|Roy Caplinger explaining the Drainback System.|
by Jeff Bell
The ability to cut household utility costs and conserve the planet is the desire and need of most homes nationwide. Solar thermal installation designs and ideas allow nature to handle a large portion of household heating needs; some of which are being learned at WVU Parkersburg.
Solar Thermal Installation (Set155) students are developing a thorough knowledge of the solar water heating systems, which they have designed. Ordered parts are arriving daily while the fabrication of various other parts is beginning in the campus fabrication class. Whereas the basic knowledge of how each system works is crucial, the entire project from energy analysis to unit installation can be extensive.
The installation of the collectors is very crucial in determining the efficiency of the heating system. If the solar collectors are hooked up in a series, simply one hooked up directly in line with another, the heating capabilities are greatly improved, according to Gary Thompson, class instructor. The proper angle and southerly direction of the collector will determine the heating efficiency as well.
The collectors themselves are relatively cheap at approximately $180 each, but the rest of the material and supplies needed, depending on the setup, can quickly elevate the costs. Pumps, heat exchangers, thermal couplers and more are relatively numerous to the system and can be expensive; however, the overall savings will eventually pay for the costs.
With the new solar collectors and other parts now physically available to them, the students have begun to perform temporary set-ups: explaining how their system will hook up to the collectors, circulate and heat the household water. “Next week, we will start mounting the hardware to the white-boards, the students will need to practice their soldering techniques and create a list of tools and expendable materials,” Thompson said.
The finished products, the carts, will be used as trainer models. “We are creating carts that will be used by other classes to help them learn,” Ruth Wagoner, drainback team leader, said. The satisfaction of a job well done is coupled with a well-rounded training experience.
The class also instructs students on the importance of energy conservation and the ability to perform energy consumption analysis or site surveys on a building. A site survey includes the knowledge of customization and energy needs of an individual system, the documentation needed and the ability to determine the permits required in the area. The energy conservation aspect is of growing importance to the environmentally minded.
The damage being created by the use of fossil fuels is not irreversible, but steps need to be taken soon, according to environmentalists. “This class will make one aware of the damage that the use of non-renewable energy sources can cause,” Wagoner said. “It teaches us other ways of using energy wisely,” Wagoner continued. This skill is yet another form of marketable knowledge learned in the duration of this class.
The sales, marketing and distribution of these new systems appear to be leading motivating factors to these students. “I want to design and build one of these for my own house, so when I begin to sell them, I will be able to show one in working condition,” John Shreve, drainback team member, said. “I have been in sales almost my entire life; I hope to use this knowledge to sell these systems,” Charlotte Fittro, drainback team member, said. The economic downsizing that has affected this area is yet another factor motivating the students.
“With all of the plants shutting down around here, we are going to have to use our new knowledge to make it,” Fittro said. The future for solar technology is bright, relatively cheap and very environmentally friendly.