Volume 44, Issue 6 - June 2009

Solar Insights

Going Solar
YKKís Tom Minnon Shares His PV Experience

With all the talk in the glass industry these days about solar energy and photovoltaics (PV), itís no surprise that members of the glass industry are turning to solar energy to power their own homes. Tom Minnon, CSI, CCPR, LEED AP, YKK AP America Inc.ís regional sales manager, installed a 2KW system on his home in Derry, N.H., in January. After a few monthsí payback on the system, Minnon shared with USGlass his research into PV and where he sees the glass industry fitting into solar energy. 

Q: What led you to install PV in your home?

A: Itís been 35 years in the making. When I was in college back in 1974 I actually worked on a solar energy project at the school that I was at in New Hampshire. Ö When I got out of school in í75 I went to work with Powerwall Corp. and they were opening a company called Solar Components Corp., which is still around today Ö Obviously in the last 30-some-odd years huge strides have been made in PV as far as the efficiency and manufacturing and all that. Now, with all the incentives and the rebates and the tax credits that are available, it just didnít make sense not to do it. Between the federal initiative, our state initiative and utility initiatives, the system is literally going to cost me almost nothing Ö

Q: And how long have you had the system?

A: It went in Ö right after the first of the year. The timing was just right, as the new federal tax credits had just come out so everything worked out well from that standpoint. 

Q: Now you had mentioned you studied solar energy in school. Can you elaborate on that?

A: It was kind of an experimental thing. We installed some solar hot water panels in buildings; typically back then [solar] was used for heating buildings. There was a grant and two students were picked to work on the project, I was one of the two. I had always been interested in things like that anyway. I was going to school in mechanical engineering, which is what my degree is in.Obviously it was cutting-edge back in the mid-70s. We had the energy crisis, there was the OPEC oil embargo, people were waiting in line for gasoline. There was this huge awareness in the public of ĎGee, we need to wean ourselves off foreign oil.í Sound familiar?

Q: Certainly does. And it begs the question: do you expect interest to wan in solar energy this time around?

A: I see a difference this time around. There are so many people that are involved now; youíve got the whole green building movement, which has such momentum. We tried to go through that back in the 1970s and tried to tell people about intelligent building design and passive solar design, not to mention solar collectors and things like that. And there was some interest but it just kind of went away. People forgot about the oil embargo and the energy crisis and changing political climates just did not focus on or keep peopleís awareness on what we were doing. Next thing you know weíre back to where we were and weíre importing oil and here we are. 

Q: Can you offer some specifics about your latest project? 

A: There were a couple companies involved. The company that installed it was a local company here in New Hampshire called SolTerra. They did a very nice job. The solar panels were made by a company called EverGreen in Massachusetts, which is local. Part of sustainable design is trying to buy things that are made locally to cut down on transportation costs. The fact that the panels were made in the adjoining state here was a benefit to me.

Q: Did you observe the installation? 

A: I was here that morning Ö There had to be an electrician involved and we did have to get an electrical permit. We didnít need a building permit but we did need an electrical permit because the power from the solar panel comes down and it gets fed into whatís called an inverter. The power that comes from the solar panel is 12 volt DC. The inverter takes that and converts it into 120 volt AC, which is obviously what we all use in our homes. It then gets fed back to my circuit breaker panel. Then what happens is whatís called net metering. When Iím generating more solar energy than Iím usingóso on any typical day when my wife and I arenít home and the sun is outóthen we actually spin the meter backwards. On a good sunny day you can actually watch the meter go backwards. Thatís just a neat thing. Weíre getting paid back in the fact that whatever we donít use in the house is getting fed back into the grid. I guess, in essence, my neighbor is buying my electricity Ö 

Q: So it only took the morning to do? Thatís pretty quick. 

A: It was done in that same day Ö Thereís a racking system that goes up on the roof, the solar panels get attached to the rack. And then thereís wiring from the roof down to the basement where the inverter is. They were in and out in that same day. 

Q: Now do you think solar energy is an area likely to become profitable for the glass industry?
A: Where glass companies are going to get involved is in building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV), where they are glazing the panel into, letís say, the storefront or the wall or sloped glazing system. Youíre glazing in a PV panel instead of glass so it becomes the building envelope. Instead of having a roof where theyíre putting solar panels on the roof, solar panels are the roof. Weíre saving money there by not having duplicity of a fenestration system. Letís say we take a system where thereís a curtainwall elevation and the architect has designed in some PV. The glass company needs to look at that and figure out how theyíre going to coordinate their work with the electrician who is going to be coming in behind them and wire these things together. I would just caution when a glass company is looking at something like thisóand I havenít personally been involved with anyóbut companies that have been involved that Iíve talked with say the coordination of trades is very important. Youíre installing the curtainwall but you, the glazing contractor, probably are not installing the PV. Itís probably a PV company youíre working with or coordinating with in order to get those panels glazed into the curtainwall and then wired up.

Q: I know there are projects YKK AP has been involved in with PV in Japan (the SBIC East Building is reportedly Japanís first case of total introduction of BIPV in the building design, and YKK AP Inc. produced the PV). Is this a market segment that you see YKK AP America becoming involved in?

A: I would say so, within the next five years. With the interest growing as it isóand weíre so involved in sustainability and green design around the worldóthat I certainly see us getting involved within that timeframe. It may even be sooner, I donít have a timeframe on it nor have we discussed it. Weíre certainly aware of the interest and we have some experience obviously in having done it overseas on several projects. 

Q: Would you have any advice to give to other building or homeowners before going to PV?
A: Like anything, find a company that has some experience, that you feel comfortable with, get some references like you would for any sizeable home improvement project. Check the efficiencies of the panels. Beyond thatónothing went wrong so I canít say hereís something you need to watch out for Ö I canít say that I would have done anything differently. The system went in well. They obviously had to make some penetrations in the roof to pass wiring down, but nothing leaked. The power works really well as far as powering everything that connects it. Ö Iím looking at approximately a five-year payback. I look at it as return on investment (ROI). How many people can get their money back in five years on anything? So I think thatís a pretty good ROI, number 1; number 2, I have a $17,000 system on my house. Itís good equity should I ever sell the house. And we arenít stopping there. I just ordered a solar hot water system that Iím going to install and just this morning we had these same people, SolTerra, out and Iím going to have geothermal for heating and cooling installed. We havenít stopped at the solar! 

Tom Minnonís PV Savings
PV Costs
Installed cost $17,000
State of NH rebate -$6,000
Electric utility rebate -$3,500
Federal tax credit -$5,100
Net cost $2,400

Learn about your state and local and utility tax credits and rebates by visiting the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency at www.dsireusa.org 

© Copyright 2009 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved.
No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.