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What is solar insolation?

What is solar insolation?
The amount of electromagnetic energy (solar radiation) incident on the surface of the earth. Basically that means how much sunlight is shining down on us.

Why is knowing the insolation level useful?
By knowing the insolation levels of a particular region we can determine the size of solar collector that is required. An area with poor insolation levels will need a larger collector than an area with high insolation levels. Once you know your region's insolation level you can more accurately calculate collector size and energy output.

What units are used to express Insolation levels?
The values are generally expressed in kWh/m2/day. This is the amount of solar energy that strikes a square metre of the earth's surface in a single day. Of course this value is averaged to account for differences in the days' length. There are several units that are used throughout the world.

The conversions based on surface area as follows:
1 kWh/m2/day = 317.1 btu/ft2/day = 3.6MJ/m2/day

The raw energy conversions are:
1kWh = 3412 Btu = 3.6MJ = 859.8kcal

Is my region's insolation level low, moderate or high?
The following scale is a basic guide for insolation levels. Although a value of 5 is not considered very high during the summer months, as an average annual value this is very high. You will see that in central Australia, which is a hot, sunny place, the annual average insolation is 5.89.

You may compare you location to the following two extreme locations.
Average annual insolation levels:
Central Australia = 5.89 kWh/m2/day - Very High
Helsinki, Finland = 2.41 kWh/m2/day - Very Low


How Solar Water Heaters Work

The operation of the solar collector is as follows:

1. Solar Absorption: Solar thermal energy is absorbed within the evacuated tubes and is converted into usable concentrated heat.

2. Solar Thermal Transfer: Copper heat pipes transfer the thermal energy from within the solar tube into the copper header.

3. Solar Thermal Storage: A thermal transfer solution (water or glycol mixture) is pumped through the copper header. As the the solution circulates through the copper header the temperature is raised by 5-10 oC / 9-18 oF.

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Evacuated Tubes: The most efficient thermal collector on the market, the glass tubes absorb solar thermal energy for use in water heating. The tubes have a double wall, the area between the inner and outer layers of the wall are evacuated ( a vacuum). This acts as a thermos to keep heat from escaping into the atmosphere.

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The evacuated tubes are glass tubes manufactured from strengthened borosilicate glass. The tubes have a double outer layer; the outer layer is fully transparent to allow solar energy to pass through unimpeded. The inner layer is treated with a selective optical coating which causes energy absorption without reflection. The inner and outer layer are fused at high temperatures at the end leaving an empty space between the inner and outer layers. All air is pumped out of the space between the two layers (evacuation process) creating the thermos effect which stops conductive and convective transfer of heat which might otherwise escape into the atmosphere. Heat loss is further reduced by the low-emissivity nature of the type of glass that is used.
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Heat Pipe: Inside the glass tube is the copper heat pipe. It is a sealed hollow copper tube that contains a small amount of proprietary liquid, which under low pressure boils at a very low temperature. In fact the liquid contained in the heat pipe boils at only 86 oF (30 oC).

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The header is enclosed in the manifold (above).

This heat pipe rapidly and efficiently transfers the captured thermal energy through the evacuated tube and delivers it to the manifold (header) as the liquid boils and rises. As the heat is removed from the heat pipe by the copper header, the liquid condenses and gravity returns it to the base of the heat pipe so that the process is continually repeated.

Because the evacuated tubes are round, they serve as a passive tracking solar collector maximizing their performance.


Solar Glossary

 Here are a list of some terms you may encounter when reading through our web site.
We have tried to make explanations as easy to understand as possible, but if you are still un-clear please feel free to contact us.

Aperture: The part of the collector through which light enters. For evacuated tubes this refers to the cross-sectional surface area of the outer clear glass tube measured using the internal diameter, not the outside diameter.
(Eg. 0.0548m x 1.72m = 0.094m2). 1.72m is the exposed length of the evacuated tube.

Absorber: The part of the collector that actively absorbs the light rays. For solar tubes this is defined as the cross-sectional area of the inner tube (selective coated) measured using the outside diameter. (Eg. 0.047 x 1.72m = 0.08m2) This value is used when calculating efficiency values. For solar tube collectors with reflective panels, the entire circumferential surface area of the inner tube is often used when calculating absorber area, as the reflective panel is supposed to reflect light onto underside of the evacuated tube.

BTU - Stands for British Thermal Units. This is an imperial unit of measurement for heat widely used in the US and also in the UK. The conversion to the metric unit kWh is: 1 kWh = 3412Btu, and for surface area values, 1kWh/m2/day = 314Btu/ft2/day

Celsius - The metric unit for temperature measurement. Convert as follows:
Fahrenheit = (oC x 1.8) + 32
Celsius = (oF - 32)/1.8

For Delta-T measurements the relative temperature difference is needed.
Eg. Delta-T = 7oC turn pump on, Delta-T 2oC turn pump off. How much is that in oF?
The conversion from Fahrenheit to Celsius is simple:
Fahrenheit = oC x 1.8
Celsius = oF / 1.8

Delta-T Controller: Delta-T refers to the difference in two temperatures. This term is often use in relation to a solar controller. In such case the Delta-T is the difference between the solar collector temperature and the temperature of the water in the solar storage tank. A Delta-T controller can be configured to turn on the pump when the Delta-T difference exceeds a certain level (Eg.7oC / 12.7oF) and off again when the temperature difference drops below another setting (Eg. 2oC / 3.6oF). The controller turns on the pump when there is heat potential in the manifold. A Delta-T controller can also be used to provide freeze protection by circulating warm water from the tank through the manifold when the manifold temperature drops below 5oC.

Efficiency: Solar collector efficiency is usually expressed as a percentage value, or in a performance graph. When assessing a collector's performance make sure it is based on the correct surface area values. Eg. If performance values are based on gross area, then the gross area must be used when determining total heat output. IAM values have a significant influence on actual heat output throughout the day, and should be considered. Looking at just the percentage efficiency value will not give a true indication of daily heat output.

Efficiency testing is usually completed by testing bodies such as SPF, SRCC and other government approved testing bodies.

Tm* is the x axis value on performance graphs for solar collectors.
Tm* is calculated as:
(water temp - ambient temp)/Insolation
Eg. (44oC - 20oC)/800Watts = 0.03

Flow Rate: The volume of water flowing through plumbing in a given period of time. Usually measured in volume/minute or volume/hour. 1 Litre/min = 0.264 US Gallon/min

Gross Area: The total surface area of the collector including the frame, manifold and absorber. This area is often used when comparing collectors, but a better comparison to use is value for money. Roof size is not usually a limiting factor for domestic solar water heating installations, so the size of the collector is not really that important.

Insolation: Don't confuse this with insulation - the one letter change makes a big difference. Insolation refers to the amount of sunlight falling on the earth.

Insulation: The ability to protect against transfer of heat/cold. Erjin solar collectors use compressed glass wool to insulate the header from heat loss. Glass wool has excellent insulation properties, is very light and can withstand high temperatures, making it an ideal choice for a solar collector. It is made from a least 80% old glass bottles and can be recycled so is very environmentally friendly.

Irridance, Irridation: Basically the same as Insolation - explained above.

Incidence Angle Modifier (IAM): refers to the change in performance as the sun's angle in relation to the collector surface changes. Perpendicular to the collector (usually midday) is expressed as 0o, with negative and positive angles in the morning and afternoon respectively. Collectors with a flat absorber surface, which includes some types of evacuated tubes, only have 100% efficiency at midday (0o), whereas Erjinsolar tubes provide peak efficiency mid morning and mid afternoon, at around 40o from perpendicular. This results in good stable heat output for most of the day.

Pressure: Refers to the water pressure in the system. The conversions for the most commonly used units are: 1 bar = 1.02kg/cm2 = 14.5psi = 100kPa = 0.1Mpa = 10m water head.


What is Solar?

Solar energy is the cleanest and most inexhaustible of all known energy sources. Solar radiation is the heat, light and other radiation that is emitted from the sun. Solar radiation contains huge amounts of energy and is responsible for almost all the natural processes on earth. The suns energy, although plentiful, has been hard to directly harness until recently.

Solar Energy can be classified into two categories, Thermal and Light. Photo-voltaic cells (PV) use semiconductor-based technology to convert light energy directly into an electric current that can either be used immediately, or stored in a battery, for later use. PV panels are now becoming widely used as they are very versatile, and can be easily mounted on buildings and other structures. They can provide a clean, renewable energy source which can supplement and thus minimize the use of mains electricity supply. In regions without main electricity supply such as remote communities, emergency phones etc, PV energy can provide a reliable supply of electricity. The disadvantage of PV panels is their high cost and relatively low energy conversion rate (only 13-15%). Thermal solar on the other hand has average efficiency levels 4-5 times that of PV, and is therefore much cheaper per unit of energy produced.

Thermal energy can be used to passively heat buildings through the use of certain building materials and architectural design, or used directly to heat water for household use. In many regions, solar water heaters are now a viable supplement or alternative to electric or gas hot water production.

Thermal energy obtained from the sun can be used for a number of applications including producing hot water, space heating and even cooling via use of absorption chilling technology.

Using solar and other forms of renewable energy reduces reliance on fossil fuels for energy production, thus directly reducing CO2 emissions. CO2 emissions contribute to global warming, an environmental issue which is now of great concern. The average household can reduce CO2 emissions by as much as 20% by installing an Erjinsolar collector.

Flat plate thermal solar collectors have been in use for several decades, but only in relatively small numbers, particularly in Western countries. Evacuated tubes have also been in use for more than 20 years, but have been much more expensive than flat plate, and therefore only chosen for high temperature applications or by those with money.

In recent years the production volume of evacuated tubes has exploded, resulting in greatly lower manufacturing and material costs. The result is that evacuated tubes are now similar in price to flat plate, but with the insulating benefits of the evacuated tube, they are set to become the default choice for thermal solar applications worldwide

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