Published on February 28th, 2010 | by Tina Casey22
"Thermos Bottle" Technology Delivers Solar Hot Water in Cold Weather
February 28th, 2010 by Tina Casey
A lunch box staple is the core idea behind solar technology that could bring cost effective solar-heated hot water to cold climates. Solar Panels Plus has come up with a solar hot water heater based on evacuated tubes similar to those popularized by Thermos. Last year two of the company’s models were certified as eligible for Canada’s ecoENERGY for Renewable Heat program, but the real test will occur in southeastern Idaho, where Solar Panels Plus has installed a solar hot water system at the Homestead Family Restaurant in Blackfoot.
If the installation keeps the solar hot water coming in cold weather, it’s another big step forward for the ability of solar energy to compete with fossil fuels. Restaurants are hot water gobblers, and a low cost solar installation that works in cold weather would have a relatively short payback for high volume users — especially if it receives solar energy incentives from its utility, as was the case here.
Like a Thermos bottle, Solar Panels Plus uses double-walled glass tubes to retain and concentrate heat, helped along by an optical coating. The tubes passively track the sun due to their curved shape, which helps boost efficiency. The five SPP-30 model solar collectors installed at Homestead each contain 30 of the tubes and the owner estimates a savings of $500 monthly on electricity bills for the 130-seat restaurant. Though the solar collectors operate effectively under cloudy, cold or even freezing conditions, the company recommends that for maximum reliability and return on investment, the system should be used to marginalize the use of conventional fuels rather than replacing them completely.
Utilities, Incentives, and Clean Energy Champions
The Homestead system was installed under an incentive program offered by the local utility, Idaho Power Company. It was the first commercial installation under the utility’s clean energy program and according to a recent press release it illustrates, “a commitment to energy efficiency and sustainability – something we champion.” Well, join the party. Utilities are emerging as the knights in shining armor of the clean energy scene by promoting clean energy innovation and pushing for small scale, on site installations. A recent survey revealed that most utility companies believe that by 2050 small scale clean energy will become an important part of the national grid, and within that group 13% believe that the small scale clean energy “electranet” will actually surpass conventional centralized generation.
Nuclear Power and the Clean Energy Future
The clean energy juggernaut keeps rolling along, picking up investment power and the support of corporate giants including utility companies. Even the nation’s top sports industries are on board the sustainability train, including golf, the ski industry, Major League Baseball and the National Football League. If this keeps up the future doesn’t look good for the promotion of nuclear power as called for by the Obama administration’s current energy package. The fact is that nuclear energy is neither clean nor sustainable, it is simply expedient. It is rapidly becoming obsolete as a fuel for electrical generation, and if the utility industry survey cited above is any indication, its large scale centralized model is out of place in the electrical grid of the future.
Image: Thermos type bottles by dichohecho on flickr.com.