Well, it doesn’t have to be beer cans exactly…any aluminum can works very well as a solar heater. Although there are a few companies manufacturing and producing these innovative solar heating products, the original, and certainly most successful, company is CanSolAir.
A Calgary-based company, CanSolAir has introduced a forced convection solar heating system that is capable of heating up to 2,000 square feet of living space. The unit is known as the RA 240 SOLAR MAX.
The solar collector measures 4 feet x 7 feet (28 square feet) and can be mounted on the roof or side of your home. Obviously, the unit should be placed in a location with as much direct access to sunlight as possible for maximum efficiency, but the unit is surprisingly good at what it does. In fact, independent researchers have concluded that the RA 240 has a power coefficient of 1 to 77 (one watt of energy converts to 77 watts of heat energy). This is the highest power coefficient in the industry and a vast improvement over conventional electric heating options.
With an efficiency rating as high as 95%, this is technology we can all benefit from. People around the world agree and CanSolAir currently sells its solar heating products in more than 17 countries globally. Why is this heating technique becoming so popular? In a word…savings. Many CanSolAir customers have realized as much as a 40% energy savings over conventional heating methods and the best part is that the unit in no way affects your normal HVAC system. In other words, when the sun is shining you can save some serious money and resort back to your existing heating system in times of extreme cold or cloudy conditions where the SOLAR MAX may not be sufficient.
How Does it Work?
The RA 240 SOLAR MAX works because aluminum is such an excellent conductor of heat. The aluminum cans are stripped of paint and installed into the housing unit in a way that promotes maximum air flow. The sun heats up the aluminum and this heat energy is transferred into the air as it is forced through the collector and back into the house.
The front of the unit is made from a UV stabilized clear plastic barrier that allows maximum sunlight to enter the unit without damaging internal components or creating the “plastic smell” sometimes associated with other units. In addition to heating the air, the RA 240 SOLAR MAX actually filters and de-stratifies the air. And it does this without any moving parts and practically no maintenance. It is literally the most cost-effective heating system in the world.
Assuming good access to sunlight, the unit is capable of producing close to 10,000 BTUs of heat energy and could heat many of the small to medium sized homes in America for free.
When it’s not sunny, CanSolAir recommends relying on your existing HVAC system, but the company is also working on ways to store unused heat energy using recycled vegetable oil. In a system like this, stored heat energy could be released as needed when the unit is not producing enough heat on its own.
At the time of this writing, the RA 240 SOLAR MAX can be purchased directly from CanSolAir for $2,795 CDN (about $2,525 USD). Installation doesn’t seem too difficult from a DIY perspective, but CanSolAir claims that most units can be professionally installed for approximately $500.
For a slightly higher cost, CanSolAir also offers a stand alone off-grid unit complete with its own solar PV panel, inverter and associated electronics.
Although this price may seem a little steep for a solar-based heating system, it’s not uncommon to save hundreds of gallons in fuel costs each year with the addition of the RA 240 SOLAR MAX or a similar design. One customer in New York reported saving 427 gallons in fuel oil throughout the winter thanks to the SOLAR MAX. With numbers like that, it’s easy to see how quickly you could reach ROI with this simple system.
In addition to offering this product, I like CanSolAir for another reason. In 2012, the company acquired an 18 acre testing facility to develop new ideas. Even better, CanSolAir allows any other company involved in solar research to use this secure facility. This is a company that truly believes in the future of solar energy (as we all should).
Why do I think this is an important topic to cover? Two reasons:
1. This product demonstrates true innovation in a package that is affordable on nearly any budget. Since the system is considered a residential solar energy solution, it is eligible for federal and state programs similar to solar PV systems we have discussed previously. CanSolAir also offers financing options for those so inclined.
2. Although I really like the efficiency of the RA 240 SOLAR MAX, I think this could represent an excellent DIY project that we will make available to Resilient Strategies subscribers in this month’s issue. I doubt that we can achieve the same efficiency offered by CanSolAir’s design, but if we can do it for a fraction of the price, it is definitely worth trying.
Oh, in case you’re still not convinced…solar energy solutions such as this have been proven to increase the value of your home by an average of $17,000 (in a report published by the US Department of Energy last year).
CanSolAir is a company that represents many of the same values we adhere to at Resilient Communities and they offer a product that almost any home can benefit from. Whether you currently heat with natural gas, propane, heating oil, electric heat or wood, this unit can significantly reduce energy costs in a truly sustainable fashion (and it looks cool too).