems with the German model that will prevent it from catching on until such time as these are corrected. Those problems are:

1. Lower Productivity

The ExKoll prototype is a 31.5” x 63” plastic panel that includes a back made of multiple double walled plastic sheets. The bad news is that the panel’s design limits productivity – it produces 20% less usable energy compared to the best collector panels currently on the market. Even with a price tag as much as 25% lower than the least efficient conventional flat-plate solar thermal collector panels, the overall savings of a system using the ExKoll panel would be offset by lower thermal productivity. Comparing the panel with competing products on a cost-to-benefit ratio shows very little benefit from using the plastic collector.


2. Lower Efficiency

The physical componentry of the ExKoll panel can withstand temperatures of a maximum of only 250°. Therefore, using the collector in sunny environments such as Florida, Arizona and Southern California could prove challenging to be far to limiting for any commercial applications and most residential applications. Researchers addressed potential overheating problems by building into their design a system that offers controlled heat loss. Simply put, the panel dumps stored heat into the environment when temperatures get too high. Nevertheless, what is the point of harnessing the sun’s energy if it has to be released as heat into the atmosphere? A plastic collector panel incapable of withstanding high temperatures is one with an efficiency rating that does not inspire investor confidence.

3. High Installation Costs

A lack of adoption makes the plastic solar collector panels a bit more expensive to purchase and install at the current time. Moreover, while prices would likely come down as a result of wide-scale adoption, there is no compelling reason for the solar thermal industry to take a serious look at current offerings. The industry gets greater production and efficiency out of the panels it has been using for years.

Until substantial improvements are made to the plastic solar collector model, we cannot see any future for this type of collector. To the contrary, we believe the future of solar thermal applications rests in the evacuated tube design. Evacuated tubes are highly efficient and capable of impressive production. The characteristics of evacuated tube technology are that which led Solar America Solutions to base our SunQuest 250 on it.

The SunQuest 250 requires just 3′ x 7′ of installation footprint space to establish 88 ft.² of solar absorption space on the roof of an industrial or commercial building. Developing temperatures of nearly 500 degrees on sunny days and over 300 degrees in the worst weather conditions, our solar panels are capable of producing enough energy to meet your hot water or space heat needs while saving you significant amounts of money through reduced reliance on fossil-fuel energy, usually paying for themselves in less than five years.

While researchers in Germany continue looking at ways to improve their plastic solar collector panel, Solar America Solutions will keep deploying the SunQuest 250 in commercial and industrial buildings across America. Contact us to learn more about how one of our solar thermal solutions can benefit your organization or business.


Sun Wind & Energy –

Chinese Pricing on Evacuated Tubes Causing Market Confusion

As solar thermal technology becomes more popular for space heat and hot water, China is emerging as a major supplier of the evacuated tubes used to create solar thermal collector panels similar to the SunQuest 250 from Solar America Solutions. Unfortunately, recent changes in China’s export duty policy are causing confusion in the marketplace. Some Chinese companies are being charged the 17% export duty while others are not.

The confusion boils down to how Chinese manufacturers code their evacuated tubes prior to export. Tubes coded as components to be used in water heater systems are exempt from the export duty. Tubes coded under other classifications, such as glass products for example, are subject to the tax.

The largest of China’s manufacturers are electing to go with the water heater classification in order to keep their prices as low as possible. Some of smaller companies are not able to get away with that because they are selling to customers that might not necessarily be using the tubes for water heater systems.

Manufacturers are obviously troubled by the new coding system they have to deal with. Some have been in business for 10 years or longer, consistently exporting their products under the old water heater system classification. Being told by customs to use the newer code means an automatic jump in their pricing by at least 17%. Smaller companies affected by the export duty say they are already losing business to the larger companies still being allowed to continue under the old classification.


As to why the coding system is being applied differently in various parts of China, no one really knows for sure. However, some speculate the Chinese government is trying to encourage customers to purchase complete solar thermal systems rather than just evacuated tubes. Most of the Chinese products are going directly to India where the burgeoning solar thermal market is big business. Complete systems exported to India are free from the export duty as well as India’s 12.85% import duty.

International Competition Is Good

The market confusion in China does not have a huge impact on solar thermal here in the United States yet. Nevertheless, there is still an important take away here. The fact that we are even talking about export duties on evacuated tubes used for solar thermal systems shows that the market is strong enough to encourage international competition.

Companies would not invest so much money in solar thermal components if there were no future in it. The fact that so much money is involved shows how strong the future of solar thermal is. We believe it is strong enough that solar thermal will eventually become one of the standards for renewable energy options.

The strength of solar thermal energy production is its efficiency. Solar thermal energy is very simple in terms of design, making it possible to produce a significant amount of heat energy with very little loss. That is where the evacuated tube comes into play. Absorption material within the evacuated tube collects energy from ultraviolet rays and transforms it into heat energy. The efficiency of the evacuated tube allows nearly all of that energy to be directed toward generating space heat and hot water at more than 90% efficiency.

Solar America Solutions uses the latest in the evacuated tube technology to manufacture our industry-leading SunQuest 250 solar collector panel. Each of our panels is capable of generating up to 35,000 BTUs per hour, at temperatures of up to 475° F. One of our systems can produce hot water and space heat for your commercial building at a fraction of the cost of conventional power sources.

New Australian Product Shows Power of Solar Thermal

Solar thermal energy got a big boost in the “Land Down Under” when the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) got behind a new project aimed at combining photovoltaic and solar thermal technologies into a single package. The new system, developed by a company known as Bluescope, still has a long way to go before it is ready for commercial use. However, it has shown great promise so far.

The technology is based on a concept known in the industry as Building Integrated Photovoltaic Thermal (BIPVT). It aims to combine photovoltaic for electrical generation with solar thermal for heat and hot water. Research and development in this area is focused on creating a combined product that could be deployed via a single installation.

The reason for incorporating solar thermal is directly related to the inherent weaknesses of photovoltaic. In other words, a photovoltaic system converts energy collected from direct sunlight into electricity. Nevertheless, the technology is incredibly inefficient – so much so that a photovoltaic system is unusable for generating hot water and space heating. Solar thermal is completely different.

A solar thermal system, like the SunQuest 250 evacuated tube solar thermal collectors manufactured by Solar America Solutions, collects energy from ultraviolet rays and uses it to heat water or some other type of thermal liquid. The incredible efficiency of solar thermal technology makes it a very powerful system for producing space heat and hot water. In theory, it could also be used to generate electricity if collection and storage were adequate.

Solar Thermal Is the Future

We are thrilled to see solar thermal be part of the BIPVT strategy in Australia. We believe solar thermal is superior to other solar power systems, thanks to its efficiency, capacity, and cost effectiveness. We also believe that solar thermal is the future of affordable green energy solutions.

Solar America Solutions has invested in solar thermal by designing and building our revolutionary SunQuest 250 solar collection unit. The collector panel is based on the evacuated tube principle that results in incredible efficiency and unbelievable temperatures. Imagine having a solar collection unit that can deliver up to 35,000 BTUs per hour while creating temperatures of as much as 475°F. That is a lot of heat that you could put to use for hot water, radiant floor heating, or space heating.


To date, Solar America Solutions has successfully installed SunQuest 250 systems at facilities ranging from college dormitories to state prisons to agricultural operations. In fact, one installation we are especially proud of was deployed in a new cellblock at a state correctional facility in Indiana. We installed the system with promises of savings high enough to pay for the system in just a couple of years. Correction officials were so impressed with the actual results that they asked us to come in and perform additional installations in the future. Indiana correction administrators communicated the success of their project with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction which has now resulted in the largest (non-utility) solar thermal project in North America, incorporating 400 SunQuest 250 collectors to supply hot water and space heat to eight cell blocks at the Ross Correctional Facility in Chillicothe, Ohio.

How It Works

The main difference between how photovoltaic and solar thermal works boils down to one thing: how usable energy is created from the sun. A solar thermal system, like the SunQuest 250, traps heat generated by the sun’s ultraviolet rays in an evacuated tube. That intense heat is then transferred, by way of a thermal liquid, to a heat exchanger inside the building. The heat can be used to furnish hot water or space heat.

With the right storage, any excess energy not used during daylight hours can be stored for overnight use. This makes solar thermal energy far superior to photovoltaic for its intended purposes. At Solar America Solutions, we do not believe there is a better way to produce reliable and inexpensive renewable energy. We invite you to contact us or one of our dealers so we can show you how solar thermal can work for you.

Beating the Weather with Solar Energy

What is enemy number one for traditional flat plate solar thermal energy collection? Lack of direct sunlight. Flat plate collection panels work well on clear, bright, sunny days; they become virtually useless in cloudy and cool weather. However, with Solar America Solutions’ new evacuated tube solar thermal collectors, it is possible to beat the weather.

The Solar America SunQuest 250 system depends on an evacuated tube solar thermal collector panel to harness the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) energy and transfer it to thermal energy. The highly efficient system is reliable, powerful, and fully scalable. That means it can be used on a small scale for residential homes or for large-scale industrial and commercial applicaitons.

SunQuest 250 by SolarAmerica Solutions

The Difference between Flat Plate and Evacuated Tube Solar Thermal

There are two primary differences between traditional flat plate technology and the SunQuest 250. The first of those differences lies in the way the sun’s energy is captured. Flat plate systems take advantage of what is known as “infrared” (the heat you feel on your skin) to generate heat. Because it captures only infrared rays this type of system is not very dependable without direct sunlight.

The evacuated tube solar thermal collector panel used by the SunQuest 250 depends on ultraviolet rather than infrared rays. The advantage of ultraviolet rays is the fact that they penetrate cloud cover and are not affected by the outside temperature, making it possible to collect heat regardless of most weather conditions. It works equally well on both hot and cold days and quite well even on cloudy days.

The second difference between the two systems deals with heat loss.  A flat plate system delivers the sun’s infrared energy into heated fluid but loses much of back into the atmosphere because of inefficient insulation. While this makes the system practical for seasonal applications like heating swimming pools and for providing supplemental domestic hot water, it is not efficient enough for large scale industrial and commercial applications.

The SunQuest 250 is a solar thermal solution that very efficiently converts solar UV energy into significant amounts of heat year round, and dependably regardless of the weather conditions. That heat can be used to, provide hot water, space heat or any other application where BTUs are needed.  This system even promises to be a source of electricity generation by powering turbine generators. Solar thermal, using UV rays has a lot more potential than traditional flat plate technology.

A Case Study

Just to give you a taste of the potential of the SunQuest 250, consider the University of Indianapolis. Last summer we installed 10 SunQuest 250 solar thermal collector panels on the roof of a brand-new, 65-bed dormitory. The system now provides 98% of the hot water for the entire dormitory.

As a result, this building consumes virtually no external gas energy for hot water provision. That saves the university a significant amount of money over the course of a school year. What’s more, it is just the start of what Solar America Solutions can do for the school.

By using evacuated tube solar collectors, it is entirely possible to provide hot water and space heat across the entire 50-acre campus. And while it would cost some money to retrofit existing buildings at the University, the scalable SunQuest 250 system would pay for itself very quickly.  The University is also targeting its competition swimming pool as a near future candidate for this solar heat technology.

If you’ve been thinking about solar energy for your business, there’s no longer a need to be concerned about the weather. Now you can beat the weather with the SunQuest 250.