As solar energy is becoming more widespread in the United States, this clean energy source is making its way into the heating and cooling industry. HVAC technicians who want to stay current with the green energy movement should be willing to learn how to install and repair the new solar technologies.
Will solar power make a difference for the HVAC industry? Definitely. But it’s something to look forward to, presenting new opportunities. It also means that now is a great time to get updated on developments in order to stay ahead of the competition.
Growth in Solar Energy
Now that electricity generated from solar power costs only $1 per watt, the efficiency has increased dramatically and use has spread. It is one of the favored renewable energy resources available. It causes no pollution and can be used in remote areas.
Solar power generators can be installed anywhere, and they are being installed at a rate of a new panel every 4 minutes across the US.
Solar energy can be used both to power ordinary devices that run on electricity, as well as providing new alternatives for heating and cooling homes and other buildings.
There is no difference in the appliances that can be operated by solar power. The solar cell batteries convert the battery power to alternating current and operate the home as if it was powered by a traditional electrical power grid.
The solar energy market is expanding rapidly because people are more conscious of caring for the environment and leaving a smaller carbon footprint. Homes, cars, and industries are becoming primarily solar powered. Mercedes-Benz has created a battery that stores solar power at the residential level. The battery systems are capable of running up to 20 kilowatt-hours and can power a typical refrigerator for an entire week. The solar panels and batteries are efficient and effective at powering homes while being environmentally friendly.
Since you still get the same electricity through solar, you can run all the same HVAC systems that you always have.
Unique Solar Technologies
While solar power can provide electricity to use any regular device, it also offers some unique options. To stay up-to-date with the latest trends in HVAC, it’s good to be aware of these. Change can be intimidating, surely, but it can also provide fantastic new options.
There are multiple types of solar heat collectors. While electricity plays a part in them, they also take advantage of natural heat to help make buildings comfortable.
Transpired Solar Air Collectors
Transpired solar air collectors are used in heating buildings. The dark-colored, heat-conducting material is placed on the south side of a building. Sunlight heats the metal, and a fan is situated to pull air into the building through the sun-warmed perforations which warms the air temperature as it flows. Then, the building’s ventilation system distributes the warm air.
Flat-plate Solar Collectors
Flat-plate collectors are usually made of copper tubing inside a frame that is covered with glass. These collectors are used in space heating. The heat exchange system produces hot air for large buildings during the daytime. This helps reduce the typical heating costs.
Evacuated Tube Solar Collectors
Evacuated tube collectors are made of copper tubes and filled with water. The smaller tube is placed inside a larger vacuum-sealed tube made of a clear substance such as glass or plastic.
The evacuated tubes are more efficient than flat-plate collectors because the tube design increases the surface area that the sunlight can touch. The vacuum seal also helps reduce heat loss.
The evacuated tube solar collector works similarly to the way a greenhouse traps heat. Then, the fluid is heated and the heated water rises. Cold water circulates and absorbs the heat. This works well for heating very hot water and can be used in space heating.
Concentrating Solar Systems
Concentrating solar systems are shaped as a parabola or satellite dish. The sunlight is captured when it hits a mirrored surface. The reflection is redirected to the dish. Cold water circulates through the pipe. This is one of the larger and more complex solar heating systems.
HVAC Solar Air Conditioning and Heating Systems
Creating heat from the sun can seem pretty obvious, but complete air conditioning and heating systems can also be set up. These are great options for the HVAC installer to learn about and improve their versatility.
Solar modules power the building’s central heat and air system. Stand-alone systems are not grid-connected. They are used to operate separately from traditional electrical power. Grid connected power systems can send unused energy back to the power grid.
Solar-powered Air Conditioner
The solar-powered air conditioner is unique in that you can plug in the solar panels and start using the air conditioner. This is a hybrid of traditional and solar electrical usage. The unit runs off solar power during the daytime and off the utility company at night.
With two or three photovoltaic panels, the system cools without burning your pocketbook. This system is also ductless. There are off-grid solar air conditioning units as well. These are different than the conventional systems, but they are coming more widely accepted in the HVAC industry because they are economical and environmentally friendly.
Solar-assisted cooling systems use a thermal-chemical absorption to produce cool air. This process is similar to refrigeration except there is no compressor involved. Heated liquid drives the absorption process.
Another type of solar cooling system is the desiccant system. The warm air passes over silica gel which dries the air by removing the humidity, making the air feel more comfortable. Solar heat dries the silica gel so that it is reusable.
Heating systems such as radiant floor systems are another system of heating that is unique to the solar systems. Pipes are embedded in a thin concrete slab floor. As the solar heat warms the liquid, it flows through the floor. The concrete floor is usually covered with tile. A cold home takes longer to heat from the radiant floor, but it keeps the home consistently warm after it is in operation. A drawback to this type of heating system is if you like carpet or rugs – they interfere with the heating process.
Window and Baseboard Units
There are also room air heaters that can be installed as window units. Baseboard units are another option. Each of these requires HVAC specialists to install or repair.
Commercial facilities such as hotels, apartment complexes, sporting venues, manufacturing plants, and military installations are well-suited for large-scale solar heating and cooling systems. Commercial HVAC installers are likely to see more installations because there are utility incentive programs. The future of residential systems is likely to be in the solar market as well.
HVAC technicians would do well to invest in learning to install and service the new solar systems. Those who are trained from the beginning of the movement will be considered experts in the field.
Now is the perfect time for HVAC technicians to become specialized in solar heating and cooling units.
In some areas of the United States, HVAC installers and technicians are required to be licensed to work on the new solar technologies. Some states require the solar installers to have a specialized solar contractor’s license, but in many states, solar is only a specialty classification under the general classification of an electrical or plumbing license.
Solar licensing began in the 1980s, and currently 14 states and Puerto Rico have solar contractor licensing requirements. If you are planning to install a photovoltaic system, you most likely need to be a licensed electrical or plumbing contractor because each of these systems requires specialized knowledge and skills to maintain the integrity of the system. By enforcing the licensure rules, states are ensuring that the solar installations are safe and performed by properly trained HVAC technicians.
If you are interested in becoming a licensed solar HVAC contractor, you should check into the local requirements from the government authorities where you live. The Solar Licensing Database is an excellent source for finding the list of states that require a solar specific licenses or provisions.
Solar power has a long history, and it is currently the trendy, environmentally-friendly power source. It is invading the HVAC industry and changing the way heating and cooling systems are designed. Installers must learn how to install and service the units properly to maximize the benefits in both commercial and residential settings. Experts are needed in this expanding niche of the HVAC field. Those working in HVAC can view it as an opportunity, not a problem, and expand their skill set to meet these new technologies.
This is a guest post by Bob Wells, a retired HVAC tech who now dedicates himself to sharing knowledge on his website hvactraining101.com.