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Solar air heating system at UNH lauded for efficiency, cost-savings

Union Leader Correspondent

July 10. 2013 7:05PM
University of New Hampshire Campus Energy Manager Matt O'Keefe checks out the newly installed solar air heating system on the roof of Kingsbury Hall in Durham. The project is expected to save the university between $8,000 and $15,000 each year in energy costs to heat the south wing of the building, which houses laboratories with high ventilation needs. (GRETYL MACALASTER PHOTO)

DURHAM — A new solar air heating system on the roof of Kingsbury Hall will not only save the University of New Hampshire money over the next 20 years, but could positively impact future building design on campus.

The innovative system was installed on an existing south-facing wall of the heating and air conditioning "penthouse" on the roof of the science and research building.

Kingsbury Hall's south wing houses a number of laboratories with significant ventilation needs.

The placement of the penthouse and the ventilation needs, as well as a $59,750 award from the Public Utilities Commission last fall helped made the project possible and the project makes Kingsbury the most energy efficient lab building on campus.

It is a project campus energy manager Matt O'Keefe has been trying to make happen for years and finally, all the pieces came together.

"Essentially we had all the right things we needed for a good test application," he said.

Installation began in the fall of 2012 through a partnership with Shift Energy, LLC of Biddeford, Maine, and Colby Company Engineers, LCC of Portland, Maine.

A Canadian-made system called the Lubi solar air system was applied over the existing roof wall, creating about 2,400-square feet of perforated plastic panels backed by a dark solar absorber, with a gap in between. During the heating season, the system is turned on and heated air collects in the pocket, and is sucked in through new duct work to the existing ventilation system.

O'Keefe said he expects the system to provide about 75 percent of the heated air needed for the south wing, and expects it will save the university between $8,000 and $15,000 in energy costs each year.

Those savings will roll back into a revolving energy efficiency fund established about two years ago to help fund energy efficiency projects on campus through cost savings from previous projects.

This past fall, the university installed an air sampling system to constantly monitor air quality throughout Kingsbury, allowing them to significantly reduce ventilation demands.

Cost savings from that project helped fund the remainder of the approximately $130,000 solar air heating project.

The installation was not complete by the end of the last heating season, so testing will begin this winter to see how effective the system actually is.

If it works like O'Keefe expects, he will propose the idea for new buildings in the future.

O'Keefe said the technology has been around for decades, but is not widely used, and he is not sure why. He said it is really a "no-brainer" based on payback, efficiency, ease of installation, and low maintenance.

"It is one of the most cost-effective renewable technologies there is," O'Keefe said.

More information about the technology is available at

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