Title:
Interchangeable Modular Solar Thermal Collector Builing Block System
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
Solar hot water collector array comprised of rows and or columns of modular solar thermal collectors with a single array inlet and outlet. The identical interchangeable modules, of one square meter (10 Sq. Ft.) each weighing about ten kg (22 Lb.) can be transported conveniently and carried to the roof by one person with one ladder. The identical modules are plumbed together by four standard plumbing connections located near the module corners. One side of the interchangeable module is the inlet/outlet while the other side is either closed/unused or connected to the inlet/outlet side of the collector in the row next to it. Collectors in the end column form the series backbone of the fluid flow. Collectors in rows off the backbone column form parallel fluid paths. Many interchangeable modules can be placed together like bricks to form the desired column by row array.



Inventors:
Butler, Barry Lynn (Solana Beach, CA, US)
Application Number:
11/308520
Publication Date:
10/04/2007
Filing Date:
03/31/2006
Primary Class:
International Classes:
F24S10/70
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
SAVANI, AVINASH A
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
BARRY LYNN BUTLER, PHD (SOLANA BEACH, CA, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. An interchangeable modular solar thermal collector building block which can be easily plumbed together in a column and row array to cover large areas with a single inlet and outlet.

2. An interchangeable modular solar thermal collector building block according to claim 1 which has the top plumbing fittings (left and right) and bottom plumbing fittings (left and right) are connected by common heat absorbing pipe elements which are then interconnected by a serpentine heat absorbing pipe element.

3. A row of interchangeable modular solar thermal collector according to claim 1 which are plumbed for parallel fluid flow, where modules can be added on the row.

4. A column of interchangeable modular solar thermal collector according to claim 1 which are plumbed for series fluid flow, where modules can be added into the column.

5. A two column array backbone of interchangeable modular solar thermal collector according to claim 1 which have the columns plumbed for series fluid flow, with the two columns plumbed together in parallel, where modules can be added on either column going either right or left.

6. A row/column array of interchangeable modular solar thermal collector according to claim 1 which have rows plumbed together in parallel which are then organized into a column plumbed for series fluid flow, where modules can be added at the row ends or new row of modules added to the column.

7. Standard plumbing interconnections to the interchangeable modular solar thermal collectors which may use valves and fittings: compression, ball/cone unions, flared fittings, male or female pipe threads; or standard copper sweat solder.

Description:

BACKGROUND OF INVENTION

Most solar thermal collectors used to heat domestic hot water are made utilizing large surface areas facing the sun to collect more solar energy per unit of material used. They use large areas of tempered glass with black, water-cooled absorber plates made of copper, either painted black or selectively coated to absorb solar energy and minimize re-radiation, and catch the sun's heat inside a framed, insulated box. The large, 2.4 square meter area, solar thermal collector box is usually about 12.5 cm (5 inches) deep and 2 m (78 inches) high and 1.2 m (48 inches) wide. The 2.4 square meter solar thermal collector usually weighs from 22 kg to 165 kg (50 to 75 pounds). These large solar thermal collection panels are also fragile and heavy. The solar collector size and weight usually makes them un-shippable by United States Postal Service and most competing package delivery services. More costly trucking services are usually required to move these large solar collectors which require the solar collectors to be crated. The large solar collectors are unwieldy and must be raised to roof levels by crane hoist, or multiple people with ladders.

This invention allows a large solar thermal collector array to be built up of rows and or columns of identical, interchangeable modular solar thermal collector building blocks. The interchangeable modular solar thermal collector building block is small in area, approximately 1 to 1.5 square meters (10 to 15 square feet), and light in weight, 9.8 kg to 14.7 kg (20 to 40 pounds). This allows the row/column interchangeable modular solar thermal collector to be shipped via package delivery services direct to the installation site or transported in a car or light truck. The row/column building blocks, interchangeable modular solar thermal collector, can be carried or lifted to the roof by a single person using a single ladder. The small size and low weight of the interchangeable modular solar thermal collector allows for conventional package shipping. Ease of shipment reduces dependence on a distribution network and allows for central manufacturing with delivery via package delivery services. Once on the roof, row/column interchangeable modular solar thermal collectors are plumbed together by connections located near the corners of each module. A large solar collector array with a single inlet and outlet is built up from the interchangeable modular solar thermal collector building block units arranged in columns and rows. The columns have series fluid flow, while the rows use parallel fluid flow. This interchangeable modular solar thermal collector building block system can be configured to use the space available on the roof and avoid or work around vent pipes and other roof mounted equipment, which otherwise would limit the installation location of large solar collectors.

PRIOR ART

For current solar systems the most common solar thermal collectors are very large in size to reduce cost and minimize the perimeter length (frame length required) per unit area of solar heat collection surface. Hence, solar collector areas of two to four square meters (20 to 40 square feet) are the most common. These solar collectors weigh 88 kg to 220 kg (40 to 100 pounds) each. They are usually shipped by truck or rail from the manufacturing site to local distributors. They are transported to the job sites in small trucks and placed on the roof with either a crane, lift or multiple ladders utilizing two or more people. This approach minimizes the manufacturing costs, but not transportation and handling costs.

Most current solar collector systems are made with connections on all four corners, so that they can be arranged in single rows which are in series or parallel for large system installations. They usually use parallel flow paths from the bottom header to the top header. The headers are then connected in parallel. Most domestic hot water systems use one or two solar thermal collectors, about four to six square meters of area. Such solar collectors are set so fluid flows in parallel from bottom to top. The invention allows four to six interchangeable modular solar thermal building block collectors to be plumbed together in a row/column array to achieve the same four to six square meters, 20 to 40 square feet, needed to provide solar domestic hot water. This requires that the interchangeable modular solar thermal building block collectors be placed either parallel in a row, or series in a column, or a row/column array of both parallel and series. The building block collectors are designed to fit in any position in the row, column array. Current solar collectors are not designed for row and or column interchangeability for solar domestic hot water systems.

SUMMARY OF INVENTION

In summary, the present invention is an interchangeable modular solar thermal collector building block, which is small, light weight, easily shippable and can be handled by one person. The interchangeable modular solar thermal collector building blocks are plumbed together in rows and or columns to form larger solar collector arrays needed for domestic hot water heating, space heating and cooling.

The primary objective of the present invention is to allow a large solar array to be installed on a roof by a single person using rows and or columns of interchangeable modular solar thermal collector building blocks which are all the same and are mounted and plumbed together like paving bricks in rows and columns. The interchangeable modular solar thermal collector building blocks are all the same and are connected together to form the flow path through the solar collectors for the heat transfer fluid, with a single inlet and outlet. The fluid heated by the solar collector array can be pumped to the hot water tank, or to the space heating/cooling system. Another objective is to have interchangeable modular solar thermal collector building blocks which are small and light weight enough to be easily shipped to the end user via normal package delivery services. Another objective includes the means to establish a plumbing interconnection of the interchangeable modular solar thermal collector building blocks, which can be accomplished with standard plumbing fittings including: pipe thread; sweat solder; compression; or flare. Valves and unions can be used to connect building blocks to allow easy disassembly and repair without loss of heat exchange fluid. Another objective is to reduce the time and labor needed to place solar collector arrays on the roofs of homes and businesses.

Additional objectives, advantages and novel features of the invention will be set forth in part in the description which follows and in part will become apparent to those skilled in the art upon examination of the following. In particular, interchangeable modular solar thermal collector building blocks show the preferred fluid flow paths. Interconnections between the interchangeable modular solar thermal collector building blocks are shown using standard plumbing fittings. Other objectives, advantages and novel features of the invention may be learned by practice of the invention. The objectives and advantages of the invention may be realized and attained by means of the instrumentalities and combinations particularly pointed out in the appended claims.

DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of the interchangeable modular solar thermal collector building block.

FIG. 2 shows the plumbing interconnection fittings necessary to allow a single interchangeable modular solar thermal collector building block to be installed in the various locations in the rows and columns of the solar collector array.

FIG. 3 shows the plumbing of modules in parallel and arranging the solar collector modules in one row.

FIG. 4 shows the plumbing of modules in series and arranging the solar collector modules in one column.

FIG. 5 shows the plumbing of two parallel columns in series which are then placed in parallel to form a two column backbone.

FIG. 6 shows the plumbing details of solar collector modules placed in an array of four rows of parallel flow by four columns of series flow which shows the principles used to create arrays of as many rows and columns as needed.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENT

The invention consists of an interchangeable modular solar thermal collector building block (3) shown in FIG. 1. The interchangeable modular solar thermal collector (3) has two ends which are different. The fluid inlet/outlet end (1) is where fluid inlets and outlets from the interchangeable modular solar thermal collector (3). The fluid coupling end (2) is either blocked off and not used, or used to connect to the inlet/outlet end (1) of an adjacent interchangeable modular solar collector (3). The interchangeable modular solar thermal collector (3) is comprised of a heat collecting element (4) which is insulated on the bottom (10) and sides (12) by suitable heat resistant thermal insulation, and is contained in a glass or plastic (16) covered box (14) which prevents outside air from blowing over the heat collecting element (4). These features (4, 10, 12, 14, and 16) are common to all current atmospheric pressure solar flat plate collector designs. The fluid flow path formed by tubes (20, 22 and 28) in the heat collecting element (4) is not in use today and is what allows the interchangeability of the modular solar collector with each other in multi-collector arrays. The heat collecting element (4) consists of a solar heat absorbing element (18) usually made of a copper sheet which is coated with a selective solar absorber (such as black chrome) or nonselective black paint. The blackened copper sheet is bonded, via welding or soldering, to a set of fluid flow tubes or channels (20, 22 and 28). The fluid flow channels (20, 22 and 28) are spaced closely enough together, 4 to 5 inches apart (10 to 20 cm) to allow the heat from the solar absorbing element (18) to be conducted to the walls of the fluid flow channels (20, 22 and 28). The fluid picks up the heat from the fluid channel walls. The fluid flow channels (20, 22 and 28) are designed to direct the fluid to flow from the collector inlet (30) to collector outlet (40) which are both on the inlet/outlet end (1) of the collector. For a single interchangeable modular solar thermal collector the fluid coupling end (2) connections (31 and 41) are closed and not connected to another interchangeable modular solar thermal collector. The arrows in FIG. 1 show the path of the fluid flow from inlet (30) to outlet (40). The fluid enters the collector at inlet (30) and flows down tube (20) since connection (31) is capped off for a single collector, the fluid flows out the side of the T-fitting (24) into the serpentine path made by the tube (22), which includes a single u-turn (15), then the fluid reaches the T-fitting (26) and flows back down tube (28) since connection (41) is capped off for a single collector, the fluid flows down tube (28) and exits the collector at outlet (40). The serpentine path made by tube (22) shows one down, one u-turn and one back making the interchangeable modular solar thermal collector wider than it is tall. The serpentine tube (22) could make four down and back paths with two u-turns at collector end (1) and one u-turn at collector end (2) making the interchangeable modular solar thermal collector taller than it is wide. The serpentine path (22) must start at the fluid connection end (2) at T-fitting (24) and make even numbers of down and back passes to end at fluid connection end (2) at T-fitting (26). The connections to the interchangeable modular solar thermal collector (30, 31, 40 and 41) can be female or male pipe threaded fittings, copper tube or pipe sweat (solder), compression or flare fittings.

The interconnection of the interchangeable modular solar thermal collectors can be accomplished with standard plumbing fittings as shown in FIG. 2. Key to this concept is that at least one connection element is either a slip fit for soldering or a union. This means that the collectors can be joined together without rotation of the plumbing connection ends (30, 31, 40, and 41) which are fixed to the energy collecting element (4) in the interchangeable modular solar panels. Examples of common unions are compression fittings with ferrules, ball-in-socket unions and flare fittings. Connection can also be accomplished without rotation of the fixed connection ends (30, 31, 40, and 41) by copper sweat solder fittings. The interchangeable modular solar thermal collector fluid connections (30, 40, 31 and 41) can be plain end pipe or tubing, which can be sweat soldered to copper fittings with male or female pipe threads. The links between interchangeable modular thermal solar collectors' fluid coupling end (2) and the inlet/outlet end (1) of an adjacent interchangeable modular solar thermal collector use straight elements (26). Closing of the fluid coupling end (2), if it is not to be connected to another interchangeable modular solar thermal collector, is accomplished using soldered caps or other standard plumbing fitting terminations (24). Connecting the inlet/outlet end (1) of one interchangeable modular solar thermal collector to the inlet/outlet end (1) of another interchangeable modular solar thermal collector is accomplished using standard plumbing fittings arranged as U-shapes (34). Connection of the interchangeable modular solar thermal collector inlet/outlet end (1) to the array inlet (50) requires standard plumbing connection (38) for a single column shown in FIG. 4 or connection (48) for a double column shown in FIG. 5. Connection of the interchangeable modular solar thermal collector inlet/outlet end (1) to the array outlet (52) requires standard plumbing connection (36) for a single column shown in FIG. 4 or connection (42) for a double column shown in FIG. 5.

A single row configuration of the interchangeable modular solar thermal collectors is shown in FIG. 3. To form a row of interchangeable modular solar thermal collectors, the inlet/outlet end connections (30 and 40) of the first collector in the row are connected to the outside fluid loop (46). The row fluid inlet (50) is connected to interchangeable modular solar thermal collector inlet (30) via standard plumbing fitting (38). The row fluid outlet (52) is connected to interchangeable modular solar thermal collector outlet (40) via standard plumbing fitting (36). Plumbing fitting (36) also connects the pressure regulating and air removal device (48) to the interchangeable modular solar thermal collector outlet (40). The first interchangeable modular solar thermal collector fluid coupling end (2) connections (31 and 41) are uncapped and connected to the second interchangeable modular solar thermal collector inlet/outlet end (1) connections (30 and 40) respectively using straight standard plumbing connectors (26). The fluid coupling end (2) connections (31 and 41) of the second interchangeable modular solar thermal collector are either capped (24) as shown in FIG. 3. or tied to the inlet/outlet end (1) connections (31 and 41) of a third or more interchangeable modular solar thermal collectors. A pressure regulating and air removal device (48) is shown at the top of the collector row.

A single column configuration of interchangeable modular solar thermal collectors is shown in FIG. 4. All of the fluid connection end (2) connections (31 and 41) of the interchangeable modular solar thermal collectors are capped (24). Starting with the first/uppermost interchangeable modular solar thermal collectors, the inlet/outlet end (1) connection (40) is connected to the array fluid outlet (52) via standard plumbing fitting (36), which also connects to the pressure regulating and air removal device (48). The inlet/outlet end (1) connection (30) of the first interchangeable modular solar thermal collector is connected to the inlet/outlet end (1) connection (40) of the second interchangeable modular solar thermal collector with standard unshaped plumbing connection (34). The inlet/outlet end (1) connection (30) of the second interchangeable modular solar thermal collector is connected to the inlet/outlet end (1) connection (40) of the third interchangeable modular solar thermal collector with standard unshaped plumbing connection (34). The inlet/outlet end (1) connection (30) of the third interchangeable modular solar thermal collector is connected to the inlet/outlet end (1) connection (40) of the fourth interchangeable modular solar thermal collector with standard u-shaped plumbing connection (34). The inlet/outlet end (1) connection (30) of the fourth interchangeable modular solar thermal collector is connected to the array fluid inlet (50) using standard plumbing fitting (38). The column of interchangeable modular solar thermal collectors is plumbed so the fluid flow is in series starting from the bottom interchangeable modular solar thermal collector to the top interchangeable modular solar thermal collector. A column of four interchangeable modular solar collectors is shown but more or fewer interchangeable modular solar thermal collectors could be used.

A double column configuration of interchangeable modular solar thermal collectors is shown in FIG. 5. All of the fluid connection end (2) connections (31 and 41) of the interchangeable modular solar thermal collectors are capped (24). Starting with the two first/uppermost interchangeable modular solar thermal collectors, their inlet/outlet end (1) connections (40) are connected to the array fluid outlet (52) via standard plumbing link (44) to standard plumbing fitting (42) which also connects to the pressure regulating and air removal device (48). The inlet/outlet end (1) connections (30) of the first pair of interchangeable modular solar thermal collectors are connected to the inlet/outlet end (1) connections (40) of the second pair of interchangeable modular solar thermal collectors with standard unshaped plumbing connections (34). The inlet/outlet end (1) connections (30) of the second pair of interchangeable modular solar thermal collector are connected to the inlet/outlet end (1) connections (40) of the third pair of interchangeable modular solar thermal collectors with standard unshaped plumbing connections (34). The inlet/outlet end (1) connections (30) of the third pair of interchangeable modular solar thermal collectors are connected to the inlet/outlet end (1) connections (40) of the fourth pair of interchangeable modular solar thermal collectors with standard unshaped plumbing connections (34). The inlet/outlet end (1) connections (30) of the fourth bottom pair of interchangeable modular solar thermal collectors are connected to the array fluid inlet (50) using standard plumbing fitting (48). The column of interchangeable modular solar thermal collectors is plumbed so the fluid flow is split into two parallel paths, one path through each of the two columns. Each column is plumbed in series starting from the bottom interchangeable modular solar thermal collector to the top interchangeable modular solar thermal collector. Two columns of four interchangeable modular solar collectors are shown but more or fewer interchangeable modular solar thermal collectors could be used.

A row/column array using 16 interchangeable modular solar thermal collectors is shown in FIG. 6. The rows (R-1, R-2, R-3 and R-4) have parallel flow in the four interchangeable modular solar thermal collectors that make up each horizontal row. Four sets of rows (R-1, R-2, R-3 and R-4) are linked together to form a column (C-1, C-2, C-3 and C-4) that is four rows high. More or fewer collectors could be used in each individual row to avoid roof obstructions, like skylights and vent pipes. The horizontal rows are stacked four high, with all rows plumbed in series. The series plumbing connections are all made on the inlet/outlet end (1) of the interchangeable modular solar thermal collectors on the right side of the array. The right side plumbing to the array inlet (50) and array outlet (52) are shown. The mirror image of the array with the array inlet (50) and array outlet (52) on the left side is not shown, but is the same functionally.