The Phi Delta Theta boys are going solar. An 8-by-10 solar panel has been installed on the roof of their fraternity house to save money on electric bills and take a step toward being more environmentally aware. The idea for a solar panel installation was instigated by junior Nick Cox after one of the two hot water heaters in their house broke. They took the opportunity for innovation. “We decided this would be a great way to set an example for the community and help out the environment. It was also a great way to get close to one of our alumni,” Cox said.
The system was installed by Jeff Bendall, a 2000 alumnus of Southwestern University. He was a member of the fraternity and now works for Lighthouse Solar, a company based out of Boulder, Colorado with a successful branch in Austin. He estimates that the house’s system will reduce the amount of energy required to heat water by up to 70 percent a year: 100 percent in the summer and 50 percent in the winter. The system will pay for itself within 12 years.
According to Commerce Department Data, the United States imported $605 million and exported $555 million in solar panel equipment in the first seven months of this year alone. The U.S. 2009 Market Report announced that manufacturing plants accounted for 5 percent of worldwide solar cell production in 2008, which is actually down from its 12 percent peak in 2003. The Phi Delta Thetas are doing their part to increase American solar panel manufacturing.
“I think it was a great opportunity, considering we already needed a water heater,” sophomore member of the fraternity Kent Doerrries said. “[It will] reduce our footprint on the environment and, at the same time, reduce our energy bills. It was also nice to see something brand new be installed in the house for once,” he added.
The solar panel is comprised of 30 glass evacuator tubes, which have a narrow copper tube running inside of each of them that collects heat. Each of these tubes is met by another tube that runs across the top of the collector. These tubes heat a fluid, consisting of distilled water and propylene glycol. This liquid combination flows into a storage tank, which is then delivered to a 120-gallon hot water heater within the frat house. “Now that it’s in, we’re really happy with the system and the results we’re going to get from it,” Cox said.
Maintenance of the system is a breeze, with no more upkeep than a regular water heater. Given that there are extended periods in winter in which the sun is not seen, the system also has an electrical back-up system to ensure that hot water is never in short supply. The thermal systems Lighthouse Solar installs cost approximately $6,500 and typically last 15 years.
Due to the success of the system, the fraternity is heavily considering the option of another solar panel after the second water heater dies. “There’s no downside about saving money and helping the environment,” Cox said laughing.