In hot water

solarheater_0312Hilton Head entrepreneur has a better solution for solar water heating.

If  enthusiasm and personality could heat water, Allan Poulter would be boiling over.
The Yorkshire, England, native and 20-plus-year resident of Hilton Head Island has launched a cutting-edge and earth-friendly business that uses the rays of the sun to heat and sanitize drinking water in residential and commercial uses.
Unfortunately, as easy and pleasant as it sounds, Poulter has found himself up the creek and desperately treading water. It seems that government-sanctioned bureaucracies are damming up his efforts.
Poulter’s quest for eco-friendly excellence began when the economy put a hurting on Poulter’s yacht sales business. Looking around for another revenue stream, he ran across the inventive solar-water heating work of Teoh Siang Teik, a Malaysian architect who had employed his heating system to warm up water in the frigid Indian Himalayas.
Poulter—as American Microsolar, Inc.—signed up with Teoh to market the technology in America, and took on three partners, Larry Jordan and Richard Labrie of Hilton Head, and Macon Sheppard of Charleston.
The idea rode the crest of eco-friendly sustainable solutions, and has taken off.
Poulter’s system is being used by Happy Cow Creamery in Pelzer, S.C. ( And he is in the process of installing an underground version that will heat the soil of a greenhouse farm near Ridgeland. Closer to home, Poulter’s heater provides the hot water at Market Street Cafe.
But in some quarters, both abroad and at home, Poulter is finding a chilly reception from some.

He has also tried marketing the system to homeowners on Hilton Head Island, but is running into opposition from property owners’ associations and the Town of Hilton Head Island’s Design Review Board due to the appearance of the system.
“One resident of a gated community asked about its use for heating his swimming pool, but the community’s HOA didn’t like the way it looked,” Poulter said. “Solar-powered water heating also saves a ton of money, especially around here, with rental homes racking up high electricity bills for heating water.”
The main roadblock Poulter has encountered is with a nonprofit agency called the Solar Rating & Certification Corp. The agency thus far has refused to certify his solar heating system for residential use; Poulter has moved on to the commercial use of the system. According to the SRCC’s website, the agency advises government agencies and industry on the “development of reliable solar thermal technologies and accountable performance claims.” In other words, Poulter says he and others in the business require the SRCC’s blessings.
“It’s a great conflict of interest,” he said. “Their board and their staff are all involved in the solar industry, and I think they are protecting their interests.” Again, according to the SRCC’s website, “five members of the board represent the solar energy industry, five members represent the public sector, and five members represent general interests (utilities, solutions, research, building industry, etc.”) Its board chairman is Ole Pilgaard, president of Heliodyne Inc., flat-panel-based solar hot water systems manufacturer in California.
“What the SRCC is doing to us is making us prove that our vacuum tube solar heating system can stand unavoidable shock, for example, heating the tubes up in the sun and then pouring cold water into them,” Poulter said. “You know what happens when you heat up a glass container and then put cold water in it. It shatters.”
To get through the impossible test, Poulter used a form of antifreeze, but the SRCC continues to say his system won’t hold water.
“We’ll get through them eventually; it’s just going to take a long time.”

Getting deep in technology
Working similarly to familiar flat solar panels being seen more frequently on rooftops, Poulter’s system uses double-walled tubes that, when filled with cool water, heat water for use in homes and businesses. The system can be used alone or in conjunction with existing water heaters to provide a boost.
Solar water heaters work by “thermosyphon” natural convection, circulating hot water in the collector panels into the insulated hot water tank above. Hot water is lighter, so it rises, while cold water is heavier and sinks. No pumps or motors are involved. The cold water descends from the bottom of the storage tank to the bottom of the collector panel where it is heated up by solar energy. The water rises up the panel as it heats and returns to the tank where it rises to the top of the tank ready for use. Cold water from the main supply passes through the tank, inside a heat exchange coil located inside the tank. The hot water in the tank transfers this solar-generated heat to the water in the coil, resulting in hot water becoming available.
Typical solar water heaters, in common use since about 1976, feature a flat panel collector to catch the sun’s rays to heat water, and are inefficient, Poulter said, because the sun’s rays bounce off the flat glass and lose a significant amount of heat as the heated water is pumped to a storage tank. This calls for electrical backup to keep the water heated.
Poulter’s vacuum tube technology improves the collection of the sun’s rays and makes the collectors more efficient, plus it uses a parabolic reflector beneath the collector tubes to catch the sun’s radiation from every possible angle and absorb the maximum amount even on cloudy days. High-tech storage tanks directly above the collector-tube assembly eliminate most loss of heat during transferral to storage.

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Photo by Rob Kaufman, Kaufman Photography