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June 25 2003

Clean heat – as simple as sunshine

Researchers at the University of South Australia have developed a revolutionary heating system that is effective, cheap to run, environmentally friendly, and designed to be discretely tucked away inside the roof of the home or office. 

The principles of solar air space heating systems have been known for decades but until now none could be used practically in a modern home. The simple principle of the system is to capture the sun’s heat during the day, transfer that heat to a storage facility and then retrieve it later when needed. 

The challenge for researchers at UniSA’s Sustainable Energy Centre (SEC) was to develop a system that complemented contemporary Australian housing design while providing a practical and affordable alternative to fossil fuel dependent heating systems, according to SEC Director, Associate Professor Wasim Saman. 

Through a close collaboration between partners committed to creating sustainable communities, the South Australian Housing Trust, BHP Steel and UniSA, a new environmentally friendly innovation in home space heating was created, with research programs funded through the SA State Energy Research Advisory Committee and the Australian Research Council. 

“With the cost of electricity and gas on the rise, the Solar Air Space Heating System is a most attractive alternative that can reduce average conventional heating bills by half. 

“Other benefits include low dependence on fossil fuels, free energy from the sun, blends with contemporary home design, is almost invisible, makes use of standard building and air conditioning design and installation practices, and is easy to install in new and existing homes,” Professor Saman said. 

The solar heater comprises two major components - an air based solar roof integrated collector and a thermal storage unit. 

The solar collector is a roof made from Colorbond® Steel, which has been glazed with a clear plastic material that’s hardly noticeable. On sunny days the collector heats up as it absorbs sunlight. Air is then passed through the collector and is heated. This hot air warms the home or passes through the thermal storage unit, where the heat is captured in an innovative system of phase change materials that store energy by changing from a solid to a liquid at a desired temperature. 

Because phase change materials have high energy storage capacity per unit mass and volume, heat can be stored efficiently in a compact system contained fully within the roof space, according to UniSA research engineer, Martin Belusko. 

“When there is no sunshine, cool air inside the house is passed through the storage unit where it is heated and then circulated back into the house, introducing fresh air during operation. When the thermal storage is ‘empty’, a gas heater is used as the auxiliary heater,” Belusko said. 

UniSA’s Sustainable Energy Centre is a world leader in developing applications of phase change materials for both heating and cooling and has established a reputation for applied and innovative research across a broad range of sustainable energy applications. 

“UniSA’s solar heating system is the first of a series of applications for both domestic and commercial markets. As the full family of innovative systems is demonstrated and commercialised over the next two years, the energy use and associated environmental impact for a typical Adelaide home will change forever,” Professor Saman said. 

The first prototype of this system has been installed on a house at Windsor Gardens. UniSA researchers will monitor the system’s performance in the home over the next six months. 

Housing Minister, Steph Key, says the new solar heating system will be trialed by a family moving into the new home at the Windsor Green urban renewal project. 

“The family will provide feedback on the new solar heating system as it heats their Housing Trust home in Windsor Gardens.” 

Other trials of solar energy systems in Housing Trust homes include the installation of solar hot water systems in 100 tenants’ homes in Port Augusta – as part of a State Government partnership project with NRG Flinders, Port Augusta City Council and the EPA. 

Media contact: Geraldine Hinter (08) 8302 0963 or 0417 861832


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