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Technology Spotlight

Victoria Hollick, Posted 08/04/2014

metal architecture, know your products, august 2014, solarwall, victoria hollickMention solar energy, and the first thought that comes to mind are box-like electricity generating panels attached to the roof of a building, that proclaim their existence with their modular nature and distinctive appearance. 

But according to new data released by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), a growing sector of the solar heating industry has reached a major milestone, with 5 million square feet of building-integrated solar air heating collectors now installed in North America. SEIA President and CEO Rhone Resch says these systems represent 250 megawatts (MW) of thermal energy and displace nearly 100,000 tons of CO2 each year from the atmosphere.

"Building-integrated solar air heating systems are often overlooked in the discussion about renewable energy," Resch says. "We need to change that mindset. These cost-effective, energy-efficient systems can reduce by 20 to 50 percent the amount of conventional energy used for heating buildings-or for agricultural or process drying applications. That can represent a huge savings to companies, business owners and farmers nationwide."

Building-integrated solar air heating systems, such as the SolarWall technology, work by transforming the fabric of a building's southerly elevation into a giant solar collector. The system is used to capture the sun's energy to heat fresh, outside air before it is drawn into the building's heating and ventilation system, considerably reducing its reliance on fossil fuels.   

A very unique architectural aspect of solar air heating systems is that they are made of metal, and can therefore be styled, shaped and designed into any different type of building envelope, including pre-engineered metal buildings. SolarWall systems have also been integrated into many architecturally significant buildings, helping achieve a variety of green building awards and LEED points.

metal architecture, know your products, august 2014, solarwall, victoria hollickThe growth of building-integrated solar air heating systems has been driven by many factors including the simplicity of integration and installation, the ability of architects to be creative with the use of this metal solar technology, their ability to displace a large amount of a building's energy load (which is space or process heating), high LEED point generation and the cost-effectiveness of solar air heating systems relative to other solar technologies.

The technology is now poised for significant growth as solar air heating becomes a mainstream solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It is a real game-changer in the fight to reduce energy and carbon emissions. There are new variations of the technology that now allow it to be used for high-temperature heating and for nighttime cooling via roof-mount systems. 

Toronto-based Conserval Engineering Inc. developed the original SolarWall building-integrated solar air heating technology in the 1980s and 1990s for the specific purpose of heating large spaces such as offices, factories and warehouse facilities. It was the breakthrough invention that created the global solar air heating industry and since its launch, it has been installed across the commercial and industrial spectrum, from large industrial manufacturing plants and warehouses, to hangars and vehicle maintenance garages, to schools and high-rise buildings in more than 35 countries around the world.

Most recently, SolarWall inventor John Hollick has been honored in a new exhibit curated by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) in New York City that features the best inventions, inventors and engineering feats of the past two centuries, including Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, George Westinghouse, Willis Carrier, the steam engine and the Panama Canal. SolarWall Air Heating was featured in the Energy and Power Category, along with the steam engine, the jet engine, the transformer, incandescent light bulbs, the internal combustion engine, Alta Wind Energy Center, the electric generator and the Itaipu Dam.

Entitled "Engineering the Everyday and the Extraordinary," the goal of the exhibit is to "invite people to rediscover the remarkable; the engineers and inventions that have shaped our world as well as the extraordinary breakthroughs that are already setting the stage for the future." The exhibit will remain in the lobby of the ASME building for the next 15 years.

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Victoria Hollick is the president of Buffalo, N.Y.-based Conserval Systems Inc., maker of SolarWall. Hollick currently serves on the board of directors of the Solar Air Heating World Industries Association (SAHWIA) and on the Solar Heating & Cooling Council for the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA). To learn more, visit www.solarwall.com.

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