Solar energy class

I recently started a night class on solar energy and its uses. It’s a six-week class that gives students an overview of the different types of solar technologies available, their advantages and disadvantages, applications, etc.

The class is offered by the Solar Energy Society of Alberta and it covers a lot of ground. We’ve got some industry experts coming in and showing us the equipment as well, and we’ll be doing a tour of solar technology installations in Edmonton.

I do know some things about the different technologies (having researched them in the past), but I like the class because it summarizes everything nicely and goes much further in depth than I have on the subject. It doesn’t hurt to have Rob Harlan as our instructor, someone with a lot of practical experience in the field.

The planning and design aspect is important to me as we plan our off-grid home, particularly from a northern climate perspective. I don’t have an issue with it not being a hands-on installation course. I’m not ready for that, but I will be soon!

Week 1 was more of an overview of the energy issues the world is facing, and some of the challenges Alberta faces. In week 2 we covered solar hot water and the various options available. We had Bruce Ganske of SolSource, an Alberta solar hot water supply company, come in to talk about solar hot water and bring along a number of solar hot water products to display.

The basic options you’re looking at for solar hot water systems are flat plate collectors and evacuated tubes. And then in flat plate collectors you’ve got the choice of batch, thermosiphon, drain back and closed loop systems. If I understood correctly, it seems as if evacuated tube systems are closed loop.

For Alberta, the batch and thermosiphon systems would really only be practical in summer, so we’re really looking only at drainback or closed loop. I really like the evacuated tubes, but they’ve got issues with snow cover. Flat plates are nice because as soon as they start to warm up, the snow melts right off.

Lots of food for thought anyway! I think there are around 25 students in the class so it’s interesting hearing the questions. The students are of varied backgrounds, such as electricians, home-builders, millwrights, etc. I think I heard someone was a plumber. We have a couple of farmers and someone who works in building inspection.

It’s been seven years since I took a course. The last courses I took were in 2005 when I finished my journalism degree, so it’s been nice to get back to class.

I look forward to every class. They’re three hours, but they fly by and are packed with great information. I’m going to have to find more classes to take after this one. I think the next ones may be installer courses.

Have you got any experience with solar hot water? Got any tips, suggestions or useful information on it? Feel free to share.

By Alain Saffel

If I were to picture my ideal life, I’d be sitting in some far off land, sipping a coffee in a café, my backpack at my side, camera around my neck, motorcycle at the curb, pondering my next stop or maybe madly typing away on my laptop about my latest adventure. Of course my home base will be a rural location, somewhere in Canada.

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