A new first for Aussie solar

Solar PV thermal hybrid products are starting to attract attention with the first Australian installation of PV T technology seen this week. Is this the start of a new way of looking at rooftop energy generation?

Australia’s punishing climate is often chosen as a launch site for new products and this week, no less than two world firsts happened.

Although Turkish company Solimpeks has been making solar thermal products for almost 30 years, the last eight years have been dedicated to the research and development of photovoltaic/thermal (PV T) hybrid products. This week, the company installed the first system in the world using its all new 200 watt PV T collectors, right here in Australia.

Solimpeks’ PV T products have been successfully sold overseas for three years now, but this happens to be the very first Australian installation of PV T technology for the locally based arm of Solimpeks who launched in mid-2012.

Is this the start of a whole new way of looking at rooftop energy generation?

Photovoltaic thermal hybrid panels combine traditional PV panels (producing electricity) with traditional solar thermal panels (producing hot water) into a single package. I have watched this technology for many years, having experimented with similar concepts in the previous R&D work, and it’s great to see a fully commercialised product finally hitting the market.

Solimpeks Australia has passed every major PV and thermal test in Europe and Australia, including AS:4020 and AS:2712 and has had its performance validated through independent tests. This 14 square metre, 2kW Australian installation will go one step further by collecting a vast array of data and information on its new products, in real world conditions. The installation includes a pyranometer, wind speed, ambient temperature, water temperature in/out and PV energy. The data will be available on a live website within a few weeks allowing potential customers to see how the system performs on a domestic home.

One thing that we know about the Australian solar market is that many buyers of PV are also interested in solar thermal, and vice versa. The conceptual benefits are enormous of course, including:

-- Combining the capability to generate electricity, heat domestic hot water and heat swimming pools in a single product;

-- The use of carefully controlled thermal dissipation keeps the PV cells operating within a smaller temperature window, improving PV performance;

-- The power and/or heat output can be controlled and altered to suit different seasonal needs;

-- Particularly well suited to swimming pool heating and vastly superior in efficiency;

-- Installation and support is a far simpler matter than buying and installing multiple products; and

-- Energy and heat output ideally suited to domestic and commercial industries such as food processing and public swimming pools.

We discussed the milestone with Solimpeks Australia Director Daniel Barber. The transcript is below:

Q: “What’s the biggest challenge you have faced with the introduction of your PV T product in Australia?”

Daniel Barber: Undoubtedly it is convincing people to think laterally about product choices and benefits. The market is used to buying two or even three products and in the right application our hybrid PV T product is incredibly cost effective and efficient as a single package. We are making great progress and have learned that we need to find partners who really want to differentiate and can bundle benefits together successfully.

Q: Do you have a distribution network established in Australia?

DB: We have appointed distributors in the Sydney and Newcastle areas so far, and are continuing negotiations with more around the country. We are keen to rapidly grow our sales and installation coverage so our door to new distributors remains open.

Q: Can end users buy the product today?

DB: Yes they can. While we formalise our distribution arrangements sales will be managed directly from our Solimpeks Australian head office and we have stock in the country ready for installation. This also provides us with the opportunity to stay really close to the market while we launch.

Q: Do you think PV T can really compete successfully with other existing products?

DB: I do, for several reasons. Firstly, in an increasingly commoditised market differentiation is crucial for survival and PV T is a holistic energy solution that suits the needs of the market, so it really has legs. It has the potential to open up an entirely new segment of the market too. Secondly, the performance and efficiency really is outstanding on every front. Keeping PV cells cooler makes more power. Extracting this waste heat and making use of it is supremely logical.

Lastly, it is simpler and faster to install than comparable single products. That means cost savings, simplifies the support and warranty and it looks brilliant, like a truly integrated solution.

Nigel Morris is the Director of Solar Business Services.

This article was originally published by SolarBusinessServices. Republished with permission.

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