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UC Solar House Serves as a Summer Laboratory for Alternative-Energy Technologies

UC’s solar house is now a summer class room where students experiment with alternative-energy technologies.

Date: 8/12/2008 12:00:00 AM
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Ashley Kempher and submitted

UC ingot  

Cost savings, energy sources, appliances and more are all subjects for ongoing experimentation this summer in the University of Cincinnati solar house.

Solar house

The house, constructed last year and ultimately displayed in Washington, D.C., received national attention from outlets like National Public Radio, BusinessWeek magazine and many others in 2007.

And now, the house is – appropriately enough – being recycled for additional use as a learning lab by UC faculty and students representing the university architecture, engineering and physics programs. Ongoing experiments in the house include

  • Using hot water to create new kinds of appliances and energy-saving adaptions to today’s appliances.
  • Determining different ways to generate electricity using hot water.
  • Determining the presumed energy and cost savings from alternative-energy technology and methods.

Hot water as a giant battery
This summer’s focus on hot water as a power source stems from the house’s unique design elements. One of these is a patio shade wall consisting of 120 evacuated tubes. The tubes contain water that, when heated by the sun, translate into usable energy – a lot of usable energy.

Last year, hot-water derived energy powered the air conditioning. But, it could additionally do much more, like powering appliances and lights.

Conversion of a conventional clothes dryer
UC student Adam Saltzman, a graduate architecture student from Columbus, is creating  a new kind of dryer closet that can serve as a stand alone and/or be connected – via an adapter – to a conventional dryer.

Dryer closet and conventional dryer
The UC dryer closet at left will connect with the conventional dryer at right. Both will use solar-powered hot water as the energy source for drying clothing.

Two pipes carrying solar-heated water enter a heat exchanger at the bottom of the dryer closet. Hot air then rises in the closet to dry hanging clothes – which will then need little to no ironing.

Additionally, heat from this dryer closet can be passed – via an adapter – to a conventional dryer now in use throughout the world.

Thus, the conventional dryer now needs no conventional electric- or gas-powered heat source, only a minimal amount of grid-provided electricity to rotate wet apparel.

“Use of this adapter would represent a significant cost and energy savings annually and over the life of the dryer. One day, we’d love it if conventional dryers could be sold with our idea as a simple modification kit,” said Anton Harfmann, a leader of the solar house project and associate dean of UC’s top-ranked College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning.

A new “appliance” in the house
UC physics major Todd Kolloff of Northside is heading an experiment where hot and cold water work together to generate electricity for general use in the home.

His “appliance” is a small cistern filled with hot water. (In fact, the evacuated tubes found outside the UC solar house easily heat water to 180 to 195 degrees Fahrenheit.) Attached to this cistern are thermo-electric modules (palm-sized panels that conduct energy). In what is known as the Seebeck effect, heat passing through these devices creates electricity.

If these panels – heated on one side by the solar-heated hot water and cooled on the other by tap water – are found to work here, such panels could just as easily be placed on a much larger thermal-storage tank. Or in the chimney of the house to recapture heat and then convert it to electricity or even in the exhaust manifold of a car to create electricity for the vehicle’s use.

Showing the savings
In the construction phase of UC’s solar house, students and faculty applied alternative-energy uses for technology. However, precise determinations regarding cost savings – based on field experiments – have not yet been possible due to time constraints.

At the end of the summer, the current team working on these experiments hopes to gather data in regard to the capital equipment costs and operational-cost savings connected to these alternative-energy experiments and then compare these to conventional equipment and energy-generation costs.

The best education for the future

Adam Saltzman and Anton Harfmann
UC student Adam Saltzman, left, and Anton Harfmann discuss the adapter used to connet their dryer closet with a convetional machine. Again, both would heat and dry clothes by making use of solar-heated hot water as an energy source.

UC architecture student Adam Saltzman sees his involvement in ongoing solar experiments as the best preparation for his professional future. He explained, “Architects integrate technology into buildings and make that technology practicable. For instance, an architect can orient the house to receive solar energy.”

Faculty and students involved in UC’s ongoing solar house experiments

  • Anton Harfmann, associate dean and associate professor of architecture
  • Mike Kazmierczak, associate professor of engineering
  • Todd Kolloff, undergraduate student in physics
  • Adam Saltzman, graduate student in architecture