Dordt College News

Solar water heating project underway at Dordt College

August 6, 2009

Solar Water Heating
Pictured installing copper tubing for Dordt’s new solar assisted hot water system are (above collectors) Andrew Tacoma, a senior engineering major from Falmouth, MI, and (in front of the uncovered collector) Dr. Kevin Timmer an engineering professor at Dordt. At the far left is a pyrometer, used to measure solar energy.

The engineering department at Dordt College is getting itself into hot water—literally.

After receiving an Iowa Energy Center grant of $7500 this spring, engineering professor Kevin Timmer and two Dordt students have nearly completed the process of installing a solar assisted hot water system for both educational and practical use in Dordt’s Center for Science and Technology.

Fulltime summer assistants assisting Timmer with the project are Danielle Kelderman, a senior engineering major from Harrisburg, SD; and Andrew Tacoma, a senior engineering major from Falmouth, MI. Grant funding covers the stipend the students receive for their work, while Dordt College is covering the cost for the equipment being installed.

The primary objective of the project is to publically demonstrate to Northwest Iowa homeowners and plumbing contractors the environmental and economic benefits of a solar water heating system. The project will also encourage the stewardly use of energy resources.

In the process, Dordt’s engineering students are getting hands-on experience in thermodynamics, heat transfer, and solar energy engineering. The project will be demonstrated each semester for the foreseeable future to students enrolled in Dr. Timmer’s “Energy, Materials and the Environment” class.

Two flat plate solar collectors have been installed atop Dordt’s science building. They are connected to a thermal storage tank, circulation pump, and controls. The system will be computer instrumented to log temperatures, flow rate, and power requirements, so that thermal energy harvested can be computed.

After two semesters of monitoring the performance of the system, a public demonstration will be given on Dordt’s campus May 1 of next year.

The project was initiated by Dr. Timmer, who says he first became interested in solar energy as an undergraduate student at Dordt, under the tutelage of Dr. Charlie Adams. After graduating from Dordt he completed a Master’s degree in mechanical engineering at Iowa State University.

Timmer taught engineering classes at Dordt for nine years before accepting a job at an area manufacturing company. But after six years of designing equipment and working as an engineering design consultant in the HVAC industry, Timmer resumed teaching at Dordt in 2003. He has since earned his doctorate degree at ISU, co-majoring in mechanical engineering and biorenewable resources and technology, with research in the area of biomass gasification.

“Solar assisted domestic hot water systems are claimed to be economically viable as far north as Minnesota, but few have been installed in northwest Iowa,” says Timmer. “This project is not cutting edge or new technology, but it’s a means of demonstrating to people how solar energy functions, the economics, and how we can make a positive environmental impact.”

Students will do an economic analysis to compare the installed and operating costs of the solar system compared to the cost of traditional sources of hot water (electric, natural gas, and propane). A carbon analysis will also be conducted. Dordt’s rooftop pyrometers will be used to calculate the thermal efficiency of the system by comparing the amount of sunlight available each day with the amount of hot water generated.

“As a department we are trying to establish the habit of service to community,” said Timmer. In the process, faculty and students work together in a different way, building interpersonal relationships that run beyond professor and student. “It has a positive impact on attitudes and really enhances classes,” notes Timmer. “Students also get a sense of what it takes to design a project, order the parts, and carry through to completion.” There are also some life lessons he says with a smile, like how much longer it takes to complete a project than what you thought it would.

All interested individuals are invited to attend the solar water heater demonstration to be presented on Dordt’s campus on May 1 of next year.

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