Proterra Solar: A Very Sunny Future

Environmentalists worldwide dream of when consumers will achieve energy independence, running clean, cost-efficient systems. One company operating out of Woodstock, Ontario, is actively working towards achieving that dream. Proterra Solar, founded by Nik Van Haeren in 2008, is committed to being a leader in the solar cooling and thermal heating Industry and is an international supplier of advanced renewable energy products to progressive organizations throughout North America.

Proterra Solar is the exclusive distributor for the 100-percent German-manufactured S-Power high-performance vacuum tube collectors, which feature the award-winning Narva brand evacuated tubes. These leading technologies within the renewable energy field, coupled with the development of distribution and sales agents throughout Canada and the USA, gives Proterra Solar the competitive edge to provide quality and efficient products that will have an impact on protecting the climate for generations to come.

Ideal in Cold Weather

When most people think of “solar panels” they imagine photovoltaic panels, which convert the sun’s radiation into electricity. What Proterra Solar offers, however, are solar thermal panels, which convert the solar irradiation to heat. There are several kinds: pool mats, flat-plate collectors and, in the case of the S-Power Narva brand, evacuated tubes are used as the absorber of the solar water heater system.

Each evacuated tube consists of one glass flask, in which there is copper tubing. The flask is evacuated, therefore the inside of the tube will get very hot from the solar energy even when the weather outside the tube is cold, which is perfectly suited for Canada’s environment. An absorber fin collects the sun’s radiation (infrared and UV), and the heat is transferred onto the copper tube, which then passes onto the solar liquid transport medium, a.k.a. cold water, that flows through the copper tube.

Combined with a control unit with a pump and potable water storage tank through which the copper tubes run, these solar thermal collectors manage the conversion of cold-to-hot/hot-to-cold water for heat and air conditioning without need for natural gas or excess electricity. Set at consistent spacing in mounting rails, each tube is individually angled toward the sun, and the mounting capabilities are suitable for vertical, horizontal or flat assembly.

Suni Ball, general manager of Proterra Solar, has been quoted as saying, “The largest single benefit to the industry is cost containment or cost reductions. A secondary and equally important value will be the significant reduction of CO2 emissions. We take our role in the renewable energy industry very seriously because our products will have an impact on protecting the climate for generations to come.”

Proterra Solar recently had the opportunity to showcase the potential of the Narva brand evacuated tubes on a really large-scale project. The firm designed and built the largest commercial scale cooling and thermal heating system in North America at Oxford Gardens, a retirement village that is located in near the company’s headquarters in Woodstock. 

Groundbreaking Project

Proterra – a company of design, installation and optimization employees – has done a number of smaller projects at dairy farms and subsidized housing units in Oxford and Lambton counties, "but nothing like [Oxford Gardens]," notes Ball.

“We designed and constructed the evacuated tube-system on the roofs of the buildings,” Ball explains. “The design features an array of 162 large collectors to collect the sunlight, which is converted into heat for the buildings, and hot water for the pool.

The collectors can generate temperatures of up to 90 degrees, even when it’s -20 outside, if they want. We used a two-type loop system to allow for both heat and air-conditioning.”

The company also installed 1,220 metres of piping to connect all of the solar collectors to a ground-level facility, which contains a 11,340-litre storage tank.

Because of the weight of the project (16 tonnes), a grid of cross beams, supported on pillars located on interior bearing walls, had to be created prior to installation. "Guys working on the project kept bringing their bosses up on the roof to show them what they were doing with the pipes and fittings. It was all standard plumbing stuff, but being used in ways they'd never thought of," recounts Ball. Proterra partnered with Trigon Construction Management, Oxford Plumbing and Zolaryz to coordinate all aspects of the project.

Through these solar collectors, pipes, the absorption chiller, the cooling tower and an insulated tank will course some 15,000 litres of "solar fluid," the system's lifeblood. Heated by the sun – even on cloudy days – the new system will both warm the 101-suite, 10,000-square metre retirement village in winter and cool it in summer, generating 80 percent of needed heat in winter and handling 40 percent of the air conditioning load in summer. As an added bonus, there are government-subsidized rebates for the installation of these type panel systems.

Ball reveals that the Oxford Gardens project, which has been recognized for its innovation by the dena Solar Roofs Program, is the first of its kind in Ontario. “There are only about 20 sites like this in North America, and the vast majority of those are located in Texas and Arizona. They’re using them for the air conditioning, but they don’t work very well. Here, we can use it for both heat and for the surplus energy.”
With the successful completion of this showcase project, Proterra Solar has a very bright future ahead.