Web-Based System Monitors Solar "Gold Rush" in California

When California Governor Schwarzenegger signed the Solar Water Heating and Efficiency Act of 2007, he launched the largest solar-water-heating program in our nation's history. The new legislation calls for a 10-year program aimed at installing approximately 200,000 solar-water heaters in homes and businesses throughout California. By creating this program, lawmakers hope to see a reduction of harmful emissions, increased energy efficiency, and lower utility bills.

A recent study shows that families below the poverty line spend 19 percent of their income on utility bills. To alleviate this burden and ensure that energy conservation is widely accessible to California residents, the California Dept. of Community Services and Development and the Southern California Forum for Energy Efficiency, Environmental, and Human Services Providers (SCF) initiated a renewable energy pilot program. As part of the program, solar hot-water-heating systems have been installed in four of the 22 low-income, single-family homes across the state.

Funded by the State Petroleum Violation Escrow Account (PVEA), this program will monitor each of the study homes' energy and gas consumption to determine the efficiency of the solar hot-water heating systems.

Arleen Novotney, Executive Director of SCF, is leading the project.

"Our goal is to provide low-income homeowners with access to renewable energy solutions designed to decrease energy consumption and reduce energy bills," Novotney explained. "For this program, we installed solar hot-water systems in various climate zones across the state and will monitor the efficiency of the solar hot-water-heating systems."

To monitor system performance, Novotney chose Web-based HOBO U30 remote monitoring systems manufactured by Massachusetts-based Onset Computer Corp. The monitoring system consists of a GSM cellular-based data logging unit and sensors that monitor gas usage, cold- and hot-water supply temperature, solar collector-water temperature, and hot-water flow.

The HOBO U30 collects data at one minute intervals, 24/7, and the information is accessible via the Internet at http://www.onsetcomp.com/livesystem_sacramento.

Novotney and her team can access the data from Onset's HOBOlink Website.

"With HOBOlink, we can view the data anytime and anywhere that we have access to the Internet," Novotney says. "The ability to view data remotely allows us to see how the hot-water-heating units are performing without having to go back into the field to collect the data manually."

According to Novotney, many factors are being considered for this study. The evaluation of these systems will include a snapshot of the costs associated with the homeowners' gas and electrical usage, as well as the energy costs following the installations. The energy savings will be reflected by the climate zone, the household size, and fuel type.

"Since no one in our state has ever monitored the natural-gas usage associated with a solar-water-heating unit, we wanted to track the consumption of gas when the solar power was on versus when the solar power was turned off," Novotney said.

So far, the collected data indicates that the solar hot-water-heating systems are helping. During daylight hours, the system turns off and only turns back on at night.

"This is the kind of data we needed to see," Novotney explained. "We wanted to determine whether or not the systems were performing the way we hoped they would. The data showed us that during the day there is no need for the system's gas or the electric power to turn on, and ultimately this will save homeowners money."

According to Novotney, the HOBO U30 systems will continue monitoring the current test homes until October, and then she and her team plan to change the location of the loggers to include additional test homes.

"We plan on using the HOBO U30 systems on each of the 22-test homes for the pilot study," Novotney concluded. "We hope to have comparison data on all of the solar hot-water-heating systems by next year."

For more information, please visit http://www.onsetcomp.com.

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