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September 2010

How to unravel Solar Panel Marketing

We rst wrote this article in September 2009, we decided to update it this year and add in some more different models of collectors that are available in Canada. No one collector performs the best in every climate. Differences in design mean different collectors work differently in cold, cloudy, windy or warm climates. This article aims to help you decide which collector is right for you, in the end it comes down to COST PER BTU produced.

There are many choices to purchasing a Solar Hot Water Collector. Everyone has the best collector. To help you along with the decision here are some things to look for. Evacuated Tube or Flat Plate? An argument in the scale of Toyota Trucks versus GM Trucks. Each have their followers, each have advantages or disadvantages. In warmer climates the Flat Plates are more efcient. In colder climates Evacuated Tubes work better, mainly because they are a vacuum tube and any heat they collect / trap, stays trapped due to the insulating vacuum. There are hundreds of manufactures of all types of collector all over the world, all have different specications and efciencies. How do you determine which is for you? In colder cloudy climates such as Canada, its virtually a no contest decision. Evacuated Tube Type collectors produce more heat. In order to prove this to yourself without looking at the marketing leaets go and download the RETSCREEN Program (see RETSCREEN inset on the next page ) This will take a while to work out how to use it but its a fantastic program.

Set up a sample solar hot water project, keep all the variables the same except change various collectors and cities and make notes of the results. A collector performance is a function of 4 main important numbers (see inset What the Fr Tau Alpha is that). From these numbers, a collectors energy output can be calculated.

Comparing many collectors in this way removes the bias from marketing campaigns as the performance of each collector can be calculated for your Climate.
RETSCREEN has a huge data base attached which has climate data for cities all over the world and a data base of hundreds, if not thousands of different collectors. As this will take you time to work all this out we have already gone through the process for a few cities in Canada and the main suppliers of Solar panels in Canada. In the pages that follow we picked a number of the best known Solar Collectors in Canada. We created a Project in RETSCREEN to calculate the number of panels required to produce a 47% solar Fraction,

Tel 1 888 850 SOLAR

(this means 47% of this projects hot water would come from This was a very interesting exercise. Some of the results are solar panels). shown here. The only data changed was the climate location (Calgary Project Summary: Airport, Vancouver Airport and 300 Hotel rooms, using 16000 liters of Toronto City) and then the water per day. 70% occupancy. Cold number of each collector type water enters system between 36 and 53 RETSCREEN was varied to get the solar deg F. Heat exchanger efciency was See fraction to equal 50%. 85% with 3% miscellaneous losses. 60 This program is FREE to download and use. It is This shows the numbers Liters per m2 of collector area of used all over the world to evaluate Renewable of different collectors required storage. Collectors at 45 Degree Energy Projects. to produce the same amount Inclination. The Climate Database pulls in data from cities all of heat in different climates. over the world, so pick one closest to you. It also The less collectors required the The job for you to do when comparing has all the technical data for hundreds of better. collectors is to take the number of BTUs Collectors. If the collector you are looking at is Once this has been done per day and divide into it the cost of that not listed, dont worry, all you need are 4 magical you can work out the amount collector. If 2 collectors produce the numbers (see inset What the Fr Tau Alpha is of BTU per day on average same amount of energy but one costs that) from the supplier you are looking at and each collector will produce in twice the price of the other then the cost this data can be manually entered into Retscreen any particular climate. per BTU would be double. to give you the energy output. All things being equal you want the lowest cost per BTU.

Each City has a totally different climate and as such the collector output varies enormously. No collector works the same in any city. For the same amount of heat, you will need nearly 40% more collectors (of any model) in Toronto than you would need in Calgary. Although this example is for a commercial project, the same applies for a residential system. For example if you used ONE of our collectors (Latitude51 Solar L51S-30) on your home, it would produce nearly 3 times as much hot water as is you picked one of the bottom ones on the list. In general the Flat plates produce LESS heat than the evacuated tubes, however, there are exception. In this example the collector at the bottom of the list is an Evacuated Tube Collector. The reason is because this is a very small solar collector. This model of Beijing Tsinghau collector is only 1.66 m2 in size. Our Collector is 4.673 m2 in size. However when you compare costs you will nd that both companies charge more or less the same price for each collector, hence you need to see what the cost per BTU of each collector is? If the Beijing Tsinghau Collector costed $300 per panel (it actually will cost you over $1000), however if it did cost $300 and we charged $1000 for the L51S-30 then you could buy 3 of the Beijing Tsinghau for the same price as ours. On paper this would produce more or less the same heat. However in practice it will cost you more $$ in time to install 3 collectors than one. The only reason the Enerworks system is listed twice in this list is that they have 2 different collectors that are marketed. The Residential Collector is installed only on homes. If you have a large commercial project then you would get the Commercial collector. The commercial collector does produce more heat than the residential model, but last time we checked it did cost a lot more money as well. Size does matter - we have had complaints from certain dealers saying this comparison is not fair as there is no mention of the relative size of each collector. However this is exactly the point, take the case of the Enerworks commercial collector. According to Retscreen, in Calgary, EACH Enerworks Commercial collector will produce approx. 25,867 BTU per day. One of Latitude51 Solar collectors, according to the same calculation will produce 35,184 BTU per day. The Enerworks collectors are approximately 4ft wide x 8ft high. Our Collectors are approx 8ft wide x 8ft high, ie they are twice the size. So yes if you put 2 of the Enerworks commercial collectors together they would produce about 51,700 BTU per day, which is more than one of our collectors will. However at what cost? we charge much less per collector so on a Cost$$ per BTU we are miles ahead and the payback on a system is signicantly higher. This is what this tables show, for a hotel in this case, in Calgary you would need 51 L51S-30 Collectors and 70 Enerworks Commercial Collectors to produce THE SAME AMOUNT OF HEAT. The numbers in these reports for BTU per day are averages spread over the year. However, please note that the heat output varies throughout the year. In general in summer the Flatplate collectors can produce a bit more heat than tubes however in winter the Evacuated tubes can produce nearly 12 time the heat that the Flat Plate collectors can. This info is easily found here by looking at the test reports. Click here for further information. Remember the current Canadian Government Incentives play a huge part in the costs of a system Our Collectors receive one of the highest rebates per collector. Click here for details of this incentive.

September 1, 2009

The results in the tables shown below and show a few things which you should be aware of.

Tel 1 888 850 SOLAR

What the Fr Tau Alpha is that? In RETSCREEN, there 4 main numbers that need to be entered for each collector... These numbers are stated in every test report for every collector. If you have this data you can enter it into RETSCREEN and work out what that collector will produce in any climate. Fr Tau Alpha - This number ranges from 0 to 1. Its a measure of how efcient the collector is, the higher the number the better it is at converting sunlight to heat.

Fr UL - Higher the number the WORSE insulator it is. This is how good the collector is at insulating against the climate. In cold, cloudy climates the weather tries to rob the collector of the heat. ETC have lower numbers than Flat Plate collectors and hence are BETTER insulators against heat loss. Gross Area - The physical size of the collector. Length x Width, including the Header. Aperture Area - This is the area of the collector exposed to the sun. i.e the absorber surface that can absorb the sun. ie the Header and frame do not count here.

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