North Yarmouth, Maine - Solar Hot WaterDomestic hot water is a hot commodity in The Flicks’ 5-person household, normally requiring hundreds of gallons of oil per year to ensure hot showers and clean laundry. At a solar site evaluation in late summer 2011, Pam Flick met with Revision Energy’s Will Kessler to learn how their home might harness sunshine to offset oil consumption and the associated emissions.

They found that roughly 30% of the total annual fuel bill was going into hot water heating! That includes the significant standby losses of an oil-fired boiler that cycles on and off all summer to heat a small hot water tank.

With oil costs over $3.50/gallon and rising, it was clear that a solar hot water system would result in substantial savings for the Flicks. Kessler designed a solar hot water system utilizing super-efficient Wagner flat plates to be mounted flush to the the Flicks’ southeast oriented roof. However, while the long-term energy savings from solar would be in the range of 300 gallons of oil per year, the up-front cost posed an issue. Luckily, North Yarmouth is in a town that has approved a PACE ordinance and the system ReVision Energy proposed met the requirements for the low-cost 15-year loan program.

Picking Up the PACE

Eliot, Maine - Solar Hot WaterA typical solar hot water system includes a tank with two heat exchange coils, one connected to the solar collectors and one to a backup oil boiler. Boiler controls are switched to “Cold start,” meaning the boiler only fires when there is a call for heat. This allows the boiler to go dormant from roughly May to September

The process of applying for a PACE loan is simple. The home undergoes an energy audit with the goal of finding ways to reduce its energy consumption. The auditor, in this case DeWitt Kimball of Complete Home Evaluations, passes the audit’s findings (proposed modifications must result in at least a 25% reduction in the building’s total heating bill) to Dana Fischer at Efficiency Maine for verification, and the loan underwriting (a solar loan thanks to AFC Bank) makes the project possible.

The project happens with zero upfront cost to the buyer, and the fuel delivery costs avoided, thanks to the solar hot water system, cover the monthly payments on the loan. After the 5%, 15-year note is paid off, the system will be generating about 37,000 gallons of free hot water per year (or around 100 gallons per day).

Immediate Impact

A few days after the installation in winter 2012, Sam Flick said:

My oil boiler kicked on to heat water only 3 times from February 8th thru February 21 (the oil would normally heat the water at least 4-5 times by 9:00 am every day before Solar). I’ve had one 6 day stretch with no help from the oil burner.

This was my daily winter routine the week before we put Solar Hater water in: at some point during the night the Oil Boiler had to heat water because the pipes from the furnace were hot. I would bring 5 gallons of hot water to the Alpaca barn. This would kick the oil boiler on to heat water. When I came in I would take a shower, this would kick the oiler boiler on to heat water. With this February being so sunny the Oil back up just never kicks on with the Solar … It’s really cool stuff and we are very happy with the work that was done. Awesome crew.

Revision is humbled to be doing part of the huge job of changing the state’s unsustainable reliance on fossil-fuels. It’s great to see banks that recognize there’s real value in financing a solar system, which effectively fixes the cost of a home’s hot water bill for 20+ years. Using free fuel from the sun, savvy Mainers are beating a smart and sensible path off of liquid fossil fuels and instead towards local and sustainable resources.