Your Green Life: "Solar Thermal Heating"

By KBJR News 1

February 27, 2012 Updated Feb 27, 2012 at 9:28 AM CDT

"We're completely off the power grid, there is no power bill." Said Pete Gravett

Pete Gravette uses solar electricity to supply power to his house.
But what about heat during our cold winter months?
The RREAL program has been helping northlanders heat their homes using solar thermal heating. Program director Tim Ollhoff says solar can be a very effective solution.

"It has the quickest payback because it's the lowest cost to begin with and its very efficient." said Tim Ollhoff

Solar thermal heating is a relatively cheap and simple technology. It uses the energy from the sun to collect heat and pump the heat, using air, into the house.

Tim Ollhoff deescribes the process, "An absorber plate that is actually a selectively surfaced metal that is very very efficient at absorbing heat and it doesn't allow, when the photons come in, it doesn't allow them to bounce back out."

Air is pumped from the house, passed through the solar thermal plate, then back into the house.
This system is so effective in the northland because in the winter months high pressure keeps the skies clear even though it tends to be colder outside.

"When it's a descent sunny day my furnace does not kick on at all, even if it's cold out." said Olhoff.

Ollhoff says that with weatherization of his house and the solar thermal heating he saves about 50–60% on his heating bill.
Solar thermal heating is not the same as solar electricity, in fact it is even more efficient.

"Solar electricity is probably about 20% efficient, where as solar heating, solar thermal applications, hot water and air heat are about 60%." He said.

With such a good payback, the RREAL program is providing low–income families with a permanent solution for their heating needs.
Ollhoff says this program is an important social safety net that will continue to payback their customers with sustainable energy for years to come.

"I mean these solar heating collectors are going to sit there year after year doing what they do. Its just such a simple technology that it almost can't not work."

In Duluth, Adam Lorch, the Northlands News Center.

Ollhoff says the first and most important step is proper weatherization of your home.