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Sun Powers Heaters for Low-Income Families

As the home heating season comes to an end, one Minnesota non-profit group is starting to install dozens of solar powered heating systems free of charge in low income households.

The group says it makes sense to provide renewable and pollution free solar heaters to homeowners who rely on government heating assistance. The State of Minnesota is offering funding to help with the effort.

Pine River, Minn. - There's a modern building that seems out of place here in a clearing in the woods.

It's the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance's headquarters near the small town of Pine River.

The front of the building is a flash of reflected sunlight. The first floor is made of 20 foot high windows. On top is a wall of solar collectors.

"We tried to make the collectors like Legos, so that we can simply snap them together," said Jason Edens, the director of the Energy Alliance.

Eden's non-profit group designed these solar collectors. They look like big blue windows and they provide heat for the building.

The collectors are made in a shop in the back of the building. That's where Bob Jones is getting ready to slice through a piece of aluminum.

"I'm going to be cutting the outer rail, with is the outer perimeter of the collectors," Jones said. It's pretty easy to build the solar collectors and the heating system.

They're essentially an insulated aluminum box with layers of glass that collect sunlight. These aren't the kind of solar panels that create electricity. They actually use the power of the sun to warm air, which is then circulated throughout a home by fans and ductwork.

Edens says the system operates like a typical home furnace.

"We wanted to work with a technology that is elegant, it's simple, it's easy to understand, it's accessible," he said. "Solar air heat is a very simple technology."

It may be simple, but it's still expensive. Depending on the size of a home, installing one of these solar heating systems can cost anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000 dollars.

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