William Nickerson had never heard of anything like it. The building lead at NSCC’s Shelburne Campus was studying for his Building Systems Technician diploma in 2011 when a colleague told him about a convection solar heating system built from cans.
“I thought there’s got to be a way we could do something similar to heat hot water at the campus,” says William. “I did a little investigation and collaborated with a colleague who works on our boilers to come up with a design.”
Using nearly 240 pop cans discarded by campus staff and students, William developed and installed a solar powered hot water heater that has not only resulted in savings of approximately $800 annually on fuel costs for the College; it also produces no waste at all.
“It’s a closed-loop system,” explains William. “There are no fossil fuels being used, so it’s keeping pollution out of the air, which helps the environment. And it can go forever.”
The way the heater works is simple: the sun heats the pop cans, which in turn heat copper piping that contains glycol. A plate heat exchanger extracts 95% of the heat from the glycol, transferring it to the campus’s hot water heater.
“Whether you’re having a shower in the bathrooms or washing equipment in the kitchen, all the water on the campus is heated by solar energy all summer.”
William says he had to improvise the design because he couldn’t find any examples of hot water heating systems using pop cans. “I’ve seen a few since, but they use tubing, not copper piping like this system. I’m not aware of any other post-secondary institution with a hot water heating system built from pop cans.”
It has been two years since William installed the hot water heating system and he says it has more than paid for itself in fuel savings. He has been talking to NSCC campuses about the system and is confident another one could be installed soon, possibly at the Burridge Campus. Meanwhile, he’s interested in adding a second unit at the Shelburne Campus that would see solar power heat water eight months of the year.
“I’d like to get the students from our plumbing program involved,” William says. "Industry is increasingly looking at solar, and that hands-on learning experience would give them a leg up.”