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Cheap and Environmental Heating Solution

For Immediate Release 16 January, 2003

Cheap and Environmental Heating Solution

Winter power crises may become a thing of the past, if a PhD student at The University of Auckland is successful in his aim to develop a solar panel for New Zealand's warehouses and office blocks.

Avinda Weerakoon, from the School of Engineering, is developing metal solar panels that use the sun's radiation to create an environmentally friendly and cheap form of heating.

"New Zealand building owners are trying to minimise their energy costs so we're trying to use the energy from the sun for space heating," he says.

Although similar products have been used in the United States, Mr Weerakoon says New Zealand's strong winds and unique climate means the product needs to be modified to be of use here.

"Some of our experiments have shown that just transporting the products from the US won't work. We are redefining the technology for New Zealand and also working out what changes we could make to create an exportable product for overseas markets."

The system has metal panels on the roof and sun-facing side of the buildings. There is a gap between the panels and the wall of the building and a fan sucks warm air through the gap, into the building and connects to the air conditioner.

"The metal absorbs energy from the sun and creates warm fresh air.

"It is more likely to be applicable for large buildings such as apartments, warehouses and apartment buildings, that have large surfaces facing the sun," he says.

The panels, called transpired solar collection panels (TSC), will supply either all or some of the heating for the building. Mr Weerakoon says that even if all heating is not supplied, it will still greatly reduce the cost of heating an entire office block or warehouse.

"What is great about the panels is that they are most efficient during the winter, when the sun is low and therefore shining on the sides of the building. We also think they will be most suitable for the South Island, which has colder but sunnier winters," he says.

As well as redeveloping the panels, Mr Weerakoon is building a computer model that will enable architects and builders to predict the heating requirements of the building.

He says the model will predict solar radiation levels in areas of New Zealand, and other parts of the world, and the likely energy output of the panels on a particular building. This will help with decisions such as where to place a building and how many panels are needed.

"My research has shown that the TSC panels can raise the temperature by 15 degrees in winter. The best time of the day for heating is between 9am and 1pm. That is good news for builders wanting to create efficient heating for office buildings, which need heating in the morning," he says.

Associate Professor Peter Richards, one of Mr Weerakoon's supervisors, says the advantage of the TSC system is its simplicity.

"Most systems that use solar energy focus on heating water, but that is complicated and expensive because it involves pumps and piping. But this system is reasonably cheap and simple because it warms the air rather than water," he says.

Dr Richards says the team are planning to make solar radiation and heating measurements on one of The Warehouse's buildings and they are currently looking for new test buildings from sites around New Zealand.

"There is a lot of potential for this to become a niche environmentally-friendly product that could save a lot of money for heating buildings, particularly buildings that are generally not heated at present such as factories and warehouse," says Dr Richards.

Mr Weerakoon, who is originally from Sri Lanka, emigrated to New Zealand to do a PhD at The University of Auckland. He completed his undergraduate degree in ship design at the University of Newscastle upon Tyne and a Master of Fire Engineering at Portsmouth University in the United Kingdom.

"New Zealand has a clean green image, and I believe that products like this will help the country find a segment of the environmental market. In the next decade consumers are going to become even more demanding about products being environmentally-friendly, and that is something I want to be involved in," he says.


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