Caravan Beads – Portland, ME

Harnessing Sunshine to Power a Retail Business, and LEDs to Get More out of Solar


Caravan Beads’ Portland, ME HQ is pictured above. While the solar arrays on these two roofs provide the majority of their electricity, switching to indoor LED Lighting allowed them to drop their overall energy use, and thus, get more out of their solar power investment.

Caravan Beads of Portland, Maine began in 1991, on the sun porch of Barry and Jean Kahn’s home. They have been growing their business steadily ever since, adapting to the advent of the global online market, relocating, expanding, renovating, and powering their growth with solar energy.

The Challenge

Caravan Beads has a 22,000 sq ft commercial flat-roof building on Forest Ave in Portland. Almost all of their electricity use is during daylight hours—computers, lighting, etc.—and they wanted to use solar panels to generate that electricity but need to know costs, payback time, etc.

Additionally, Barry wanted to make a lasting, environmental decision. “Personally, I want my granddaughters to grow up knowing we thought about the world they are going to live in,” Barry explains, “but the economics make it very easy for anyone to make the decision to go solar. When you compare what can be done now and how relatively little it costs, with 5, 10, 15, 20 years ago, it’s a huge improvement. Just huge.”

The Solution

By the end of 2015, ReVision Energy had installed 4 Mitsubishi Electric heat pumps and 296 solar panels for Caravan Beads. While these systems made a powerful dent on the energy bills for the office, showroom, and warehouse, ReVision latest product offering, introduced in 2017 – LEDs – complemented the existing projects perfectly and was able to increase lighting efficiency by 65% which led to even greater savings on monthly electric bills and maintenance costs.

Caravan Beads LED showroom before and after

A look inside Caravan Beads makes it clear: “The beads have never looked so good.” Pictured also is one of the efficient heat pumps that keep the store comfortable year-round.

“The LED lights are fantastic,” Barry attests. “I wish we’d done it a few years ago because they’re significantly brighter and they’re using about half the electricity. So it’s a great change in the right direction.” The LED project for Caravan Beads will reduce their electric load by around 28,000 kWh annually, roughly the same amount of power generated by a 23-kilowatt solar energy array. Caravan Beads’ projected savings is nearly $140,000 over the 25-year warranty of the system, with a simple payback in under 5 years.

“Once you do a solar array, you say, Wait a minute. This is a really smart thing to do!” Barry says, “It’s the best piece of machinery I’ve ever owned, no moving parts. You hook it up, the sun shines, and it makes electricity. It’s wonderful. ” With no moving parts and an expected operating life of about 40 years, Caravan Beads can look forward to decades of maintenance-free, renewable energy production.

“We started talking about what we could do for the bigger building, which ended up being a 264 solar panels. We then added heat pumps, so I don’t think we’re quite producing all the electricity we consume but it’s pretty close. Our big building used to get wintertime electric bills of over 1,000 dollars – maybe 1,100-1,200 dollars. Our last electric bill was 127 dollars, in the depth of winter. It’s a 22,000 sq ft building with a lot of stuff going on, too!

Video Case Study with Caravan Beads

By the Numbers:

Commercial PV (2 systems), 32 modules and 264 modules
System sizes: 9.6 kW and 68.64 kW
System outputs: 11,792 kWh; 69,172 kWh
CO2 reduction: 10,825 lbs/yr; 63,500 lbs/yr
Total LED Retrofit
LED kWh reduction: 28,000 kWh/yr

Project Photo Gallery