'Solar battery' gets tryout in Fairbanks building near university

FAIRBANKS — The Fairbanks-based Cold Climate Housing Research Center is hoping that sunshine power captured during long summer days can be banked for warming during the long, dark in winter.

The industry-based, nonprofit corporation is building and testing a heating system that will use a buried 25,000-gallon water drum heated by solar panels as a solar battery, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

It will be tested on a 7,000-square foot addition to the center’s building near the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where the center tests cold-weather building techniques.

A tank the size of a school bus was lowered Wednesday into a deep trench. Spray foam insulation covered the outside of the 25,000-gallon drum. It will be filled with water and heated by an array of south-facing solar panels.

“The idea is when the sun’s not available in December, January, February, we’ll be able to sip fuel from that tank,” said research engineer Bruno Grunau.

The demonstration project ventures into new territory for builders in the far north. Others have used thermal storage systems in interior Alaska but typically heat homes with tanks of 5,000 gallons or less. A tank five times that size will test its limits, Grunau said.

Sixteen 2-by-6-foot thermal solar panels will heat the water and raise temperature as high as 180 degrees. Tubes filled with glycol will transfer heat into the building and a radiant floor heating system.

CCHRC has collected electricity from a 10 solar panels since 2008. Fairbanks is productive spot for sunlight, Grunau said.

“The solar resource is great,” he said. “The Interior is the best in Alaska.”

Heat produced this winter by the system will be minimal. The true test will come after summer 2014.

Even if the system doesn’t work as expected, he said, it will provide valuable information, Grunau said.

The system could be functional by Christmas. The center will create a website to allow the public to track energy the system is producing.

A $70,000 grant from BP is funding the project. K&K Recycling donated the tank, said center communications coordinator Molly Rettig.

“It’s pretty incredible,” Rettig said of the system. “I guess we’re thinking of this as a demonstration to see how much it can do.”


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