Thanks to the Photovoltaic Innovation Network, I participated in Solar Canada 2012 in Toronto, Ontario. This conference/exhibition is the largest national solar event in Canada, and is hosted by the Canadian Solar Industry Association (CanSIA). This year the event was quite large, in part due to the fact that it was CanSIA’s 20th anniversary.
In this conference, I participated in some talks and visited some booths; one of the talks that was really interesting to me was about Solar thermal, Geo-thermal and the opportunity to integrate these two technologies together. Solar thermal installations consist of a solar thermal collector on the roof, a control unit with a pump and a potable water storage tank. The collector absorbs the light from the sun and converts it into heat. This heat is transferred to a liquid which circulates through the collector and down into the solar storage tank (fig-1). There are a lot of solar thermal projects within Canada (as they can easily deployed, even in residential areas), but one of the biggest is at Oxford Gardens retirement home in Woodstock, Ontario. This solar thermal project is saving on air conditioning costs by up to 40%, or approximately $20, 000 per year; for heat savings, up to 60% or approximately $40, 000 per year, according to Suni Ball from Proterra Solar.
A geothermal heat pump, ground source heat pump (GSHP), or ground heat pump is a central heating and/or cooling system that pumps heat to or from the ground. It uses the earth as a heat source (in the winter) or a heat sink (in the summer). Heat pumps provide winter heating by extracting heat from a source and transferring it into a building. In the summer, the process can be reversed so the heat pump extracts heat from the building and transfers it to the ground. Transferring heat to a cooler space takes less energy, so the cooling efficiency of the heat pump gains benefits from the lower ground temperature (fig-2).
The combination of these two systems has many benefits :
-Both systems don’t use fossil fuels at the point of use
-Geothermal is the backup for the solar thermal while the Geo-thermal can also provide cooling.
-Large flexibility in the heating appliances that can be used with both systems.
-Using the geothermal loop field as a storage tank to absorb the excess solar energy in the summer. This advantage allows you to oversize the solar thermal system and increase the solar thermal contribution to the winter heating.
A study has been done  for the viability of a combined system in Milton, Ontario. This study shows that a combined system is feasible for space conditioning. For the house in this study, the seasonal solar thermal energy storage in the ground was sufficient to offset the large amount of Geo-thermal pump system length that would have been required in conventional systems. They showed that the economic benefit of such system depends on climate, as well as borehole drilling cost.
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