Archive for the ‘Residential Projects’ Category

An Interview with Steve Rowley, York, Maine

Monday, March 17th, 2014

Alpaca Farm York Maine goes Solar

ReVision solar installer Seth Kiernan takes a look at an unusual group of gawkers as solar goes in for the Blueberry Hill alpaca farm

Steve Rowley owns Blueberry Fields Alpaca Farm with his wife Hope in York, Maine. Steve loves the ocean about as much as he does alpacas, and we caught up with him to talk about how his love of the ocean was linked to his household’s investments in solar energy.

REVISION: Why Did You Go Solar?

STEVE: Growing up my favorite TV shows were Sea Hunt and The Under Seas Adventures of Jacques Cousteau. At the age of 15 I received my SCUBA certificate and quickly learned that the beautiful beaches above water, were littered with trash on the seabed just out of sight (and still are). I have studied marine biology and ocean engineering and quickly learned that the oceans are not as big as we thought. Global changes are now measurable. The solid trash problem I saw as a kid was replaced with the ones you can not see. Now when I look at the beach I see global warming, ocean acidification, rising sea levels and warm water marine organisms moving north as water temperatures increase. We know burning fossil fuels are to blame and so my wife and I are doing what we can to stop using them.

REVISION: How Did You Choose ReVision Energy?

STEVE: My wife and I have been heating with wood pellets since 2000. We’ve reduced our energy as much as reasonable, insulated, replaced old windows and doors, and purchased a hybrid car. The next logical step was to generate our own power. We’re not in a good location for wind, and our house was not right for solar hot water, but we thought that maybe with the decline in prices, solar electricity could work. I went to the Revision Energy website and used their solar PV calculator. When I plugged in our numbers, I was stunned – the price was way too low! I did it again and got the same answer. I checked my units and sure enough everything checked out – solar did indeed cost much less than I thought it would. I had to make the call.

REVISION: What Was the Process Like?

STEVE: I worked with Nate Bowie, he worked up numbers using our old electricity bills, did a site survey and produced a proposal. I can’t say enough about how nice and informative Nate and the entire Revision Energy employees were to me. The installation team – Matt, Seth and Ted – worked on the roof on the coldest day in February without a single complaint. The installation went so well that my neighbor directly across the street didn’t know they were already up.

REVISION: What Do You Like Best Now that It’s Been Installed?

STEVE: If I have one complaint about the system, is that it just quietly sits there – I was expecting a bunch of randomly flashing LEDs that make it look like the space age equipment I know it is! (laughs)

Seriously, though, I am impressed that everything is working just as we calculated. The advances in solar photovoltaics are truly amazing and costs are going down. When people ask me about solar, I say – “Don’t listen to the old myths, do your own research, and I hope you come up with the same conclusion we did.”

Solar Home Tour Gives Glimpse of History-Technology Blend

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014


A 116-year-old house may seem like an odd fit for cutting-edge energy innovations, but a Munjoy Hill couple found a way to blend history and energy efficiency.

In February 2011 the couple purchased the home, which is equipped with solar panels on the roof — the only external indication of anything different about the residence.

Baston, who works with Revision Energy, a renewable energy contracting company in Portland, said the two-unit townhouse brought challenges and opportunities. In February 2011 the couple purchased the home, which is equipped with solar panels on the roof — the only external indication of anything different about the residence. Baston, who works with Revision Energy, a renewable energy contracting company in Portland, said the two-unit townhouse brought challenges and opportunities.

The second unit was “gutted” when they bought it, “so it was a good opportunity to do a lot of insulation and install a whole new heating system.” The couple invested in a solar hot water system for both units, and a small solar electrical system. A new high-efficiency gas boiler runs on natural gas, and they use wood heat in the main unit, where they live. The other unit is a rental.

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Combo of Solar and Wind Give Greene Homeowner Energy Independence

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014
Greene ME Solar power suniva array

The split-axis solar array for Jim Weston in Greene, ME. Uses all-black American made Suniva solar modules

After an initial horror story with an early wind turbine, Jim Weston of Greene has settled on the perfect renewable combination: a new generation Pika Energy wind turbine and a solar electric array installed by ReVision Energy.

Jim first installed his Raum turbine in the mid-2000s, when “wind was hot” in Maine. Unfortunately, the Raum turbine rarely lived up to advertised production figures and in 2012, the turbine failed completely. By that time both the original installer and Raum Energy were out of business, and Jim was left wondering what to do with a 100 foot tower installed on his wide-open property in Greene – an excellent place to capture wind, if the right technology was employed.

ReVision Energy has heard similar stories from other owners of small scale wind turbines, and so when we met Jim at the Common Ground Fair in 2012 we understood his skepticism that solar would work as advertised. However, in the years since Jim had last looked at solar, costs had dropped by more than 50%, and no longer required batteries, making solar a much more cost-effective investment than it had been in years past.

ReVision Energy sent our seasoned solar design expert Will Kessler to evaluate Jim’s home, which had ample shade-free area on his roof, but a tricky configuration because part of the roof faced southeast and other part southwest. Kessler designed a split-array, with modules on both parts of Jim’s roof. The system utilizes Enphase microinverters so that performance would remain at peak capacity despite the differences in angle and azimuth between the two arrays.

Since the installation, Jim has reported that the solar array has performed “just as promised” and had almost an entire year without electric bills, only exhausting his solar credits during the challenging solar month of December, 2013.

A Local Company Revives Wind

Pika Wind Turbine in Greene, MaineWhile happy with his solar array, Jim wanted to do something with his 100 foot tower and thought that the wind resource blowing across his property might still be the right way. When Jim started looking into wind again, he found that a Westbrook-based startup, Pika Energy, was re-inventing the small wind turbine market with a new generation of turbines that addressed shortcomings of the older technology.

Pika Energy, led by co-founders Ben Polito and Joshua Kaufman, recently moved into a 4,300 sq. ft. manufacturing facility in Westbrook where the 10-person-and-growing company is transitioning from an R&D operation into a scale manufacturer of leading-edge wind technology. In addition to innovations with their T701 Wind Turbine, Pika also has a unique inverter product which allows a home to have a ‘micro grid’ featuring both solar and wind production on the same system. The system is accessible via smartphone and web portal and offers a robust amount of technical data for both the homeowner (for education) and Pika’s engineers (for troubleshooting). While focused on growing its manufacturing operation in Maine, Pika is building a national network of trained dealers to sell and install Pika wind-solar hybrid systems.

Pika’s T701 turbine has several advantages over prior units, including better overheat protection, more robust stopping mechanisms, and a vastly superior alternator which is built by hand in their state-of-the-art facility. The turbines are subjected to strenuous performance tests where they are subject to extreme heat, cold, and wind pressure to ensure that they perform as expected in adverse weather and over time.

Jim commissioned Pika to install one of their turbines at his property, which was excellent fit due to proper siting of the existing tower. Even advanced technology will fail when not installed in the correct place, and wind turbines work best when installed on a tower at least 30′ higher than surrounding objects with open space to the prevailing direction of the wind.

Jim reports that the Pika team worked smoothly in the installation of the turbine, and so far he is impressed with its performance compared to his older turbine. “Though the old one was rated at a higher output, I think the Pika turbine will provide much more actual electricity,” he says, “Plus it’s a lot quieter. It’s less than 30 feet from our home and we can hardly hear it.”

Even more importantly, the combination of solar and wind finally allows Jim to have the renewable energy synergy he’s dreamed of since retirement. “I’m really pleased with where we are now,” he says, “The byproduct of not having oil under our soil is war. The wind and the sun – we have plenty of these and they are in abundant supply. It makes me feel a lot better about my impact on the planet.”

Take Virtual Tour of Pika’s Wind Turbine Manufacturing Plant in Maine

Manufacturing Innovation at Pika Energy from Pika Energy.

MMA Professor Reduces Oil Use by 1/3 with Solar Hot Water

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

Castine, Maine - Solar Hot Water

Capt. Andy Chase’s home in Castine, Maine has Apricus evacuated tube solar hot water collectors

When Marine Transportation Professor Capt. Andy Chase first moved into his home in the early 1990s, he knew he had some work to do. An energy audit confirmed that the 2×4 framed home (located in beautiful Castine, Maine) would benefit from insulation and upgraded windows and doors.

Andy and his wife felt like their house could further benefit by taking advantage of their wide-open, south facing roof, and started looking into solar options. When they talked to ReVision Energy, they discovered that solar hot water offered the best combination of fuel savings and environmental benefits.

“There’s no longer any scientific dispute over the fact that we need to cut down on our production of carbon, or face increasing environmental consequences. I’ve witnessed glaciers receding in the Arctic just from my own experience travelling there as an maritime educator over the last 20 years,” Andy says, “But as homeowners we have to balance the desire to do the right thing with finances. Solar hot water offered a great opportunity to save money and make a significant dent on our carbon footprint.”

Using the Sun to Solve Problems with Oil

Solar Hot Water System with Electric Backup

System diagram for Apricus AP-40 evacuated tube solar hot water collectors backed up by 80 gallon electric storage tank

Andy’s home, like over 400,000 in Maine, heats with oil and prior to solar was using a high-mass oil boiler to produce domestic hot water. This design – while convenient for the oil company – is one of the least efficient ways to heat water. The oil boiler is controlled to fire multiple times per day, 365 days a year, to keep the water tank heated, even in the middle of summer, and even if the home is unoccupied. With this set-up, approximately 1 gallon of oil each day is wasted in ‘standby’ losses from the oil boiler. When the boiler does run, it is extremely inefficient because larger oil boilers do not have the ability to modulate their burn rate. Instead, these boilers fire up at full capacity and run at an efficiency of around 15%.

Solar hot water, combined with boiler control upgrades, offers an excellent solution to this problem. A set of solar thermal collectors are installed on the roof (either evacuated tubes, as the Chases use, or flat plate collectors) and connected to a special-purpose storage tank installed in the basement.

A pump station uses sensors to regulate the flow of a nontoxic antifreeze solution used for heat transfer. When the rooftop collectors are warmer than the tank, circulating fluid moves to the roof, collects heat, and distributes that heat into the water tank as it passes through a heat exchanger. When the sun sets, the pump shuts down automatically. The pump also has settings to protect the tank from getting too hot.

In Andy’s case, he opted for a solar tank with an electric backup element which removes domestic hot water load from the boiler completely – other set-ups allow you to continue to use the oil boiler for backup, mainly during the colder months when the boiler is likely running for space heating already. Either way, ReVision Energy typically also installs a ‘cold start’ aquastat to the boiler, which allows it to shut down completely when not in use, rather than maintaining a 100+ degree temperature every day of the year.

“I watched it like a hawk at first,” Andy says, “In the first year we calculated it saved us approximately 1/3 of our fuel bill [around 300 gallons of oil]. Once I could see it did what it was supposed to, I stopped paying as close attention. Now it just works – it hasn’t needed any work, it runs very quietly, my hot water is hot, and it’s happily up there in the sun making heat and saving us money.”

Newburyport, Mass Homeowners Invest in Solar for the Future

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Salisbury, Massachusetts - Solar PowerAs CEO of Blackfin Media, a web design and development firm in Newburyport, Massachusetts, Chris Edwards has a keen awareness of the positive role of energy in the world – such as powering technology – as well as the downsides of producing it with fossil fuels. Concerned about the state of the environment, he and his wife, Kasey, looked for ways they could do something, and found that solar panels offered a way to both help the environment and their household’s finances.

“Solar offered several concrete advantages, such as adding value to our home, maintenance-free operation and making their value immediately apparent and measurable,” says Chris, “But most importantly we feel this investment sets a positive example for our children.”

Chris’ search led him to several local installers, but he settled on ReVision Energy based on his positive experience meeting with Steve Condon, Sales Manager of our Exeter, NH branch. Once the day of the install came, our crew continued to live up to ReVision’s reputation. “The install team were obviously passionate about solar, and very eager to explain how it works and answering questions I had during the process,” Chris says, “Everything went smoothly and everything looks good and works as described so far. I’m glad we made the investment.”

More Than Just Power

Like many solar homeowners, Chris loves the ability to look at his solar production meters and see what’s been harvested in a day.  In fact, it’s now become a family affair.  ”My son gets excited about checking the production meter with me at the end of the day,” Chris says, “It’s exciting to be able to see visibly the power we’ve generated, for free, right from our roof.”

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