Monday, April 06, 2009

New solar-powered water heater is on the way

A research team composed of teachers and students in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Kun Shan University in Tainan County have developed a solar-powered water heater that gets its energy by tracking the sun. The device not only boosts the efficiency of water heaters but is also able to heat the water to 50 degrees Celsius. The commercial viability of the water heater is currently being tested.

The project was led by Chen Chang-jen, an instructor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Students taking part included Yen Tze-che, Pan Chun-hao, Tsai Cheng-tsung and Wang Chen-pu. They came up with the sun-tracking device with repeated tests and experiments. Previous solar-powered water heater could only absorb the power based on the path that the sun takes throughout the day. The new sun-tracking system takes advantage of the sun at various angles in the sky and adjusts its reflective panels to the most ideal angles to catch the light.
Chen says that most solar panels are traditional flat panels that are fixed in a certain position. As such, the sun's light is hard to catch at certain angles, even on bright days. The new sun-tracking system, however, enables the efficiency to be three times greater than that of the traditional solar panels. As a result, it is not only more efficient in collecting energy, but also in using energy, Chen says.

Yen Tze-che, one of the students involved in the project, says that a number of precision instruments have been installed on the top floor of the Department of Mechanical Engineering to collect data on the efficiency of the water heater. Preliminary findings are quite positive, but the water heater is still in the testing phase, said Yen, adding that the key principle behind the water heater will have applications in other appliances such as solar-powered cooking devices and other products aimed at saving on energy. He said students and teachers in the department are currently working on the technology for these items and testing their efficiency.

Word has gotten out about the preliminary success of the product, and some manufacturers have already contacted the department to discuss related R&D details. Industrialists are now looking into the possible commercialization of the solar-powered water heater, which if successful could ultimately become a common household item. The development of this and other related products not only help to save energy, but are also effective in promoting a greener environment.

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