Low-Cost Solar Collector Mounting System Blends with Buildings and Landscaping

Technology #31211

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Perspective view of the solar collector gutter with two collector modules.
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Researchers
Jeffrey K. Sonne
External Link (www.fsec.ucf.edu)
Robin K. Vieira
External Link (www.fsec.ucf.edu)
Managed By
Raju Nagaiah
Licensing Associate 407.882.0593
Patent Protection
US Patent 8,607,778

Affordable mounting system enables homeowners and businesses to take advantage of solar power using existing rain gutters

UCF researchers have invented a low-cost system that seamlessly blends form and function by enabling residential and commercial buildings to capture solar energy without having to mount unsightly solar panels on their rooftops. With the system, solar energy companies can place solar collectors and photovoltaic collectors in the rain gutters of a building. The invention can also attach directly onto a building’s fascia and eaves, architectural ledges, exterior walls (as decorative trim), and even on the ground as part of landscaping. 

While solar hot water and photovoltaic technology is widely available, traditional solar panels can be eyesores. Mounted on brackets, most solar collectors and photovoltaic collectors fail to blend with a building’s architecture. Additionally, the collectors are affixed using mechanical fasteners, piping or wiring that penetrates a roof’s surface. Such penetrations can trap water and moisture, which contribute to roof deterioration and fungus growth. Storms and strong winds can also rip panels off roofs, allowing water to damage the underlying structure. Solar tiles, though more aesthetically pleasing, are costly, and thin-film panels, which blend better with existing structures, are far less efficient at capturing energy. 

In contrast, the new invention avoids the design, structure and cost issues by easily integrating with a building’s aesthetics and not requiring any significant surface penetrations to fasten panels and collectors. The new system also harnesses solar energy just as efficiently as other types of solar panel installations. Additionally, it is inexpensive to install, since the cost is only an incremental part of a new gutter installation or a retrofit to existing gutters.

Technical Details

The invention consists of a solar collector mounting system and methods for attaching the system to a building without penetrating the roof surface. The system supports collectors that harvest solar energy to heat water or provide electrical power for light sources. It attaches directly to the edge of a building’s soffits and fascias or inside new or existing rainwater gutters. As well, the invention can run along architectural ledges, on walls, and in ground-based collector housings hidden by landscaping. With the system, solar collectors can be on the north side of a building as well as any other non-optimal side and still operate efficiently and effectively. Additionally, the system uses interlocking connectors to join solar collectors. In one example use, the actual collector can be a long, narrow unit up to 12 inches wide, and match the length of the building soffit. In an example thermal collector setup, the system could have an absorber plate, piping and insulation similar to conventional collectors and may or may not include a glazed surface.

Benefits

  • Blends in with a building’s existing architecture
  • Usable on buildings that are not oriented properly for conventional solar systems
  • Enables clean energy collection and use
  • Avoids roof surface penetrations for either mechanical fastening, piping or wiring (in the case of photovoltaic collectors)
  • Can be incorporated into exterior decorative trim or landscaping
  • Blocks dead leaves from collecting in the gutter
  • Increases the available surface area for energy harvesting

Applications

  • Residential and commercial building water heating/electric power generation