Energy Manager

Research “cottage” comes to McMaster to test solar technology

An 18-ft long, 13-ft wide and 13-ft high wooden structure, called a research “cottage” was donated by VELUX Canada Inc. of Oakville to a group of engineering researchers at McMaster. The researchers will use the structure to test a translucent solar skylight that can help control interior building temperature and generate electricity but still allow natural light to shine through.


“We needed some way to test the solar skylight under real weather conditions so we can get investors interested,” said Adrian Kitai, McMaster professor of engineering physics, who is working with three graduate students in the Master’s of Engineering Entrepreneurship and Innovation program.


The research cottage began its journey at about 9:30 a.m. on June 30 from VELUX’s offices near the QEW/403 interchange in Oakville, just east of the Ford plant. The research cottage is now located in the parking lot on the west side of Longwood Road South close to Highway 403.


VELUX—a global manufacturer of skylights, Sun Tunnel Skylights and solar thermal products—originally built the cottage to test a new line of skylights under Canadian weather conditions.


“Our skylights proved that they could stand up to Canada’s weather and we were left with a building that we were no longer using,” said Nels Moxness, president, VELUX Canada. “Professor Kitai got us interested in his solar skylight project and we thought that he and the research community could make good use of it.”


The cottage features a sloping roof pitched at different angles on each side, and eight installed skylights. While testing of the solar skylight is one of the primary research projects that will use the building, the facility is available to other researchers at McMaster and in the community.


According to VELUS, the solar skylight resembles a standard thermopane window. However, inside is a patented arrangement of narrow strips of solar cells and prisms that both concentrate sunlight to generate more electricity and reflect it to allow light through.


The solar skylight self-adjusts to the position of the sun and weather conditions to provide the optimal light/electricity balance for greatest interior comfort. For example, at dusk and dawn, 80% of sunlight is allowed through for greater interior light and the rest is converted to electricity. During the day, the percentage is reversed to allow 80% of sunlight to be converted to electricity.


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July 5, 2010  By  John Gilson

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