Solar hot water heats buildings at Rockford Airport

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11503150618551.jpg’, ‘Drawing of installation by architect McClellan and Blakemore’, ‘This architects’ rendering shows planned installation of solar hot water systems at Rockford Airport.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11503151135370.jpg’, ‘Photo by Dr. Sonia Vogl’, ‘The first building at Rockford Airport with solar hot water for space heating.’);

Study: Three-quarters of U.S. residential and commercial buildings could meet half their hot water and space heating needs with solar energy

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl

President and Vice President

Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Any major change in the world’s energy consumption must start with how we, the world’s largest energy user, produce and use energy. Leading energy experts calculate we have about a decade to make a serious dent in our fossil fuel consumption to avoid the worst impacts of global climate change and dwindling supplies of low-cost energy.

According to a study by Lenius, Klein and Beckman at the Solar Energy Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, three-quarters of U.S. residential and commercial buildings could meet half their hot water and space heating needs with solar energy. With installation done on only 7.5 percent of suitable buildings per year, the program would be completed in a decade.

Such a program would lessen vulnerability to volatile energy prices and our pollution load on the environment, cut our risk of energy shortages and provide many jobs installing systems. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates water heating alone accounts for 15 percent of a household’s energy use.

A solar hot water system can pay for itself within four to 10 years. Annual fuel costs savings average around 70 percent. A good quality system can provide more than 20 years of maintenance-free service. It can also be connected to an existing hot air system or radiant heating system to provide supplementary heat to a room or an entire house.

All solar water heating systems rely on the sun’s energy to heat air or a liquid that circulates through a solar collector.

The most common types of solar heating and hot water applications are for homes, multifamily buildings, commercial buildings and swimming pools.

A new solar hot water space heating system has just been built at the Rockford Airport. Little did we realize when we discussed this project with Bob Moreland prior to its development the eventual magnitude of it.

Moreland, a recently retired American Airlines pilot, noted there were no available airplane hangars at Rockford Airport, so he decided to build some. They’re top quality, big commercial buildings, 16,500 square feet for the first building with 10 1,500 twin-engine aircraft-size units and 13,750 square feet for the second building, which will contain 12 units for single-engine aircraft. The first building also has a modern, well-equipped pilots’ lounge. Each pilot has his own condominium-like space for himself and his plane. One building is up and operating; the second is being worked on.

The buildings are extremely efficient. They’re super insulated, with R-38 in the walls and R-50 in the ceilings. Lighting is also very efficient.

But the most important feature for Moreland was the heating system. A pilot can “gain immeasurable utility from a plane” if it’s kept warm in winter. Using gas to heat one of the huge buildings “costs a fortune,” but the sun provides free energy. Moreland decided to use that free energy and hired Solar Service of Niles to install a solar hot water system. A 400-square-foot flat plate collector on the south-facing roof heats water, which is then piped under the floors, providing radiant heating.

Rundle-Spence supplied much of the radiant heating design and materials, and worked with McClellan and Blakemore Architects of Rockford and Moreland to put the innovative design together.

Moreland and his tenants are pleased with the system, which “makes winter heating drop from very expensive to not very expensive at all. It’s fun to watch it work,” he said.

Moreland’s son, also a pilot, is just home from Iraq and is helping him with construction. Even though construction will not be complete until later this summer, more than half the units have been sold or have deposits on them.

Bob O’Brien, airport manager, wants to bring general aviation back to Rockford. He has been very supportive of the project, offering an attractive 60-year land lease.

Solar Service will again be exhibiting at the Fifth Annual Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair, Aug. 12-13. Brandon Leavitt, owner, will again be making a presentation. Last year, his practical workshop had an overflow crowd. Backward to the Future, installer of evacuated tube hot water systems, will also exhibit and make a presentation. Evacuated tubes operate at higher temperatures than flat plates.

Major sponsors for this year’s fair include The Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, and ComEd, An Exelon Company.

From the June 14-20, 2006, issue

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