We often get so focused on conventional solar PV or solar thermal heating that we forget about some of the other approaches out there, including one that claims to be “the fastest solar payback on the planet.”Conserval Engineering, based in Toronto, has for nearly 30 years been providing an air-based solar heating system, called SolarWall, to industrial- and commercial-scale building projects. It’s basically a special metal cladding on the south-facing side of a building that converts heat from the sun into warm air that is circulated throughout the building.
The company’s most recent installation is in upstate New York, where 50 SolarWall systems have been installed across 27 buildings at the Fort Drum military base. The company says the systems, perhaps one of the earliest examples of build-integrated solar design, will collectively produce 4 megawatts of peak thermal energy. “The technology heats ventilation and makeup air required in vehicle mainteance garages, warehouses, hangars, etc… displacing the traditional heating load,” the company said. Conserval recently expanded its manufacturing capacity in Toronto. It’s not widely known that the Canadian government, NASA, Ford, Federal Express, and Wal-Mart are among the company’s major customers.
In addition to solar air heating, the company has branched out into providing combined solar PV and air heating. It also sells its air system for agricultural and industrial process drying, which could prove tremendously useful in markets looking to exploit wet biomass. Past efforts in this area include a coffee-bean drying project in Costa Rica.