In Episode 71 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on August 4, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Dick Lyons, co-founder of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Victor Eyal, founder and CEO of UMA Solar, manufacturer and nationwide distributor of solar products.
After spending 12 years as pilot in the Israeli air force, Eyal founded UMA Solar 30 years ago. The company is focused on solar thermal (not electric) energy, which heats water in the way a garden hose laying on a lawn, heated by the sun, creates hot water.
Since the sun is Israel’s only natural resource, that country has been using solar energy since the 1950’s on almost every building, so much so that when children draw pictures of houses, they include solar water-heating systems, according to Eyal. When he came to the US, he noticed that solar thermal technology wasn’t being used and saw an opportunity to bring the products here.
Although solar thermal technology has been around for decades, it’s more recently been improved to efficiently heat water for homes and swimming pools. Specifically, in the last 20 years, the systems have evolved to include freeze protection, electronic controls, internet reporting systems and pumping systems. The design of collectors has also improved – materials now include copper, aluminum and low-iron black tempered glass, which allow high energy penetration and permit little energy escape.
Today, most countries surrounding Israel – from Turkey to Morocco – have similarly implemented solar water heating. It’s also “leaked into Europe,” Eyal explains, with large solar manufacturers hailing from Germany, France and Greece. Interestingly, China is by far the largest user of solar thermal systems.
In the US, states with government incentives are the biggest users of solar thermal energy. In those cases, commercial pools are increasingly heated with solar technology, now representing 20 percent of the solar thermal market. In fact, one of UMA’s flagship commercial projects was heating the pool in Atlanta used for past Olympic games. There are also industrial applications for solar-heated water, even if a company needs only to generate steam. In Israel, hospitals and factories use solar thermal technology.
How could you use solar thermal energy?