Amatrol Solar Trainers: Review #1

Since I haven’t seen many of these online, today I’m going to do a little write up on my experiences with the Amatrol solar trainers, including the Photovoltaic Troubleshooter and the Solar Thermal Troubleshooter. These two products are used in our lab to teach students about the different types of solar thermal and photovoltaic systems they may encounter on the job. It allows the instructor to insert faults that simulate real world problems for the students to troubleshoot. The trainers come with CD-ROM curricula with lessons, tests, and activities that you can print out for the class or have the students work through on a computer. There are some very good things about these trainers and other aspects are frustrating.

Issues with The Photovoltaic Troubleshooter

The manuals are very helpful in walking you through each system test and the system set up process, even if you have no background in HVAC or electrical engineering.

  • However, the materials that ship with the system do not provide any schematics of the components so if you have problems with the system itself it is difficult to figure out what is going on and make your own repairs.
  • The customer service representatives don’t really know very much about the systems and my experiences with asking questions has resulted in my questions getting forwarded to the engineers and manual writers. The response is not quick.
  • Sometimes the instruction manuals are wrong, too.  We had one instance with the photovoltaic troubleshooter where the activity required the panels to be wired in series, although the bulb was not rated for that high of voltage. It overloaded the DC 24volt CFL light bulb and it burned out. We had to order a new one from a lighting store online.

Issues with The Solar Thermal Troubleshooter

The system set-up activities went relatively smoothly and the system did successfully heat water as both a drainback and a closed loop pressurized system. The following are some issues we ran into when attempting to operate the trainer under normal conditions.

  • The solar thermal troubleshooter’s over-temperature sensor didn’t work so we had to take it apart and rig it with a jumper wire, bypassing the switch. This is not recommended for long term use because it bypasses the safety feature it was designed to engage, so we need to get this fixed.
  • The professors found it odd that the drainback configuration included a heat exchanger, which they said is atypical.
  • The system is hard to pressurize by yourself — it helps to have a partner. It also loses pressure over several days of sitting in the lab not being used. We also experienced the pressure creeping upward during the run and heating of the water, which indicates that we may have maxed out the expansion tank.
  • Lastly, not all of the faults do what the activity says they are going to do so we had a difficult time proceeding with the activities as written. We are going to try to troubleshoot the troubleshooting those next week, so I’ll post our results of that in another blog entry.

 

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