Rethinking the sun
This isn’t your dad’s solar energy.
For decades, the prohibitive cost of solar panels has fed the influence of nay-sayers. Now a small company called Utah Solar and Alternative Energy is helping to redefine the role of the sun.
While photovoltaic cells for a home or business can run between $10,000 to $50,000, solar-powered hot-water heaters are under $10,000. For even less, fixtures can be added to a building to enhance natural light and heating.
"Energy is kind of a staple of business," said Joe Raycraft, USAE founder. "I don’t like how we’re interconnected with oil. This is a direct way to change the profile of energy use and to empower people.
A solar water heater, produced by a European company called Velux, can reduce a hot water bill by 80 percent.
"That’s a pretty easy sell," Raycraft said.
Precedents in real estate prove that solar panels increase the value of a home and make it easier to sell, but can take up to 20 years to pay for themselves in energy savings, explained Raycraft’s business partner, Bill Wilson.
Hot water systems however, automatically pay for themselves if folded into a 30-year mortgage and will pay for themselves within 5 to 7 years if installed into an existing home, he said.
That isn’t to say USAE doesn’t sell the panels. The average Park City home can get a good ground, pole or roof panel system for $30,000 not at all prohibitive for many homes in the area.
With the coal industry holding the price of electricity fairly steady and the price of gas rising, using solar for heat, rather than generation, is becoming an easy selling point, Wilson said.
"Business is really taking off. The rising prices of fossil fuels, I think, has made people not previously interested in alternative energy to research it and consider it," he said. "Our call volume has picked up exponentially. People are starting to feel a pinch in their wallets.
Many solar power experts, including Raycraft and Wilson, are getting into energy consulting, as well as sales. If a home or business can find ways to reduce the amount of energy it uses, then a smaller (and more affordable) system is needed for solar power or heating.
The USAE team doesn’t try to convince people to "get off the grid" with their products. They’re focused on using renewable energy to lower bills.
Everyone on the team is trained in other ways to make money, but they’re each committed to spending their days helping solve one of the world’s problems, instead of just worrying about them.
"I wasn’t doing anything I felt good about at the end of day. I have a carpet cleaning business, which is really lucrative, but I wanted to feel like I made a difference at end of day, like a teacher or nurse, I was ready for that in my life," said Josh Kordecki, sales, design and installation expert.
Raycraft actually moved to Carbondale, California to work with a solar power firm for four years to become trained and certified in the industry.
"It really came down to doing something that was directly addressing the problems I was seeing in the world," he said. "I lived in Park City for 20 years, living a good life, but felt like I needed to do something that responded to how I felt about the world, and this was it."
Kordecki doesn’t think they’re alone in feeling this way.
"People are starting to recognize the growing problem of global warming. It’s not just a trend, but a growing necessity," he said. "Things have to change. I almost feel like this is a calling."
According to Wilson, he’s right.
The company only started in November, yet it’s already moving into where Wilson wrote the business plan to put it in three to four years from now.
This is exciting for him, because he had years of experience working on business development before joining with Raycraft, Wilson said.
Kordecki refers to him as their "quarterback."
Wilson said he knew the market was right for products that reduce energy bills. Architects and builders are already using triple-pained windows, better insulation and other insulation to reduce waste. They’re also becoming more conscious of positioning and design to minimize energy use.
"We’re a new company, but really optimistic that we’re coming into this at the right time," he said. "Timing couldn’t be better."
USAE is also benefiting from connections they’ve made.
The team installed some work in the Daybreak development in West Jordan and was involved with the Parade of Homes in Salt Lake County. They’ve also received referrals from The Green Building Center.
A roof-mounted photovoltaic system takes about five business days to install. A hot-water system only takes a day or two. Retrofitting into an existing home takes a little longer, but not much, Wilson said.
The tilt with pole mounts can be manually adjusted to maximize sun exposure during different seasons. The panels move 15 degrees. They’re also easier to clean and maintain than roof panels.
The latitude and longitude of Park City, however, is "pretty ideal" for roofs, which are usually pitched at about 40 degrees. As long as the panels are not in shade and are facing south, they do pretty well, he said.
Not every building is an easy install, but Kordecki said he likes that because it gives him an excuse to study up on the technical side of the business. Some systems arrive from the manufacturer kind of piece-meal, Raycroft said. They have to be assembled in a custom design for the home.
Raycroft said they don’t mind.
"We have a love for this place and a love for what we do. That greases the skids," he said.
To contact USAE, call Wilson at 801-949-6219.
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Park City officials are preparing to take what is considered to be an important step in protecting the Treasure land from wildfires. City Hall in early June requested proposals from firms interested in the work.