The Bangor Daily News and several local weekly papers carried a scathing story this week on a set of poorly performing renewable energy systems installed on behalf of the Maine State Housing Authority with funds from a federal DHHS grant.

John Christie reports:

To help poor families save on electricity and heating oil, MSHA contracted with a vendor to install solar panels to heat water at 10 homes from Belgrade to Rockland. The names of the recipients are not revealed by MSHA because most are receiving public assistance…

Of the 10, the report found six were poorly installed, including one where the solar panels were put in upside down, four where the panels were not oriented properly toward the sun, and one where trees blocked the panels…

The contractor, now out of business, had been reliable on previous projects, [Dale McCormick, the director of MSHA] said, but in this case “he got overextended.”

Read the rest of the article here

ReVision Energy joins the group of citizens surprised and disappointed to learn that solar collectors were installed irresponsibly, perhaps fraudulently.

We would further like to remind people that the article points out problems with an incompetent (and now defunct) contractor, not a problem with the fundamental technology of solar hot water.

Professional Solar Hot Water

Residential solar hot water systems are an established, proven technology that when designed and installed by skilled professionals can save a household more than 300 gallons of oil per year while eliminating more than 5,000 lbs. of CO2 emissions.

With 450,000 Maine homes heated with oil, and unnecessarily burning millions of gallons of oil to make domestic hot water when the sun is shining, it is imperative that the state continue to support the installation of high quality solar hot water systems.

The Steps to a Professional Solar Hot Water Installation

Solar Hot Water System Schematic

Above is an example system design for a solar hot water system integrated with a domestic oil boiler.

To ensure that a solar hot water system will deliver maximum possible energy savings, the process begins with a rigorous site evaluation, then moves to custom system design, which is then followed by professional installation by a team of highly trained, certified solar technicians.

Critical aspects of the site evaluation include a compass reading of roof orientation (acceptable range is 155 to 245 degrees magnetic), an analysis of annual shading where the collectors will be mounted, and an assessment of the existing heating system to determine solar compatibility.

One key minimum requirement of any solar installation in Maine is that the collector location have an unshaded solar window of 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. year round to justify a system investment.

If the solar window is occluded by shade from trees or other nearby objects, it should be recommended that the homeowner cut trees or find a new location for collector placement. When there is not a viable location on the property, it is the solar contractor’s responsibility to inform the client that solar is not a good option.

Track Record

Since the last of MSHA’s systems were installed in 2008, ReVision Energy have installed more than 2,000 high quality solar energy systems throughout Maine and New Hampshire. We welcome a rigorous assessment of these installations to prove that when done correctly, solar hot water is a cost-effective remedy to reduce fossil fuel energy consumption and the associated emissions. We have a large stable of enthusiastic customer testimonials lauding the energy savings and fossil fuel reductions they experience as a result of their systems.

We are also be willing to assess the systems that were installed for MSHA and develop a project proposal to fix the systems that are broken and decommission the systems that were installed in shade.

Why Solar Energy Systems Are Critical to Our Renewable Energy Future

On a per capita basis, Maine is the most oil dependent state in the nation, and we have the highest CO2 emissions in New England (despite our pristine environmental reputation).

Every year, we export $2 billion out of our state economy to support our liquid fossil fuel habit. These fundamental structural problems, which leave Mainers dangerously exposed to oil price volatility and supply disruptions, deserve every effective remedy that the citizenry and its government can apply.

Perhaps counter intuitively, Maine has a robust solar energy resource (best in New England and better than half the U.S.) that can be effectively harnessed to reduce fuel consumption.

As John Christie candidly reports, these technologies can be poorly installed, as can any other piece of equipment or home improvement. However, when designed and installed by professionals solar is a cost-effective, greenhouse-gas reducing technology that helps make Mainers more energy secure. That is a future we can all look forward to.