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Energy and Buildings 37 (2005) 10281034

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Performance analysis of a solar energy driven heating system


P.J. Martnez a,*, A. Velazquez b, A. Viedma b,1
a

E.T.S. Ingenieros Industriales, Universidad Miguel Hernandez, Avda. de la Universidad, 03202 Elche, Spain
E.T.S. Ingenieros Industriales, Universidad Politecnica de Cartagena, Dr. Fleming s/n, 30202 Cartagena, Spain
Received 20 October 2004; received in revised form 23 December 2004; accepted 24 December 2004

Abstract
Operation temperature of solar heating systems makes the use of a radiant floor to transfer heat into the conditioned spaces suitable.
Performance data related to solar heating systems are scarce. Knowledge of these data is important to establish control strategies that lead to an
optimal operation of these systems. The objectives of this study were to acquire and analyse the performance data of a residential solar heating
system in Murcia (Spain), and to compare the recorded data with the performance estimate provided by the f-chart method used for sizing the
system. The solar fractions registered in the system during the months of January and February 2004 were 20% lower than those predicted by
the f-chart method. This lack of coincidence was assumed as inherent to the f-chart method.
# 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Solar heating; Radiant floor; Data acquisition system; Economic analysis

1. Introduction
The most widespread application of solar systems is
domestic water heating. Typically, one-cover collectors with
selective surfaces are used, and the sizing of the system is
carried out by rule of thumb or by economic analyses.
The practice and the basic components of systems for
space heating are very similar to those of systems for
domestic water heating. Solar heating systems using water
operate at lower temperatures than conventional hydronic
systems. This makes the use of a radiant floor to transfer heat
into the building suitable.
During the last two decades, radiant floor heating
applications have increased significantly. In Germany,
Austria, and Denmark, 3050% of new residential buildings
have floor heating [1].
This trend has been taken into account by simulation
codes like TRNSYS 15 [2], which incorporates the
possibility of using floor-heating systems within its multizone building models [3].
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +34 966 65 85 61; fax: +34 966 65 89 79.
E-mail addresses: pjuan.martinez@umh.es (P.J. Martnez),
antonio.viedma@upct.es.
1
Tel.: +34 968 32 59 81; fax: +34 968 32 59 99.
0378-7788/$ see front matter # 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.enbuild.2004.12.008

The accumulated experience and performance data


related to solar heating systems are scarce.
A residence (House IV) at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology [4] was equipped with a solar heating system,
designed to carry approximately two-thirds of the total
winter heating loads. The system was instrumented and its
performance carefully monitored. The fractions of the
combined heating and hot water loads supplied by the
system in the 2 years of its operation were of 0.48 and 0.57,
respectively.
A residential building (House III), at the Colorado State
University [5] with a heated area of about 260 m2, was
equipped with 48.7 m2 of flat-plate collectors. The
performance of the heating system was monitored throughout a winter season. During this time, the system met 80% of
the space-heating load on the building.
The sizing of these systems is not always properly
justified. At the above-stated sight, it is clear that there are
differences related to the fraction of the heating load they
can meet.
The objectives of this work were three-fold: the first one
was to carry out the design of the solar heating system for a
residential building in Murcia (Spain) based on an
economic analysis; the second one was to install a data
acquisition system to register the performance of the solar

P.J. Martnez et al. / Energy and Buildings 37 (2005) 10281034

Nomenclature
A
COP
DD
DHW
FR
f
H
L
T
U
UL

area (m2)
coefficient of performance
degree-day
domestic hot water
collector heat removal factor
solar fraction
daily irradiation (J m2)
load (J)
temperature (K)
overall heat transfer coefficient (W m2 K1)
collectors overall heat loss coefficient
(W m2 K1)

Greek letters
a
absorptance
t
transmittance
Subscripts
amb
ambient
b
building
env
envelope
n
normal
T
on tilted plane

heating system; and the third one was to compare the


recorded data with the solar fractions estimated by the
f-chart method.

2. Method
A two-story frame residential building in Murcia (Spain)
with a heated area of about 172 m2 was selected as reference
case for this study. Fig. 1 shows a diagram of the solar
heating system installed on the house, including the
dimensions of some components. A radiant floor is used
to transfer heat into the building.
The 15.36 m2 of collectors was mounted facing south
with a slope of 508 on the roof of the house (Fig. 2). The tilt
angle of the collectors is 128 higher than Murcias latitude
(388N) as the system is mainly intended for winter heating.
The domestic water heating subsystem includes a 215-l
preheating tank inside the upper part of the main storage
tank, and a 100-l water heater equipped with a 1.5-kW
electric resistance. The main tank has a storage capacity of
365 l of water for heating energy, and it is provided with
auxiliary energy by a heat pump.

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sensors, a programmable logic controller, and a personal


computer.
Sensors are connected to the programmable controller,
which receives the system operating data and sends them to
the personal computer by serial communication. Control
parameters, such as set point temperatures, and others like
the time interval at which system operating data are
acquired, can be established from the personal computer.
Fig. 3 is a picture of the graphical interface that shows the
value of the parameters measured at the solar heating system
in real time. The position of several sensors in the system can
be seen in this figure.
Thirty-two sensors register the evolution of temperature
at different points of the system. Manually adjustable valves
(Fig. 4) fitted with pressure tappings allow the measurement
of water flow rates in the system by using an electronic
differential pressure meter. In addition, the system also has
sensors to measure domestic hot water (DHW) consumption, meteorological conditions, and electrical energy
consumed by the resistance of the water heater and by
the heat pump.
Fig. 4 shows Pt-100 temperature sensors in the outlet of
every single radiant floor circuit. The temperatures provided
by these sensors, together with the circuit inlet (common to
all of them) temperature and the individual mass flow rates,
are used to calculate the heat transfer rate delivered by the
heating system to every room of the house.
The total heat transfer rate for heating is given by the sum
of the energy rates delivered by the single radiant floor
circuits. Once the total heat transfer rate is determined, it is
possible to integrate it over time in order to assess the
thermal performance of the system.
In the same way, solar contribution can be evaluated from
the registered values of mass flow rate through solar
collectors, and the inlet and outlet temperature to the heat
exchanger inside the storage tank.
Energy supplied by the system for domestic water heating
is calculated from the registered values of hot water
consumption, water supply temperature, and temperature of
delivered hot water.
The solar fraction can then be determined by dividing the
energy provided by solar collectors by the amount of energy
delivered by the system to meet the combined heating and
hot water loads.
Fig. 5 shows a picture of the main storage tank and the
water heater. As can be seen, the domestic hot water flow
meter is located on the water supply pipe above the main
storage tank. Temperature measurement at different heights
allows an estimation of the degree of stratification in the
main storage tank (see also Fig. 3).
2.2. Sizing of the solar energy system

2.1. Data acquisition system


The data acquisition system, installed to register the
performance of the solar heating system, consists of a set of

The design of a solar heating system is a three-part


problem. The first is to determine the building heating and
hot water loads. The second is to estimate the fraction of that

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P.J. Martnez et al. / Energy and Buildings 37 (2005) 10281034

Fig. 1. Schematic diagram of the solar system.

Fig. 2. Solar collectors installed on the roof of the house.

load that will be supplied by solar energy, and the third is to


carry out an economic analysis that weighs the cost of
energy saved against the solar cost.
The f-chart method was selected to provide the fraction
of the monthly heating load (for space heating and hot water)
supplied by solar energy. This method provides adequate
estimation of long-term thermal performance of active
heating systems for residential-scale applications.
The water-heating load was calculated by considering a
hot water consumption of 180 l per day, a water temperature
from mains of 10 8C, and a delivery temperature of 50 8C.
The degree-day (DD) method was used to calculate the
heating load. According to this method, the monthly heating
load due to losses through the building envelope is given by
the following equation:
Lenv UAb DD

(1)

The estimated overall loss coefficientarea product of the


building was 563 W K1 and the monthly heating degreedays to a base temperature of 15 8C for Murcia were
extracted from Norma UNE 100-002 [6] (see Table 1).
The effect of ventilation was also included. The heat to
bring ambient air up to room temperature was added to the
losses through the building envelope. A ventilation rate of
one air change per hour was considered as indicated by RITE
[7] for heating load estimate of buildings without mechanical ventilation. Table 1 shows the monthly heating and
domestic hot water loads of the building.
Once the space heating and hot water loads had been
estimated, the f-chart method was used to provide the
monthly fractions supplied by solar energy. The one-cover
flat-plate collectors used had F R(ta) = 0.8 and
F RUL = 4 W m2 K1 as determined from standard collectors test.

P.J. Martnez et al. / Energy and Buildings 37 (2005) 10281034


Table 1
Building heating and domestic hot water loads

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Table 2
Monthly solar fractions obtained with the f-chart method

Month

DD

LDHW (MJ)

Lheating (MJ)

Ltotal (MJ)

Month

HT (MJ m2)

Tamb (8C)

Ltotal (MJ)

January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November
December

149
113
85
38
3
0
0
0
0
8
53
152

933
843
933
903
933
903
933
933
903
933
903
933

10705
8119
6107
2730
216
0
0
0
0
575
3808
10921

11638
8962
7040
3633
1149
903
933
933
903
1508
4711
11854

January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November
December

17.3
17.6
20.8
20.8
21.1
20.1
21.6
21.7
21.3
19.3
16.3
14.5

10.1
11.7
13.5
15.6
19
23.1
26.2
26.7
23.6
18.8
14.1
11.1

11638
8962
7040
3633
1149
903
933
933
903
1508
4711
11854

0.400
0.467
0.715
1.000
1.000
1.000
1.000
1.000
1.000
1.000
0.743
0.326

The monthly average ambient temperature and the


monthly average daily radiation incident on the collector
surface per unit area were obtained from the information
supplied by the Instituto Nacional de Meteorologa (Spains
National Institute of Meteorology) (see Table 2).
Different collector areas were used in order to obtain the
optimal sizing of the system. Table 2 shows the values of the
monthly solar fractions obtained by using the f-chart
method for the finally installed collector surface (15.36 m2).
The fraction of the annual heating load supplied by solar
energy, i.e. the sum of the monthly solar energy contributions divided by the annual load, was 57.6%.

The objective of the economic analysis is to determine


the size of the solar energy system that gives the lowest cost
combination of solar and auxiliary energy. The life cycle
saving method was used for this study. Solar savings are
defined as the difference between the cost of a conventional
system and a solar system, and were evaluated in this study
by the following formula:
solar savings fuel savings  mortgage payment
 maintenance income tax savings
Although the design problem based on economic analysis is
a multi-variable problem, system performance is much more

Fig. 3. Graphical interface of the personal computer.

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P.J. Martnez et al. / Energy and Buildings 37 (2005) 10281034

Fig. 4. Adjustable valves and Pt-100 temperature sensors.

savings, calculated over a 20-year period, the expected


lifetime of the equipment.
The solar equipment was supposed to be 90% financed
over 20 years at an interest rate of 5%. Electricity cost,
0.080401 s/kWh, was expected to rise at a rate of 2% per
year, and a seasonal coefficient of performance (COP) of 2.5
was considered for the heat pump. Maintenance cost was
estimated to be 1% of the cost of the system in the first year.
The market discount rate was expected to be 3.5%
throughout the period of the analysis, and the general
inflation rate to be 2.5%. The effective income tax rate
considered was 35%.
The first cost of the solar system was reduced by state and
local incentives, 210.35 s/m2 of collector area, and 30% of
the first cost of the system, respectively. Life cycle solar
savings as a function of collector area are plotted in Fig. 6.
The maximum solar savings were obtained at a collector
area of 17.92 m2 (seven modules of 2.56 m2). Finally, a
collector surface of 15.36 m2 (six modules) was installed
Table 3
Annual solar fraction, installation cost, and solar savings for several
collector areas

Fig. 5. Main storage tank and water heater.

sensitive to collector area than to any other variable [8]. The


calculation of the optimum system design was based on solar
saving calculations for several collector areas.
Table 3 shows the relationship between collector area and
annual solar fraction in the first two columns. The total
system costs, shown in the third column, were obtained from
contractors. Column 4 includes the present worth of solar

Collector
area (m2)

Solar
fraction

Installation
cost (s)

Solar
savings (s)

10.24
12.80
15.36
17.92
20.48
23.04
25.60
28.16
30.72
33.28

0.453
0.519
0.576
0.625
0.670
0.711
0.748
0.779
0.803
0.826

5822
7128
8434
9739
11045
12350
13656
14962
16267
17573

763.6
930.2
1028.0
1060.7
1060.4
1029.0
968.3
854.4
682.4
498.0

P.J. Martnez et al. / Energy and Buildings 37 (2005) 10281034

Fig. 6. Solar savings as a function of collector area.

because of space availability on roof of the house. It can be


seen from Fig. 6 how life cycle solar savings begin to level off
at this point.

3. Results
The data were acquired every minute in order to facilitate
the analysis of the system transients.

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As an example of the registered data, Fig. 7 shows the


heat transfer rates that determine the heat balance at the main
storage tank corresponding to 16 February. Heat transfer rate
to the heating floor plus tank losses plus domestic hot water
preheating are to be equal to heat transfer rate from solar
collector plus heat transfer rate from the heat pump.
As can be appreciated in Fig. 7, the heat pump was
allowed to work this day from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. It was
programmed this way in order to avoid an increase of the
temperature in the main storage tank during the operation of
solar collectors, which would result in a reduction of the
solar gain.
The effect of solar radiation variability is partially offset
by varying the length of the period the heat pump is allowed
to work.
The solar fraction recorded this day was of 0.468, that is,
solar energy supplied 46.8% of the combined heating and
hot water loads, one of the highest solar fractions of the
season.
The mean COP of the heat pump registered this day was
3.8. It happened to be usual to monitor values of this variable
somewhat higher than the 2.5 initially forecasted. The three
5-min stops of the heat pump in the chart correspond to
defrost cycles. They were programmed to take place every

Fig. 7. Heat transfer rates at the storage tank corresponding to 16 February.

Fig. 8. Temperature curves at the system corresponding to 16 February.

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P.J. Martnez et al. / Energy and Buildings 37 (2005) 10281034

hour when the outdoor temperature became lower than


15 8C.
Fig. 8 shows the air temperatures recorded on 16
February inside the rooms where thermostats were placed,
one on the ground floor and one on the first floor. A set point
temperature of 24 8C was established on the thermostats.
Fig. 8 also shows the outdoor air dry-bulb temperature and
the mean storage tank temperature registered during the
same day.
In Fig. 8, the on state of the heating floor pumps has
been represented by a 5 8C temperature level. As the room
thermostats signalled to send the hot water from the main
storage tank to the heating floor, the floor pumps turned on
only if the mean temperature of the main storage tank
(measured at its middle height) was higher than 32 8C. The
auxiliary energy provided by the heat pump, when allowed
to work, was used to ensure a mean temperature inside the
tank between 32 8C and 40 8C, which has been considered a
suitable temperature range for energy delivery to the heating
floor.
Regarding the month of February, an average ambient
temperature of 11.4 8C and 100 degree-days were calculated
from outdoor temperature records. The expected heating
load corresponding to the 100 degree-days is of 8028 MJ,
while the registered thermal load at the building was of
8963 MJ.
This deviation could be explained by the difference
between the theoretically calculated overall loss coefficient
of the building and its real value. The registered thermal load
corresponds to an overall loss coefficient of 1.1 W m2 K1,
while the value initially estimated was of 0.94 W m2 K1.
A solar fraction of 0.436 was estimated for February by
the f-chart method when using registered values of average
outdoor temperature, average daily radiation on the collector
surface per unit area (16.5 MJ m2), and heating load as
inputs. The solar fraction registered at the system was of
0.342, resulting from dividing the energy collected by the
solar collectors (3063 MJ) by the heating load.
The weather in January was milder than in February and,
of course, milder than expected. The registered average
outdoor temperature was 12.5 8C, while the average daily
radiation on the collector surface per unit area was
20.3 MJ m2. The degree-days obtained from outdoor
temperature records were 85, quite far from the 149
provided by the Norma UNE 100-002.
A solar fraction of 0.536 was estimated for January by
the f-chart method using registered values of average
outdoor temperature, average daily radiation on the collector
surface per unit area, and heating load as inputs. The solar
fraction registered at the system was of 0.428.
Solar fractions registered at the system are 20% lower
than those predicted by the f-chart method for the months of

January and February. This lack of coincidence is assumed


as inherent to the f-chart method, which provides acceptable
estimate of long-term performance of heating systems.

4. Conclusions
The objectives of this work were three-fold. The first one
was to carry out the design of the solar heating system for a
residential building in Murcia (Spain). The second one was
to instrument the solar heating system and monitor its
performance, and the third one was to compare the recorded
data with the solar fractions estimated by the f-chart
method.
The heating load estimated by the degree-day method
was 10% lower than the one registered at the system. This
deviation was explained by the difference between the
theoretically calculated overall loss coefficient of the
building and its real value.
The solar fractions registered during the months of
January and February at the system were 0.428 and 0.342,
respectively, and differed from the ones provided by the fchart method in approximately 20%.
Some experience has been gained relative to the
regulation of the heating system during its operation along
this heating season. Several ideas have also arisen at the
system. One of them is to make the collectors and the heat
pump work simultaneously. This will obviously somewhat
reduce the efficiency of the collectors, but at the same time,
it will improve the COP of the heat pump, as it operates at
higher outdoor temperatures. This study will be presented in
a future paper.

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Du bendorf, 2000.
[4] C.D. Engebretson, The use of solar energy for space heating-M.I.T.:
solar house IV, Proceedings of the UN Conference on New Sources of
Energy 5 (159) (1964).
[5] S. Karaki, et al., Performance of the Solar Heating and Cooling System
for CSU House IIISummer Season 1983 and Winter Season 198384,
Colorado State University Report SAN 11927-15 to U.S. Department of
Energy, 1984.
[6] Asociacio n Espan ola de Normalizacio n y Certificacio n, UNE 100-002,
Degrees day based at 15 8C, 1988.
[7] Reglamento de Instalaciones Te rmicas en los Edificios, 1998.
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