CHICAGO — Pickings were slim for fans of solar thermal here at the Solar Power International Show in late October. SPI formerly had a respectable contingent of solar thermal, hydronic and radiant heating suppliers on display, but the show has evolved to be almost completely photovoltaic.

Caleffi was at SPI showing some of its hydronic and solar components, but the company wasn’t introducing any new products, noted its head trainer, Robert “Hot Rod” Rohr. Apricus Solar, a long-time supplier of evacuated tube collectors, finally succumbed to the marketplace and was showing a flat plate collector. The flat plate collector, however, is still undergoing certification by the Solar Rating and Certification Corp. and is not quite yet available for sale.

Solar Skies displayed its SS-Series EZ-Array collectors that come in arrays of two to eight collectors with the mounting hardware factory cut and drilled to the contractor’s specifications. All of the collector-to-collectors connections are heavy-duty ground joint brass and copper unions that are installed and pressure-tested to 350-PSI. The product is aimed at the commercial market, said National Sales Manager Rod Hyatt.

Next Generation Energy, Lafayette, Colo., showed an ingenious combination of PV collectors and electric water heating called the SunBandit Solar Hybrid Energy System. The PV modules on the roof generate DC that’s converted to AC current by a micro-inverter on the back of the solar panels. The current flows through Romex to the water heater, which also has standard electric coils as backup. Water is heated in the tank by what Next Generation Energy calls a “micro-grid resistive element.”

An anti-scald mixing valve that comes standard on the top of the tank allows the tank to store water up to 160°F and deliver it at a safer 120°F. Next Generation Energy Sales Manager April Porterfield wouldn’t say exactly where the tank is manufactured, but she said the entire assembly, collectors and tank, is made in America.

Caleffi’s Rohr, who pointed out the product to CONTRACTOR, noted that having the PV collectors connected only to the tank eliminates all of the expensive ancillary requirements that he encountered installing his own PV system, such as engineering, permitting, and a hefty insurance policy required by the local electric utility.

Next Generation Energy can be found at ngeus.com and Porterfield can be contacted at april@ngeus.com.