FIRING UP THE SOLAR PANELS FOR WINTER SOLSTICE
On Friday, the shortest day of the year, our solar hot water panels began to pass sun-soaked heat to the floors of Underhill House for the first time. The system awoke to a sunny, cold morning and began to circulate a steadily-warming glycol solution between the panels and our basement storage tank through an underground conduit.
The panels have been in place for a few weeks, but they could not be plumbed to the house until we had a working hot water faucet downstream to facilitate the flushing and filling of the system. A temporary faucet was plumbed into the downstairs bathroom when Gerry Thule stopped by last week to install a hose spigot for the plasterers. Once that was complete, Mark O’Neal from Full Spectrum Solar came out and connected the pipes running between the four 4×10 ft back yard panels and the 160 gallon basement storage tank..
At that point, the panels were ready to produce heat, but they needed one last thing – sunshine. The final installation took place on a dim day with threatening clouds.
The timing was actually a good thing.
Mark said that if they tried to connect the panels on a sunny day, they would be dealing with water so hot it would produce steam in the storage tank. When circumstances dictate a sunny day connection, they have to cover the panels to keep from being burned.
So the panels sat, filled with below freezing fluid, for the next several days as everyone hunkered down for the massive blizzard that swept over Wisconsin Wednesday night and all day Thursday.
Friday dawned sunny with the typical distinct chill and deep, blue sky that follows a winter snow storm, and we were out at the land soon after dawn to get the work area cleared of snow for our gallant crew, who worked on the porch rail in 15 degrees F temps with a serious wind chill.
What was not cold was our solar panels. Doug swept as much snow off them as he could and then we stood back to watch. The snow was soon sliding down the warming panels, and the thermometer that registers the temperature of the fluid as it enters the house began to rise.
Unfortunately, I was taking photos of the winter beauty with a rather low battery, and my camera balked before I could get a shot of the clear, hot, black panels pulling solar energy out of the cold air and piping it to the house.
Until now, Underhill House has been heated by passive solar energy captured from its design and a significant assist from a very efficient propane boiler.
It feels wonderful to be collecting solar heat and storing it in our well-insulated water tank the concrete floors and the thermal mass interior wall for helping to heat our house not only when the sun is shining, but well into the nights and cloudy days that may follow.