On September 12 in Phoenix Arizona, NAU’s Office of Sustainability and NAU’s Green Fund was recognized for submitting the Solar Thermal Hot Air Technology which won Arizona Forward’s award for Energy and Technology Innovation. They also took home the Award of Merit for the Governor’s Award for Arizona’s Future for installing the technology on campus.
In January, 2015 NAU installed the first known multi-panel solar thermal hot air system on a university’s campus in the nation. See original blog post: https://green-blog.nau.edu/index.php/2015/01/29/nau-installs-novel-solar-thermal/.
NAU’s Office of Sustainability was attracted to the new technology because although there are many available renewable energy options like solar PV and wind that can reduce net electrical use, there are not many options for directly reducing fossil-based heating (natural gas). Recognizing that heat and hot water comprise nearly half the energy demand in the country, the opportunity for cost effective solar thermal technology is massive.
The technology was discussed at the Environmental Caucus’ Energy Action Team and was then submitted as a proposal to NAU’s Green Fund. The Green Fund committee (predominately comprised of students) was excited about this project because it will pay for itself in a small fraction of the time. The Green Fund chooses projects it thinks will reduce NAU’s carbon footprint and innovative projects that will prove the effectiveness of new technologies to the university and the world. This solar thermal air heating installation (purchased through SolarThermiX) is helping to achieve both these goals. Another top criteria the Green Fund evaluates is “visibility.” “Because NAU strives to be a Living Laboratory, we’re excited that this project is available to all our students, particularly engineering students, for monitoring and class projects” says Jessica Lazor, Climate Science and Solutions (CSS) graduate student and chair of the Green Fund. The technology has already been evaluated by a CCS student and SolarThermiX will be donating more panels to NAU for engineering research this fall.
“NAU is particularly proud of this installation because through this contribution of proving the quality and efficiency of this technology we hope to demonstrate a solution to over 18,000 off-grid Native American homes in Northern AZ that face heat insecurity,” states Ellen Vaughan, manager of NAU’s Office of Sustainability.
There is a crisis in providing heat for reservation elders and this technology could dramatically help stretch the limited propane budgets and/or scarcity of wood for heat.
Simply, solar thermal hot air technology has the potential to do for fossil-based heating what PV has done for electrical energy; albeit with more compelling economic and environmental justification.