The sun is the source of almost all of the energy available on earth. The sun powers photosynthesis and pushes airmasses across the face of the planet, driving our windmills. The sun heats water in the seas, which condenses into the clouds that bring life-giving rain for plants—and fills the reservoirs behind our hydroelectric generators.
Great progress has been made in recent years toward better utilization of solar energy. Solar cells for electricity generation are not yet efficient enough for widespread use, but niche applications abound, and millions of households around the world produce their own rooftop power with solar cells.
As much as 40 percent of Sweden’s total energy production is devoted to heating homes, offices and public buildings. Improving the efficiency of indoor heating systems offers enormous environmental gains as well as reduced costs.
Rooftop solar panels for heat and hot water are now a fairly common sight in this country, but unless your building has a pipe-and-radiator central heating system, you’ll probably have a hard time capturing the clean, free energy of the sun.
That was the challenge that Niclas Ericsson set out to solve when he developed a solar panel to heat air directly. Arctic Sunlight Innovation, the company he founded in 2005 to apply his electrical engineering skills and environmental passion, manufactures and sells the panels today.
“Our ASI-Maxi model heater delivers as much warmth as a standard element, about 1 kW,” Ericsson says. “But it does that without using any electricity at all. As long as the sun is shining on the solar panel, heated air will be coming out of the unit.”
The panel absorbs the sun’s rays to heat air which is then forced into the building by a solar-powered fan. The system requires no external power source, and can be installed in any location where the sun will shine on the panel.
ASI panels are normally mounted on horizontal walls, with roof mounting a less-used option. The system is highly reliable. “There are very few parts,” Ericsson says. “So there’s not much risk of things breaking, or of fluids freezing or leaking.”
ASI panels have been installed on many single-family homes and even apartment buildings, but the most common application is for holiday homes. The ability to operate in areas without access to the electric mains is a natural reason for this, as well as owners’
desire to keep their houses dry and frost-free during the winter months without wasting expensive energy.
Solar space heating generally requires a second source—you want to be warm at night as well—but airborne
solar heat can dramatically reduce energy consumption. ASI estimates that a standard installation can save 500 to 1000 kWh each year.
Rising energy prices and widespread environmental concern give Niclas Ericsson and ASI cause for an optimistic view on the company’s future. Sales are growing steadily, with a volume of 1000 units projected for 2010.
Article published in August 2009