Researchers at the Alberta Research Council Inc. (ARC) have completed a pilot study identifying a more efficient technology to insulate homes, reducing space heating costs for homeowners. Researchers proved by combining direct solar collection and heat storage technology with existing structural insulated panel system (SIPS), energy consumption for space heating could be reduced by 48%.

The study focused on measuring energy consumption during a peak energy load period from February 1 to May 15, 2005. ARC combined existing SIPS technology with thermal solar panels embedded in exterior walls to create a more energy efficient building envelope in a test module.

"Our technology focuses on the most significant cost related to home energy consumption - heating the physical space," said Kaz Szymocha, ARC research scientist, Advanced Materials business unit. "This research project was designed to gather enough conclusive data to demonstrate that our technology could be applied in a real world setting. We wanted to improve on existing SIPS technology currently in the marketplace; our results clearly show combining two technologies - SIPS and solar panel technology -- has potential for great cost savings."

On average, 65% of Canadian home energy consumption goes to space heating. Another 20% goes to hot water generation, with 15% being used in the form of electricity.

The research was conducted using three one-room test modules. The first test module represented a standard home with walls made of 2-in. x 6-in. wood studs with R-20 batt insulation. The second test module used SIPS technology - with walls made of 6-in. PlastiSpan Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) Insulation cores between two oriented strand board panels - an emerging technology in the construction market. The third module used SIPS technology in combination with solar energy collection panels with direct heat storage ability. Energy meters were used to evaluate energy consumption. As compared to the standard module, the SIPS technology-based module used approximately 75% of the energy, while the SIPS and solar panel test module only used 52%.

Based on an average requirement of 115 GJ (gigajoules) of energy needed to heat a standard residential home (source: Natural Resources Canada), the average customer would save approximately 55 GJ using this combination of SIPS and solar thermal technology.

The project cost $250,000 and was funded 75% by ARC and 25% by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). In an early stage of this research activity, Plasti-Fab Ltd., a local SIPS manufacturer, also contributed to research funding.

"The Government of Canada is pleased to support this innovative project, which shows real potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change," said the Honourable Anne McLellan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, on behalf of the Honourable R. John Efford, Minister of Natural Resources Canada. "By combining superior energy-efficient insulation technology with clean, renewable energy, the Alberta Research Council has devised a system that will have far-reaching benefits for consumers today and for generations to come."