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Building Science

Integrating Solar Electric and Solar Thermal Panels

An award-winning system provides electricity, heats and cools the home, heats the domestic hot water and pool, and will easily get this home to net-zero total-energy use

I first became interested in renewable energy after working at the Denver Planning Office as Chief Cartographer for the Community Renewal Program (CRP) just after graduating from the University of Denver in 1971 with a degree in geography and a chemistry minor. I lived up in the Front Range, southwest of Denver, with my wife and newborn son. There were days when the smog was so thick because of temperature inversions over the Platt River Basin that I would turn around and call in sick because I knew if I drove down into that soup, it would exacerbate my asthma.

That experience informed my decision to go back to school to study pollution. The more I learned, the more it became clear to me that air pollution was mostly a symptom of the wasteful use of fossil fuels—in automobiles, airplanes, and coal-burning power plants. 

After the CRP project was completed, I decided to work with Morey Wolfson, Director of Environmental Action of Colorado (EAC) at the University of Colorado/Denver Campus in downtown Denver. This organization played a key role in charting the course of my life. One of the main advisors to this group was a well-respected Denver architect, Richard L. Crowther. He and Dr. Jerry Plunkett encouraged the group to hold a conference focused on energy conservation and renewable energy. We titled it the “Solar Heating, Cooling, and Energy Conservation Conference,” and it was held at the Denver Holiday Inn in May 1974.

This meeting had the good fortune of being the first federally funded international conference event that was to focus on solar energy and conservation following the 1973 OPEC oil embargo. As a result, we had over 500 participants from all around the globe in attendance. This may not sound like a large conference audience, and it’s not…

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4 Comments

  1. Fred Frasch | | #1

    The fact that a $117,000 "award winning" solar system has a reasonable payback period is remarkable. For 5000 sq foot homes with swimming pools, numerous sliding glass doors and 68 degree summer temperature requirements, maybe so. However when 5 tons of cooling is insufficient, perhaps it's time to rethink things. The fact that we are subsidizing rich people to the tune of 30% to enable this lifestyle is a ridiculous waste of our tax dollars.

  2. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #2

    Count me a skeptic. I've written several reviews of similar inventions over the years, and none provide a reasonable payback on the high capital costs of the equipment. The main problem is that the warm water that you can collect from the back side of a PV module has a low temperature -- and low-temperature warm water isn't very useful, except for swimming pools.

  3. User avater
    Albert Nunez | | #3

    Fred,
    I agree that there was a lot to learn about passive solar homes by Francis Fleetwood but unfortunately by the time I was introduced to the project the building was out of the ground and all the windows and doors had been ordered. The point that I was trying to make with this 1976 home design was that the movable window insulation actually worked extremely well considering that the cooling load was able to be more than cut in half by covering the skylights and the glass doors which were all facing southwest. Of course with the supper efficient Low E options that are available today, the need for Window Quilt shades is greatly diminished but they are still out there and actually still being sold. On a side note, John Schnebly got the idea for the Window Quilt at the May 1974 conference we held in Denver. Additionally, Day Chahroudi and Sean Wesly Miller with the MIT Architecture Department were also present at the meeting to present their research on the first vacuumed sputter-deposited low emissivity coating on a polyester film that could be suspended between two pieces of glass which they dubbed Heat Mirror. This early research work was the foundation of the Loe-E glass industry of today.

  4. User avater
    Albert Nunez | | #4

    Martin,
    I too am skeptical about unproven technologies but I am not afraid to experiment. That is precisely what I have been doing with these PVT+HP projects. I cannot stress the importance of the thermal side of the equation. We not only have to decarbonize electric power but also all of the primary thermal energy that we consume every day in all sectors of the economy. See a Study outlines five thermal energy grand challenges for decarbonizing the world’s economy at:
    https://news.stanford.edu/press-releases/2020/08/12/solve-climate-che-must-deal-heat/

    This technology PVT+HP is not intended to be the end-all on this front buy it is a small piece that can make a significant contribution when properly applied. Th Enser Morris Project was exemplary of how various thermal loads can be all integrated so that in the end very little energy is "waste" The beauty of this project is the holistic synergy of all of the various functions.

    As for the novel SunDrum Solar thermal panels, the inventor, Michael Intrieri and I agree that they need to be made more robust and for a significantly lower cost, by we believe that these both will come with scaling as the world moves forward in its efforts to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

    As S. David Freeman so eloquently said it before his passing this past January, "Going solar is no longer optional. We have to do it everywhere in every way possible!"

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