Solar geyser pioneer unveils R2,5m manufacturing expansion

GRAHAM MUNDY Solar Beam was the first SWH manufacturing company in South Africa to attain the full South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) mark of approval.

GRAHAM MUNDY Solar Beam was the first SWH manufacturing company in South Africa to attain the full South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) mark of approval.

South Africa’s long established solar water heater (SWH) manufacturer, Solar Beam, of Durban, has embarked on a R2,5-million expansion of its manufacturing facility in order to keep pace with the growth in demand for SWH systems in South Africa.
Solar Beam MD Graham Mundy, who started the company some 33 years ago, tellsEngineering News that the expansion will also include increased capacity for research and development, as the company continually strives for improvements in manufacturing techniques and materials used.
The company is also starting up a training school to ensure that the installation of SWH systems can be done adequately in parallel with the increased production and roll-out of systems. Mundy will ensure that the training course is locally appropriate, and accredited by the necessary authorities. 
Solar Beam designs and manufactures SWH systems using flat plate solar tech- nology, which, Mundy explains, is better suited to the harsh South African climate than the evacuated tubes developed for European climatic conditions.
Mundy notes that evacuated tube SWH systems have been designed for areas with lower temperatures, and, although they can generate higher water temperatures in South Africa, this is not necessarily a good thing. “The hotter the water, the higher the losses,” explains Mundy, adding that regulations stipulate that water out of a tap should not be hotter than 55 ºC, as it poses a safety risk.
“As a matter of interest – the hottest bath a man can tolerate comfortably is 41 ºC and a woman, 43 ºC,” Mundy adds.
“There is a place for glass tubes, but they must be strong enough, and well manufactured – there has been a lot of inconsistent quality of imported evacuated glass tube imports,” he says.
He maintains that glass tubes are better suited for generating hot process water for industrial applications, rather than for domestic use.
The company states that Solar Beam systems are made of compatible mate- rials that have been tried, tested and perfected for South African conditions – from the extreme hail and thunderstorms on the Highveld to the humidity of KwaZulu-Natal.
Solar Beam was the first SWH manufac- turing company in South Africa to attain the full South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) mark of approval. Mundy explains that the SABS compliance certificate, which is merely a one-off test report on a single product, is only valid for 18 months and, if the mark of approval is not attained, the supplier is removed from the Eskom list of qualified suppliers. There is no guarantee of continued quality attached to the SABS compliance certificate, whereas a company boasting the SABS mark of approval and its products are carefully audited by the SABS and, therefore, offer better assurance of quality.
Mundy also warns against the retrofitting of SWH systems, where a solar panel is connected to an existing geyser.
Firstly, he notes that the SWH system is insulated 25% better than standard geysers, and if a retrofit is done, a conversion gadget is required for the element, as the standard geyser element position is not suitable, nor are the pipe positions suitable for connecting to a solar panel.
Also, the volume of a normal geyser is too small for the job expected of it as a solar geyser. An electric geyser will cycle its contents electrically in about three hours, whereas a solar geyser needs to store hot water for 24 hours, which will be heated by the sun over an approximate six-hour period. Thus, the solar geyser must be bigger than the existing electric geyser.
Mundy reiterates that the cost of retro- fitting a geyser is not that much more advantageous, and installing a full SWH system is beneficial, particularly since the Eskom rebate has been increased.
The solar water heating industry is a fast-growing industry in South Africa, with ever-increasing demand from domestic homeowners, property developers and retailers – thus, teething problems are to be expected.
To assist in reaching its renewable- energy target of 10 000 GWh of power from renewable sources by 2014, government is driving the roll-out of one-million SWH systems. Much focus is being placed on low-income housing, and this is creating additional demand from the industry.
Mundy urges consumers to properly investigate SWH applications in South Africa before buying systems, and not to be swayed by slick salespersons.
Engineering News