In response to John Christie’s Dec. 22 article regarding failed renewable energy systems and the Maine State Housing Authority, people should be outraged to learn that solar collectors were irresponsibly, perhaps fraudulently, installed in shade or with such sloppy workmanship that the project increased fossil energy consumption. Although John Christie found these unacceptable results in an extremely limited sample of MSHA solar hot water installations, it would be reckless and irresponsible to tar Maine’s entire solar energy industry with one brush — everyone should take note that the installer of these systems is out of business.
Why shouldn’t Maine abandon solar hot water? On a per capita basis, Maine is the most oil-dependent state in the nation, and we have the highest carbon dioxide 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 the citizenry and its government can apply. Perhaps counterintuitively, Maine has a robust solar energy resource (the best in New England and better than half the U.S.) that can be effectively harnessed to reduce fuel consumption.
When designed and installed by skilled professionals, a properly sized solar hot water system can save more than 300 gallons of oil per year and eliminate more than 5,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions annually on a single home. 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.
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 then is 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 has 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.
Since the last of MSHA’s systems were installed in 2008, Maine solar companies have installed more than 2,000 high-quality solar energy systems throughout the state. 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 also would 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.
Phil Coupe is the co-owner of ReVision Energy LLC, with offices in Liberty and Portland.