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Development of an expert system to analyse/optimise the technical/economic feasibility or performance of hybrid large scale solar heating (lssh) systems (expert system lssh)

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Shedding light on solar power

Solar energy is a highly viable yet underused alternative source of energy. An Austrian SME is looking to turn this situation around with a new, easy-to-use software tool for technical and economic analysis of solar energy solutions.

Energy

Burning of coal, oil and other fossil fuels produces emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases into the Earth's atmosphere. These gases contribute to global warming, which scientists predict will have detrimental effects upon the lives of citizens all over the world. In order to reverse this trend, alternative sources of energy are being investigated. Solar energy is a free, renewable source of energy. Attempts to exploit solar energy have thus far been limited in scope. Small-scale applications have been successful in some regions, such as Cyprus where over 90% of the homes have solar powered water heaters. However, large scale solar heating (LSSH) applications have not yet achieved such widespread adoption. LSSH systems target the heating of large commercial and public structures, apartment buildings, etc. The main obstacles holding LSSH back are the higher energy demands and higher costs of such applications due to their size. Solar energy promoters have, until now, lacked the proper tools to demonstrate the economic viability of their solutions in comparison with traditional sources of energy. An Austrian SME has the answer: an intelligent decision support software tool developed in the framework of a European-funded research project. The tool addresses both the technical and financial aspects of LSSH solutions. The software developers integrated several attractive features into the end product. Data entry is achieved by an easy-to-use wizard. Technical and economic data undergo automatic quality checks to ensure they're within reasonable limits. The relationship between technical specifications (e.g. size and distribution of solar panels) and economic parameters (e.g. material costs) is optimised according to pre-defined algorithms. The results of the exercise are then output in the form of a business case report. The software is Windows-based and fully compatible with standard office PCs. The software has been tested and validated with several real-world cases. The Austrian SME is now pursuing a vigorous knowledge transfer campaign in parallel with distribution of the software. The aim is to better demonstrate the competitiveness of LSSH solutions and increase their adoption, thereby reducing Europe's reliance on traditional energy sources.

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