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Case Study:Solar thermal dining at California university

Solar thermal Installation at Santa Clara University’s Benson Memorial CenterSanta Clara University (SCU), located 50 miles south of San Francisco in California’s Silicon Valley, has a mandate to be carbon neutral by the end of 2015. With the deadline a little more than four years away, Joe Sugg, Assistant Vice President of University Operations at SCU said they’re well on their way, with 1MW of solar PV already installed on campus and a smart microgrid project currently underway. A recently completed solar thermal system atop the Benson Memorial Centre’s dining hall brings them even closer to the mark.

A solar thermal installation brings SCU closer to its goal of being carbon neutral by 2015.

SCU worked with Chromasun for the solar thermal installation, after working with the first prototype of a Chromasun panel when SCU students participated in the 2007 Solar Decathlon. “That’s when we got our initial exposure, and it’s gotten even more efficient since then,” said Sugg.

Chromasun makes a low-profile module that’s a utility-scale flat-plate solar thermal collector designed for rooftop installations like SCU’s. The collectors, called MCT HTs, achieve a concentration of 25 times the sun. On the SCU dining hall, the collectors heat the water to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, producing an estimated 6727 therms of energy a year. The entire optical system is enclosed within a sealed canopy to protect against the elements. There are no moving parts and the collectors use the same racking systems as conventional flat-plate solar thermal collectors. Construction management company Gordon Prill of Mountain View, California and San Jose-based mechanical contractor Therma were instrumental in installing the mounting system.

The entire optical system is enclosed within a sealed canopy to protect against the elements.

The 60 collectors on SCU’s dining hall were installed by SunWater Solar of Richmond, California, a solar thermal integrator. The company has installed collectors from many different manufacturers and Patrick O’Boyle, Director of Communications, noted that Chromasun’s are not only different because of the sealed canopy, but also because they have above-average eye appeal. “They dazzle the eye more than your standard flat-plate collector,” O’Boyle said, describing the MCTs as having reflective strips with a “blue silver colour” to them. SunWater Solar installers were already familiar with the MCT collectors, having installed them on SCU’s Solar Decathlon house, so they knew that moving them to the roof would be a challenge.

Solar thermal collectors arrive for installation at Santa Clara University’s Benson Memorial Center
Solar thermal collectors arrive for installation at Santa Clara University’s Benson Memorial Center

When several 18-wheelers arrived on site with large crates holding 5 or 6 collectors each, the installers got them to the roof by unpacking the crates and lifting each collector with a telescoping forklift. Therma had sleepers already in place on the roof, and the installers slid brackets on each side of the collectors onto a rail on the sleeper. The collectors have two legs on them, so once the collector was set on the rail, one person lifted one end up and another would fold the dual leg down, making installation fairly straightforward. The installation is currently the largest rooftop concentrating solar thermal system in California and the largest solar thermal project yet completed under the California Solar Initiative-Thermal (CSI-T) program. Initial calculations show a CSI-T rebate value of approximately $86,240 (USD).

Solar thermal collectors being installed at Santa Clara University’s Benson Memorial CenterSolar thermal collectors being installed at Santa Clara University’s Benson Memorial Center

Sugg said that the carbon-neutral goal isn’t the only incentive driving the project. By using solar instead of natural gas, the university will reduce its water heating bills by as much as 70% and offset 34 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), equivalent to the total emissions produced annually by 6.6 automobiles. The solar thermal installation will also help the university gain control over the price of utilities, or as Sugg put it, “let us leverage our options and be able to sustain ourselves for a long period of time in the event that the grid goes down.” The university has a 10-year lease, after which time they will own the system.

Well on its way, the next sustainability step for SCU is to install solar thermal air conditioning on the engineering building.

www.sunwesolarcollector.com

 

The typical household uses 10,000 to 15,000 BTUs of hot water per person per day. A 20 vacuum tube solar collector can produce 30,000 BTUs on a summer day with a footprint on a roof of only 36 square feet. The system can provide 100% of summer hot water ... 
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