Bethlehem Fire Department responds to incident involving solar concentrator

A Bethlehem radio station was taken off the air for about four hours last week after an uncontrolled solar concentrator beam melted and charred a cable the station uses to carry its broadcast signal.

In January, The Stone House Group began making energy efficiency upgrades to the flatiron building, which included mounting a 20-foot-wide solar collector on the roof. The solar collector was designed by Bethlehem-based CEWA Technologies.

Larry Eighmy, Stone House’s founder and managing principal, said  significant winds damaged the solar collector a few months ago and removed a  portion of the center collector.

“As a result the sunlight was hitting it like a magnifying glass and instead of being focused back into the device, it happened to be  focused on  a part of the building that had a piece of plywood over a  window and it caused the plywood to smolder and the heat caused WDIY’s  cable to melt,” he said.

CEWA’s prototype solar concentrator employs a huge reflecting metal dish to focus the sun’s rays down into a narrow ribbon.  When the sun is shining brightly, about 30kw of solar thermal energy is concentrated into this strip, which in normal operation is focused down on a heat exchange unit that can heat up to 400 degrees, a news release says.

Last week, upgrade work was being performed on the solar concentrator, and it was moved from its normal position and did not have the heat exchange unit in place, leaving the focused beam unblocked and uncontrolled in its direction.

The fire alarm was activated and Hever and WDIY’s Executive Director Bill Dautremont-Smith evacuated WDIY volunteers from the building before the Bethlehem Fire Department arrived and doused the smoldering panel.

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