Danish solar ventilation product SolarVenti was installed in a solar heating project for Kiwi schools that won a prestigious industry award for Massey University Professor Robyn Phipps who led the experiment.

Professor Phipps was awarded the highly commended award in the James Hardie Innovation category at the 2016 New Zealand Institute of Building Awards to acknowledge her leadership on a Health Research Council of New Zealand and Lottery Health funded project. This project was aimed at improving the indoor climate in a learning environment in low decile classrooms with a low cost solar ventilation unit.

The solar air heater used in this experiment was the highly awarded Danish SolarVenti range, the first air collector with the Solarkeymark, and a recognised technology under New Zealand’s Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) funding projects and certified with Fraunhofer, CE, DanETV, Delta and DTU.

The project involved the installation of roof-mounted SolarVenti solar air heater panels to heat fresh air and ventilate 12 classrooms in Palmerston North. Results indicate classrooms with roof mounted solar ventilation units reduced the use of conventional heaters compared to adjacent classrooms (without solar ventilation units), lowering the cost of heating by up to 2.5 times.

Professor Phipps of the School of Engineering and Advanced Technology observes that the operating hours of schools coincide with the peak daylight hours needed for solar heating; it, therefore, makes sense to use the free solar energy for heating the air.

The study also used genomics to identify bacteria collected by swabs taken from the children’s throats and assess the experiment’s success in reducing student illness. According to Dr Phipps, this could be an effective tool in reducing incidents of Streptococcus within New Zealand schools.

Ninety percent of New Zealand (NZ) classrooms are naturally ventilated through open windows. Due to the combination of a high density of occupants and reliance on natural ventilation, it is challenging to provide classrooms with adequate ventilation and consequently an acceptable Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) during the winter months.

Conventional mechanical ventilation systems are capital- and energy-intensive, and need ongoing maintenance, making them unaffordable for most NZ schools. The study aims to provide an alternative and affordable method for increasing classroom ventilation in winter.

Professor Phipps’ study involved ten classrooms (from five primary schools) in winter 2013 and 12 classrooms (from six primary schools) in winter 2014 (one school was added in 2014 to the 2013 school sample). All classrooms were located in Palmerston North, 150km north of Wellington, the capital city.

In an additional test conducted in association with Dr Mikael Boulic (Massey University) and the air quality team at GNS Science, PM10 (particulate matter smaller than 10 microns) was monitored inside the classrooms plus outdoors. The solar ventilation unit had a positive impact in reducing PM10 concentrations by a factor of 1.5 in the treatment classroom.

SolarVenti Australia supplied solar ventilation systems for the study and provided assistance to Professor Robyn Phipps and her team.