Thermo Dynamics Ltd.
Heating things up with solar energy
Home to a number of solar hot water tanks, monitoring devices and a variety of other solar technologies, the back left-hand corner of the Applied Energy Research lab, or AERLab, might remind Peter Allen of his living room back in 1981, when he started Thermo Dynamics Ltd. (TDL) a manufacturing company for solar energy products.
"On New Years Eve in 1980, while my wife and two young children were asleep, I sat at my kitchen table contemplating how to spend my evening, when I began writing a proposal to set up a solar collecting manufacturing company," said Allen. "I refer to that night as my moment of temporary insanity."
Little did he know that 35 years later, his ‘moment of temporary insanity’ - TDL, would outgrow four spaces; at which point, he would build his own facility and become one of the largest solar manufacturers in North America.
A mechanical engineering professor at Dalhousie University for over 30 years, Allen is as well versed in the research side of the solar industry, as he is the business. From his own work, he knows that an extraordinary amount of time goes into research and development, and immediately saw the value in partnering with NSCC's Applied Energy Research (AER):
"I want to produce the devices, not analyze the data, but I understand that good data enables us to better predict the performance of solar thermal and solar voltaic systems. For example, there's some concern that giving solar energy back to the grid will be difficult for our electrical system. While I disagree, this is hard to refute without data to help make my point. I’m looking forward to AER turning our raw data into something formidable."
The project TDL and AER have been collaborating on the longest is the Solar City Data Analytics Project. Halifax Solar City is a program created by the municipality to help facilitate property owners with the process of installing solar energy systems. Thermo Dynamics Ltd. has been a key contractor installing solar systems since the program began in 2013.
Applied Energy Research assistant, Hazen Ajlani, explains that, "with permission from participating homeowners, TDL has collected data from 288 monitoring devices attached to the solar heating tanks and now AER is mining the data for quality feedback. The ultimate goal is to show everyone what's working, what's not, and see how much energy is actually being saved."
Inline with this work, AER and TDL are also collaborating on additional projects. One is doing research on the monitoring devices used to track energy consumption. At the moment, these systems are quite expensive and aren’t being utilized as often as they would if they were cheaper. With input from TDL, the AERLab has been building a prototype to see if they can design a lower-cost device that offers similar functionality.
The last project is a solar thermal test station. Tomi Allen, one of the two small children sleeping on that fateful New Year's Eve, now works at NSCC as a research associate. He has designed and developed a heat release system to compare the performance of various domestic hot water heater technologies. Comparing conventional electric water heating, heat pumps water heaters and solar in different scenarios provides useful feedback to partners, such as TDL, on which systems are the most effective and when.
Impressed with the atmosphere and enthusiasm of the people working in the AERLab, Allen continues to advocate the programs success. Not too long ago, TDL was hacked and the company lost a lot of data. "It caught us off guard," said Allen. "I was comforted knowing that at least the Solar City data was safely stored with the folks at NSCC."