Solar air heater replaces electric heater at Mammoth

provided by ClearDome Solar

The frigid High Sierra air didn't seem to bother a remarkable renewable energy product undergoing testing at a 9,500 foot-high Mammoth Mountain Ski Operator building during the last days of winter in California. Increased high altitude solar radiation appears to negate any cooling effect of the surrounding freezing air temperatures.

    In the latest round of solar space heating at the end of chair lift number 6, a single 2' X 4' ClearDome Solar forced air heating panel was turned on, in hopes of matching the heat normally supplied by an existing 5,000-watt, 480-volt electric heater. Mammoth electrician Shave Gurule estimates that the electric fan heater costs about $2 to $3 dollars per six-hour day to operate, while the ClearDome Solar heater costs only three cents a day to operate.

    That difference in energy costs can equal a significant savings for Mammoth Mountain and everyone worried about their excessively high utility bills. Cost savings to the average consumer will be greater than all other types of renewable energy products, such as solar electric and solar water heating.

    At 9am the air temperature was 42 degrees, both outside and inside the insulated “ski shack,” since the lift operator chose to not turn on the electric heater earlier in the morning. He left the door and windows open to help in the testing, and because he preferred the cold air. A blast of 145-degree air instantly exited the solar heat collector when it was turned on at 9am by ClearDome Solar Heating Designer Deris Jeannette. The heating box is mounted on a south-facing wall, high outside the 200-square-foot wooden structure. Heat buildup is very quick and intense when no air is being sent through the heat collector.

    In less than fifteen minutes, the room temperature increased to 54 degrees and the stream of hot air coming out of the panel cooled to 100 degrees its normal heating temperature for tht time of day in those temperatures.

    In the solar unit, a 110-volt, 60-watt bathroom fan sucks 75-cubic-feet per minute (CFM) of cool air into an 18 pound aluminum and polycarbonate heating panel. In seconds, the cold air gets increasingly hotter as it passes over a flat black aluminum solar heat absorber, then exits back into the room. A fan with higher airflow was used in this test, instead of the stock 50-CFM fan that comes with the large $399 solar heating panel.

    As the test concluded, in slightly more than an hour, the room temperature increased to a more comfortable 64 degrees, and continued to climb. The ski lift operator took off his jacket and commented on how warm the air was getting. By now, the air exiting the unit had risen to 107 degrees, and briefly lowered to 102 degrees as high, thin clouds passed in front of the sun. Outdoor temperatures increased to the low 50s, so the solar heater was turned off and the door and windows reopened to accommodate the lift operator.

    More tests are planned in Mammoth once the air cools again, and new tests will begin at a San Diego City school classroom.

    More information and photos of the ClearDome Solar forced air heaters are available on the Internet at: www.clear For questions or comments, please contact Deris Jeannette at 619/855-1671 or Mammoth Mountain environmental specialist Lisa Isaacs at 760-934-2571, extension 3000.

    ClearDome Solar is San Diego's only solar air heating and cooking product manufacturer. This innovative product will be on display as part of the “eHome” this year during EarthFair in Balboa Park, on April 22nd.