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40-Year-Old Solar House Heats and Cools Without Electricity

40-Year-Old Solar House Heats and Cools Without Electricity

skytherm-house.jpg

Forty years ago, Harold Hay, 98, invented a simple, inexpensive way to heat and cool a home using the sun’s rays, but without the panels and wiring that come with conventional solar energy systems.

He’s been pushing for its adoption ever since, trying to find footing in each of the solar industry’s last three boom-and-bust cycles.

Yet, despite the merits of his pioneering technology, the energy establishment has shown only fleeting interest.

As Gore said, quoting Upton Sinclair “it is hard to get someone to understand something — if their salary depends upon not understanding it.”

When it comes to climate change, those who refuse to act are mostly those without imagination, or those whose financial interests support the status quo. Passive solar systems cost little or nothing to operate, and so represent a serious threat to the fossil fuel industry.

Hay’s system keeps a house between 65-75 degrees year-round with virtually no electricity. What’s the catch? It requires the house to be built from scratch, and built strong enough to hold a roof-sized pond of water. Still, to have no heating or cooling bills for the life of the home? Wow. [Click the story link at the top of the article for a video of this house and how the system works.]

Even if people didn’t want to have flat roofs, I see no reason why they couldn’t heavily insulate their home and locate the solar pond elsewhere on their property. Then they could use pumps and heat-exchangers to take advantage of the water’s thermal mass. Certainly this could be a great way to cool apartments and commercial buildings as well.

Cheap electricity, fuel oil, and natural gas have kept people using energy-hogging central furnaces and forced-air systems, generating countless gigatons of CO2 for decades. Solutions such as the Skytherm house are as simple and elegant as it gets and produce no CO2. Only two things stand between our current situation and a clean planet and better life: greed and inertia.

Carbon taxes will make the status quo prohibitive, and force many of these types of solutions. There are many details to be worked out, of course, but a better national energy policy can turn this sad situation of needless energy waste around. There’s no excuse anymore, it’s just common sense. It’s high time for solar energy to stop being a science project and get mainstreamed.


Comments (5 comments)

Solar-House, Harold Hay, Skytherm, 40-year old Solar-House / December 20th, 2007, 1:51 am / #1

[…] Via BlackSunJournal none […]

Science Etcetera Saturnday, 20071222 « ideonexus / December 22nd, 2007, 2:15 am / #2

[…] A Solar House that Heats and Cools Without Electricity isn’t news, except this one is 40-Years-Old (HT Clint). […]

Niles Rasmussen / June 8th, 2010, 5:15 pm / #3

Who wrote this article? Congrats to Harold Hay for taking the plunge. Because of the temperature swings this area provides, it is ideal for this technique. Other places, maybe not. The author's idea of locating the pond somewhere else and using pumps and heat exchangers completely misses the point of this elegant engineering solution. When one introduces pumps, the system is no longer passive. There are other ways to utilize the daytime energy source and night time energy sink that exists but, government regulation gets in the way making it a hassle and significantly adding to the cost.

BlackSun / June 14th, 2010, 6:35 pm / #4

Actually, Niles, the roof system is not passive, either. Covers have to open and close.

Some might consider tens of thousands of pounds of water on the roof to be needless extra load and risk. This could be especially problematic in earthquake zones. I still say the benefits of water cooling can be gained from wells or ponds. I'd rather have a small pump system than be crushed by water bags in an earthquake.

KS Siler / April 6th, 2013, 12:22 pm / #5

The water bags, since they are not one continuous bag, actually reduce the amount of energy transferred to the house during the earthquake. Each bag of water has its own "movement" so to speak and acts against each other rather than in unison helping to absorb and dissipate the movement. The roof loads are calculated to hold this type of weight. Imagine the roof actually helping in an earthquake rather than hurting someone. I found this system and am currently designing and getting ready to build and test it in northern Minnesota. It is practical and smart. Problem is there is not much money to be made by utility companies. Since it takes are of all heating and cooling, one requires fewer solar panels to take care of the rest of ones electrical needs.

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