January 2005

Thornbloom Conducts Hot Water Workshops in Barbados

Discover, dream, enjoy. . . Barbados.

While those words may be the catch-phrase for the Barbados business pages website, the visit FSEC’s Mark Thornbloom and solar industry member Jim Ogle of DKF Distributors took to that country in October was for discovery, dreaming and enjoyment of a different kind. They traveled to the island to conduct solar thermal workshops so that people living there could enjoy their homes more.

Jim Ogle and workshop attendee
Jim Ogle demonstrates proper soldering techniques at workshop for solar hot water installers.
(Photo credit: Mark Thornbloom)

The two were in Barbados to conduct solar domestic hot water installer workshops, providing on-the-job and classroom training and hands-on workshops for eight installer teams (technicians and trainees) from Solar Dynamics, the company that funded FSEC to conduct the program. The U.S. Agency for International Development provided the funding to the company as part of its effort to improve the solar industry on the island.

There are more than 35,000 solar water heaters on Barbados, which has about one-quarter million residents and covers an area the size of Chicago. Solar Dynamics is one of the leading industry members on the island, claiming about 60 percent of the market. Most of the rest of the market is split between SunPower and AquaSol, while about one percent of the systems there are home-built.

Solar Dynamics employs around 60 people in manufacturing, distribution, sales, marketing, installation, and service. It builds its own units, mostly thermosyphon systems, starting with components imported from the U.S.

During their two weeks in the country, Thornbloom, a senior research engineer at FSEC, and Ogle rode along on service calls and installations with each of the eight teams. They also conducted classroom sessions and a hands-on lab for installers to demonstrate and practice proper soldering technique and to introduce 95/5 solder and MAPP gas, focusing on basic concepts such as “no drips, no leaks”, and “flame heats the tube, tube heats the solder” when flame is applied underneath the pipe and opposite the solder.

Solar Hot Water Heater installed on residence.

A typical residential solar water heating system
in Barbados.
(Photo credit: Mark Thornbloom)

They also helped evaluate a new collector mount and developed more effective, hurricane-resistant techniques for mounting the collectors, using locally-available materials. These methods greatly improved the collector mounts, which previously had consisted of a couple of rivets in the corrugated roofing, or rawl plugs in the tile or concrete roof. The trainers conducted hands-on labs to introduce these new methods to the technicians.

Hurricane resistance is high on people’s minds in the wake of the recent devastation in the islands. Thornbloom’s presentation to a luncheon meeting of the Barbados Architects Institute and the Barbados Association of Professional Engineers prompted a number of questions from the audience on hurricane resistance as well as solar air conditioning.

In interviews with the local media, Thornbloom responded to questions about solar equipment and to questions about certification of solar systems. He focused much of his presentation to government ministers, architects, engineers and utility company representatives on certification “because it is a means of consumer protection, in terms of safety, performance, and protection from false advertising. “

This wasn’t your typical vacation trip to a Caribbean island, but the training that the two solar experts provided should pay off in better-made and better-installed systems in the area.