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Solar aids in space heating for commercial buildings

The SolarWall System – A New Way to Heat Your Building

By Ashley McDonald

Advancements in technology have presented unique solutions to helping business owners achieve their sustainability goals, from energy efficient lighting and equipment to solar panels and wind turbines.

Natural Resources Canada (NRCAN) states that space heating for commercial or institutional buildings can account for 70% of its total energy consumption. Canadian companies have found spectacular opportunities to reduce space heating costs in solar heat production. Products such as the SolarWall, from market leader Conserval Engineering Inc. and found in over 33 countries worldwide, presents an excellent opportunity to reduce your heating costs and enhance your company’s sustainability goals.

The SolarWall is a solar air heating system, usually installed on an exterior wall, or tilted roof. The panels of the wall preheat fresh air before it is pumped into the interior heating system. The technology showcases a battery-like component, where unneeded heat is stored for later use. It can also interact with other systems, such as solar hot water collectors and building automation systems further increasing overall building efficiency. The resulting large flat surface of the SolarWall presents the perfect place for photovoltaic solar panels, which can be installed on the systems exterior cladding. The system requires minimal maintenance, has 30+ year lifespan, and a very low payback period, averaging 3-5 years.

CANMET SolarWall at McMaster University

A SolarWall system has been installed at NRCAN’s CANMET (Canadian Centre for Mineral and Energy Technology) Laboratory, a LEED Platinum building at McMaster University. The CANMET Labs conduct research in the transportation, energy, and metal manufacturing sectors, and require highly controlled, highly ventilated environments for their research to take place.

CANMET at McMaster University Solar Heating

Mike Lubun of NRCAN, the Energy Modeller for this project, stated that the system operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on a varied schedule, moving air at 32,550l/s when the building is fully occupied (7am-5pm Monday to Friday) and at approximately half flow on evenings and weekend. Increasing the temperature of that volume of air by even a few degrees can have a huge impact in overall heating.

Heating the 174,000 ft2 building by conventional means would result in massive overhead costs; however, the SolarWall systems drastically reduce these costs for the building by all but eliminating fossil fuel dependant heating. By analysing field data, using computerized modeling systems, and climate data, Mikes’ team was able to project that the SolarWall system may create as much as 20,550kWh of energy saving annually, once fully operational. This is a decrease of approximately 70% compared to traditional heating methods.

Ventilation: Displacement ventilation is utilized throughout the building to reduce fan power requirements. Offices are provided with 100% fresh air, with operable windows for additional capacity. Labs have three to six air changes per hour and, during the winter season, heat from exhaust air is recovered to preheat incoming fresh air. In addition, solar wall panels preheat incoming ventilation air to further reduce the heating load.

The building is currently running at 80% capacity while construction nears its final stages. Once the building is fully occupied NRCAN will conduct detailed monitoring of the system, tracking heat creation, efficiency, climate conditions, and wind speed to determine just how well the system is performing. Single-point access controls will allow for detailed adjustments to the system to ensure it runs at the highest level of efficiency. They are also planning to tie the SolarWall system into the building’s automation system, allowing for bypass set points that ensure the whole system runs efficiently.

Implementing a SolarWall system at the CANMET labs was a large part of the engineers’ LEED Platinum strategy, where points were gained for reduced space heating related GHG emissions. The system also qualifies for energy efficient grant and incentive programs.

Mike explained that detail analysis of the exterior building was conducted, including directional placement, to ensure optimal solar exposure, and distance from neighbouring buildings, to eliminate shadows and solar blocks. He also explained that the use of space can be doubled by installing photovoltaic panels on the surface of the SolarWall, further enhancing sustainability goals

Other NRCAN SolarWall installations, such as Drake Landing in Alberta, have seen massive savings, covering up to 90% of space heating requirements and reducing GHG emissions by 5 tonnes annually.

Combining highly efficient, smart systems, with inexpensive energy sources (such as the sun) can significantly reduce overhead costs, while reducing GHG emissions. The SolarWall system has proved to be an excellent opportunity to achieve these savings and put sustainability goals within reach.

Ashley McDonald -  Special to the Monster Commercial Property Report

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