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Solar System

 June 2013

Pope Francis voiced his concern for environmental in the very first homily of his Papacy on March 19, 2013, when he was installed.   “Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill, let us be protectors of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.”  Text from page of the Vatican Radio website:

As part of our environmental awareness, and much prayer and community discussions, we have begun preparation for the hot air solar system that is being installed here at the monastery.  Below, there is work on the role of frames for the solar panels on the roof.

solar_5Hot Air Solar Heating System – The Monastery of Our Lady of the Desert is located in a pristine area of the high New Mexico desert. With ample fresh air and quiet solitude for meditation the location is ideal. However the remote location is also prone to severe winters and heating expenses are a drain on the Sisters limited budget. The Monastery has made a commitment to environmental awareness and has researched different solar energy options.

There was a large municipal scale solar hot air system being dismantled in Denver. This provided an opportunity to obtain a substantial quantity of used solar heating collectors purchased for $2,000.00. The collectors are in relatively good condition but require cleaning and refurbishing to provide an additional couple of decades of low cost supplemental solar heat.

After consulting with solar energy professionals it was decided the first phase would be to build a hot air solar heating system to provide heat to the Sisters living and sleeping quarters in addition to heating the Kitchen and Dining building. The solar collector array consists of 16 hot air solar panels. There will be a large heat storage unit constructed of concrete block and filled with rock to provide additional solar heat after dark. Ducting will be routed under the modular buildings and there will be filters and UV light air purification to assure the air remains clean and free of harmful bacteria. Integrated into the duct design will be a fresh air intake package to provide a percentage of fresh air into the buildings. The distribution duct to the buildings will have a dual purpose and circulate night time air to help cool the buildings in the summer.  By flushing the building at night with cool air and closing the blinds and windows during the day, the buildings should be substantially more comfortable during the hot summer months. The buildings currently do not have an air conditioning or a cooling system installed.

As the project evolves the intent is to include a hot water heating coil capable of using excess solar energy to heat the hot water for domestic use. This will provide a solar contribution to the cost of hot water for bathing and other domestic purposes.

In summary Phase 1 will include solar hot air to provide heat in the winter with rock storage to extend the solar contribution into the night. Fresh filtered air will be circulated to maintain a healthy air quality. Night time cooling is included, to improve the comfort level during the hot summer months with fresh cool air. And a solar heated hot water package to utilize excess solar heat.

Phase two has already begun, and consists of four solar hot air collectors. The four collectors will circulate warm air directly into the north facing breezeway. The breezeway is bitter cold in the winter. The intent is to heat the breezeway a little everyday and keep the area from becoming an ice box during the winter months.  By tempering the breezeway we can reduce the heat load of the adjacent buildings. This assists Phase 1 and enables a larger solar contribution and increased comfort.

Additional phases of solar heating for the remaining buildings are in the design stages. There are lots of additional solar collectors available, and the intent is to have a good solar contribution for all of the buildings. The expense of heating and cooling should be considerably reduced. The comfort should be considerably improved. And the carbon foot print will be minimized. This helps the Monastery budget their limited funding in a more intelligent manner. The systems also become a working example of solar energy utilization. And are a working tool to be used to educate others on environmental responsibility and the intelligent use of the resources God has provide.  We invite any questions or comments.  We are delighted to be working with Mr. Richard Chacon and his staff.  For further information you may contact his company Independent Energy Solar, 118 South Miller Avenue, Farmington, NM87401, or call 505-326-3634.

On August 1, 2013, the workers and Richard Chacon, from Independent Energy install the next four solar panels. It rains while they are installing the panels but they continue working. The day is cloudy, perfect for working on the roof.

August 12, 2013, some of the work on the hot air solar panels on the carport roof is finished. The workers then remove a piece of the cement sidewalk between the carport and the end room of kitchen/ refectory building to make a trench for the duct from the solar panel to the Refectory/Kitchen building.

On August 23, 2013, Ernest, Felix, Tommy, and Javier continue to work on the ducts for the hot air solar system.  They install the remaining four vents on the other side of the sisters’ cells and the return vent in the closet next the heater closet and begin installing the vents in the Refectory/Kitchen.

September 3, 2013, three motors for the hot air solar system were purchased, two at $700 and another at $800.  On September 4, 2013 and Tommy connected the electric box installed last week on the sisters building for the hot air solar system.

Thursday, Sept 5, 2013 – Ernest and Felix are making insulation forms that will cover the metal ducts that go to the solar panels on the roof of the carport.  The other workers, Tommy and Javier are preparing ducts that will go from the rock box to the panels. These ducts will carry the hot air from the panels through the rock box to the sisters building and the Refectory/Kitchen. And, the return ducts will bring back the cool air, approximately 70 degrees. The ducts that go from the rock box to the sisters building and to the Refectory/Kitchen area were installed in the crawl space under each building last week.

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September 10, 2013Work continues on the hot air solar system as noted in the picture of the workers installing a third motor. This motor feeds the hot air that is heated from the four panels that were installed on the car port roof into the rock box (the heart of the system), which is located in the corner of the carport. From the bottom of the box (one motor pictured, lower left) there are two ducts with smaller motors that feed the hot air from the box to the Kitchen/Refectory and to the sisters building.  This building is where the sisters live, and where they work during the work period (9 am to 12:30 pm), rest or free time from 2:00 pm to 3:20 pm, and also pray Lectio Divina in their cells (4pm to 5 pm) and sleep at night (8 pm to 4:15 AM).