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Solar Option was first registered as a business in Perth, Western Australia, by Steve Grabham in 1993. Presently located in the Perth suburb of White Gum Valley.

This page describes the origin/evolution of Solar Option products and related projects.

Solar Option came into being controlling sunlight through passive shading (generic term: 'solar pergola') with the SUNGOLA.

After seeing some woeful installations of solar water heaters and PVs, the Solar Access Composite Image emerged, instilling an intent to disseminate information to maximise efficiency of solar products. It is left to the individual as to whether that information is considered.

Solar Option is constantly looking at ways to maximise efficiency of solar and renewable energies.

SUNGOLA - development.

While living in a newly built villa-unit, whose lounge-room was fitted with a large west facing window, pleasant enough during winter but unbearable during summer, it became apparent that some way to control sunlight was required. The heat must be prevented from reaching the glass to function correctly. Fixing shade cloth over the window during summer (removing it for winter) worked well, but was not the answer.

After checking the price of the (then only) adjustable pergola, that was ruled out. There was also a (lower cost) timber 'solar pergola' available at the time but it didn't fit the requirement. It was decided to look into developing a less expensive option (fixed louvre) to the adjustable pergola, but with most of the benefits. Having fixed shade elements, angles needed to be optimised, for both Summer and Winter.

Before fabricating anything, it was necessary to know the sun path for the whole year, so as to determine the parameters that the shade element shape and angles should comply with. The sun moves so far North to South during the year that it was essential to be sure that angles were correct. After contacting a couple of universities and writing a computer program that would allow different angles to be assessed, the parameters were fixed.

During evaluation, it was decided that the structure should be as open/unobtrusive as possible for winter operation (no large beams) to permit light/heat through, while still able to deliver the maximum shade at the appropriate time. Next, select which material to construct it from.

It was apparent early on that despite timber being the most popular material for a pergola, it was not structurally suitable to optimise this type of application. The thin profile of the shade elements could quickly warp, which would limit their span and require extra support beams to accommodate the short lengths.

Steel or aluminium was preferred due to its strength and ability to be pressed/formed, to maximise functionality. The process of pressing also allowed the incorporation of a rain reducing gutter to each shade element, with a gutter attachment to the panel side beams to take the water from the element ends to the edge of the structure.

Several designs were considered and trialed, before settling on the final shape. Though the initial objective had been to address the problem west facing window, it was obvious that the device/structure could function equally on any side of the house as a shade, and create an outdoor entertainment area.

A trademark and registered design was obtained and the SUNGOLA was introduced to the market in 1992. Minor changes have been made to the original design since then to soften appearance (and minimise costs), which have not altered functionality.

The SUNGOLA solar optimised pergola (re-designated passive sun control), has remained the primary product to date. No other (fixed shade element) product provides the same extremes of shade, to coincide with the seasonal movement of the sun, and rain reduction. There are similar products (copies) on the market, but none have undergone the same amount of development. Most have failed due to their lack of understanding of, and commitment to correct orientation during installation.

SUNGOLA installations have been tailored to specific requirements and locations, not normally attainable with 'off the shelf' products of this type.

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SACI - development.

From observations of several inadequate solar installations during walks around the suburbs, and an extensive knowledge of the sun path throughout the year (acquired while designing the SUNGOLA), a new product/service emerged. The Solar Access Composite Image (SACI).

The primary requirement for any solar energy product to function efficiently is good solar access of direct sunlight. Shade restricts direct access and can result in; (at best) reduced efficiency, (at worst) total loss of input, depending on the product. But how do you show a prospective Solar Water Heater or PV system buyer (or present owner) this for the whole year at their specific location?

It would need to incorporate a pictorial view from the location that the home owner would easily recognise and relate to, with a graphical representation of the Sun' path throughout the year, overlaid on that picture.

Firstly, a photo from the location would be required but in what form? It would need to show everything that produces shade at the location. It should show a complete horizon, as all permanent shade structures (buildings/trees) project above it. Therefore a single full circle fish-eye photo is ideal.

An annual sun path graphic for the Perth latitude had been devised while designing the SUNGOLA, showing the monthly paths with hourly timelines included. With software this could be overlaid on the circular photo. But firstly the two had to be matched so that sun path altitudes coincided with the photo (especially at lower angles). Luckily there is a regarded expert on a related subject (planetarium projections) at UWA in Perth. After assistance from him, the photo and an adjusted graphic could be combined into an accurate composite image.

As the full circle image may still be hard to relate to, further software can be used to create a horizontal panorama from the composite image, allowing all of the relevant (sun path and skyline) information within the circular image to be viewed from a more natural 'flat horizon' perspective. Software is also available that permits the user to look around within the circular picture.

The Solar Access Composite Image (SACI) is designed to provide a visual image (for the end user) of the extent of direct sunlight a location can expect for the whole year, and what/when shade may reduce direct solar access. Solar energy (insolation) naturally drops during winter at the same time that shade is usually greatest (due to low sun angles), so try to minimise the shade, particularly at that time.

Though there are other devices that can give an indication of solar access, they may only be obvious to retailers/installers. What had been missing was a method to give the end user a visual image that they can relate to, of what the situation is at their exact location. The result empowering an end user to decide whether to accept a less efficient installation resulting from shade, or strive for maximum efficiency (and what action may be involved).

The SACI photo should be kept as a reference, to ensure that maximum solar access is maintained through regular tree pruning. The SACI can also help plan/determine garden layout that will permit excellent solar access well into the future. A report is also drawn up showing the monthly solar energy available at the site.

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Other Related Projects.

Currently investigating/developing:

Solar Water Heater Expander collectors, to improve winter (only) input, in various sizes and configurations.
Retro-fitable device to reduce summer (ambient temperature) heat gain through windows.
Wind (roof mounted) and wave powered generator.
Roof valley and gutter system to exclude debris, preventing water/fire ingress into buildings.
Hybrid SIP/concrete wall panels, for multi floor/unit buildings.
Wet sander for dust suppression of hazardous materials.

Past projects have included:

Installation of (evacuated tube) solar water heaters and alternative air-conditioning.
Energy audits of Primary/High schools and colleges.
* Evaluating (solar) heat capture of various roof tile materials and colours.
* Room heating during winter, utilsing roof cavity heat.
* Reducing roof cavity heat load on ceiling insulation (increased interior comfort), during summer.

(* multi-point temperature monitoring)

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Previous Experience.

Steve has:
Given multiple seminar presentations at Perth Sun Fair.
Served on ANZSES (West Australian branch) committee 1992-3, and the committee for the 1993 annual conference at the Esplanade hotel in Fremantle.
Limited computer programming, wrote GHGcalc user interface, and sun path tables during Sungola development.
Conducted surveys for Australian Greenhouse Office, and Dept of Agriculture and Food.
Many years experience with both fibreglass (mainly yachts), and elastomeric polyurethane, undertaking all positions from fabricator/moulder to division manager and proprietor.
Built product 'plugs' and moulds.
Designed and built machinery for production of wear resistant components, for both own business and others.
Instigated innovations regard production methods.
Designed and built conveyor noise/vibration suppression components, and mineral separation equipment.
Worked as a volunteer with BlazeAid to clear and re-build farm fences damaged in the Waroona/Yarloop bushfire area.

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2016 Solar Option

Steves photo Jan 2010
Steve Grabham.

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