Dan Shifley, whose company sells commercial heating, ventilation and air conditioning products, hit upon the idea of starting a green energy business when he was volunteering for a Habitat for Humanity project.
Shifley, owner of Velocity Supply, had already been investigating renewable energy products when he went to Wisconsin and installed solar-powered hot water heaters in several Habitat homes.
“It’s a fantastic idea, and it’s simple to use,” Shifley said.
Shifley started Missouri SUNPOWER, installed his first solar-powered hot water heater and plans to install three more before the year is out.
Not bad for a product that costs roughly $10,000, though more than one third of that can be recovered through tax credits and other incentives. The typical cost of residential gas or electric hot water heaters is well below $1,000.
Shifley points out that the cost to heat water accounts for 18 to 25 percent of a family’s energy bill. The solar-powered hot water heater Shifley installs can cut those costs by 70 to 80 percent. In other words, instead of eating up one-quarter of the energy you use, hot water costs could drop to less than 6 percent of your energy costs and shave 20 percent off your family’s energy bill.
With this energy savings, the payback on the investment is seven to 10 years, Shifley said. Although people might think that’s a long time, there’s no payback on a standard water heater, he said. “It costs money to use every day.”
Shifley has a personal incentive to install one of three solar systems on his work schedule: his own home, where he has a wife and two daughters and knows how much hot water they use.
The SUNPOWER water heater is not a big metal bin on your roof. For a typical home, a system involves two 4-by-8-foot panels on the roof plus a storage tank and controls installed inside the house next to the conventional water heater. The storage tank is super insulated, which means that once the water is heated by the sun, it stays hot throughout the day and night. That means you save heating costs in two ways: The sun heats the water, and instead of your hot water heater having to keep warming the water over and over as it cools, which is called standby loss, the tank keeps it warm, which saves energy.
“An electronic control system monitors temperatures at the rooftop solar collectors and in the storage tank, and it is programmed to maximize solar gain,” Shifley said.
There’s virtually no maintenance — homeowners won’t have to get up on the roof — and he expects each system to last 20 to 30 years. Other states and countries have adopted the technology already. In Hawaii, such systems are mandated for new construction. And though Missouri doesn’t have the sunshine Hawaii gets, even during dreary winter days, the sun will warm the water so the traditional hot water heater won’t have to work so hard if you have a dual system.
“I expect to save $45 to $60 a month,” Shifley said, once he installs a system on his house. And that is savings at today’s energy prices.
“Current tax credits and incentives make it a smart investment,” he said. “It’s making an investment … something you can value now and in the future to benefit your pocket book and the environment.”
Shifley’s focus on the future is summed up in his company’s slogan: “Smaller Footprints, Bigger Pockets, For Generations.”
After all, he said, the need for hot water isn’t going away — his daughters will be teenagers soon enough — and the cost of energy isn’t going down.