Sunday, April 30, 2017

heating degree days 2

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(click graph to enlarge)

This graph shows my progress at using less electricity for heat.

The blue line is the 2016-2017 heating season. The blue line is lower than the others and slopes less. The graph tells me that I used less electricity per heating degree day last year than the previous three years.

Although I heat with an oil burning furnace, a fair amount of electricity gets used to power the two motors in the furnace, about 600 watts while it runs. If it runs less often, it uses less kWh.

The graph was simple to make and only requires two numbers for each month. One number, the total kWh used, is from my electricity bill. The second number is the heating degree days for that same month that the electricity was used from a government site like the one I showed in the previous article. A copy of my spreadsheet (.xls) is here.

I made a number of improvements in the house to reduce heat loss but particularly last summer (new insulation, leaks plugged, air circulation cut from the sun room and a new door) so it is good to be able to show the improvement in spite of changing weather.

I am ignoring price here and focusing only on the kWh used and the outside temperature as expressed in the heating degree days for my location.

Last winter was not as cold as the previous three but that does not matter when the data is compared as kWh per heating degree day.

Thanks for your interest.

George Plhak
Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada

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Saturday, April 29, 2017

heating degree days

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(click graph to enlarge)

In order to compare my energy costs for different periods I am looking at the "heating degree days" for the nearest weather station Tobermory.

The graph confirms my memory of the last few winters. Certainly this past winter was NOT AS COLD as the previous three. I need to keep this in mind before I go patting myself on the back for energy reduction this past year as I have worked on this project.

I am midway between Tobermory and Wiarton. The data for other locations in Canada are available at weatherstats.ca. I thought Tobermory might be slightly more pessimistic data since it is further north and indeed as I compare month by month for last year, Tobermory is usually, but not always colder than Wiarton (higher degree days for the month).

The data is available monthly as well as quarterly.



Heating Degree Days are similar but different from Growing Degree Days (for agriculture) or Cooling Degree Days (for air conditioning).

Thanks for your interest.

George Plhak
Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada

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Friday, April 21, 2017

the new water heater

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(click graph to enlarge)

I had previously determined that my hot water heater was one of my top five largest electricity uses.

So I recently replaced my old electric water heater with a new electric heater of the same type, but 23 years newer. I now have data which shows less electricity to keep my water hot than before. The red line is the new water heater, the blue is the old.

I didn't get anything special. Mine is a GSW (AO Smith) base model but I will treat it with a bit of extra insulation. Even without the insulation I will add, so far I can see that the new heater has better insulation than did the old heater from 1994. It is ON less often.

The graph shows the percentage of the time that the water heater is ON. The new heater has the same standard 3000 watt heaters as did the old so it uses the same amount of energy when it is ON. The difference is that it is not ON as much as the old heater as shown by the %.

I am measuring the duty cycle % in the same manner that I did in the old water heater article then plotting the data points as I make them. The red regression line of the new heater data should grow towards the right as the temperature in the basement gradually rises with the coming summer.

A water heater will work harder when the temperature around it drops (lowering the ambient temperature). My water heater is in the basement quite close to the furnace which causes the temperature in the basement to vary by a few degrees as the furnace goes through its cycle so I have a fair amount of scatter in the data points the more the furnace runs.

Here is the new water heater on a sort of pedestal that I made from wood and 1-1/2 inch Styrofoam sheet that I hot wire cut to a disc shape to sit between the heater and the wooden base.

The old heater was sitting directly on the cold concrete floor. The base and insulation will help reduce heat loss through the bottom of the heater.

I plan to wrap the heater with a blanket layer of insulation. I have another circular disc to close the top.

Both the new and the old set points are the same, the recommended 60C / 140 degrees F to prevent bacterial growth. The new water heater is also controlled with an electronic timer to prevent it from operating during peak rate periods.

Thanks for your interest.

George Plhak
Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

reader questions - concentrator versus flat plate

Re article Summary/Conclusion - DIY Flat Plate vs. Concentrator Performance

On 4/17/2017 8:29 PM, Paul Arnold wrote:
> Hi. I came across your website via builditsolar.com and was interested in your comparison of the flat plate collector vs concentrator. You don't mention cost and ease of construction factors. Could you say which is cheaper to build on average? You built both. Which would you say would be easier to construct? What about speed of construction when attempting to build a large array?
>
> I am also intrigued by the idea of running a steam engine with your concentrators. Would you be able to guess the cost comparison per watt of useful energy with solar panels? I'm assuming you would capture the exhaust from the steam engine for space and water heating so it might be close. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.
>
> -Paul Arnold

Hi Paul. Thanks for your interest and your good questions.

Originally I built a concentrating pool heater array which was un-insulated. It worked well for that application for five years (until I had to move and I took it down).

In that situation, I thought the concentrator was less expensive than flat plate although more complex, especially since I would be doing it for the first time. I could not find a suitable design for a concentrator so had to come up with a design myself. (This resulted in my first book "How to Build ...").

For pool heating, I was trying to heat a huge quantity of water by only a few degrees which the concentrator did admirably. Insulation was not required for the pool heater application, so lower cost.

I continued to work on a set of improvements which I called Gen2 which is an insulated version. This second version of the concentrator with the insulated collector (The Home Experimentor's Manual) would be more expensive. The added insulation (primarily the glass evacuated tubes) would not be required for a pool heater but made possible higher temperatures and higher latitude use in winter.

I publish cost estimates for both my parabolic designs although these are only for guidance. Your approach may differ from mine. See Bill of Materials here.

The cost of building a flat plate will depend on the design and materials you use. Whether it will be insulated, for example. You will find many versions and Gary's recommendations at his site builditsolar.com. Determine your cost of making a flat plate after you decide on your favored approach for your application.

About making electricity from steam, I am not currently pursuing this nor do I know anyone who has demonstrated a durable, safe, long term approach. Since the price of PV solar panels has plunged over the past ten years, it seems that interest in doing the alternative, with solar generated steam and some sort of turbine/generator, has faded. Are you clear that you cannot make steam with a flat plate? You need a concentrator for that. The two are not interchangable.

Best of luck with your efforts. Let me know if you build something that works for you. If trying steam, be SAFE!

Regards,

George Plhak