Solar Opportunity on the Horizon

By Courtney H. Diener-Stokes
Reading Eagle correspondent

Reading Eagle: Tyler Sizemore
Above, from left, Modesto Fiume, president of Opportunity House; Bob Elwell, HVAC manager for Energy Systems Installation; and Tom Green, lead project engineer, on the roof of Opportunity House, 420 N. Second St. where solar collector panels hopefully will be installed. Elwell and Green are both members of Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Association, which has started a campaign to raise money to fund a solar hot water heating system at Opportunity House. Right, a diagram explaining how the proposed solar system would work.

Since its inception in 2005, the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Association has sponsored community service projects centered on providing renewable energy solutions to non-profit organizations. This year Opportunity House, 430 N. Second St., was determined to be the ideal recipient.

“We felt that if you look at Reading, it’s the poorest city in America,” said Bill Hennessy, vice president of MAREA and owner of Berks Solar. “Opportunity House takes care of the poorest of the poor and we thought, ‘what can we do to help them out?'”

Opportunity House is a multi-service organization that focuses on improving the lives of children, adults and families with the aim to help them become self-sufficient. Services include emergency shelter, supportive housing, meals, 24-hour-a-day childcare and advocacy for victims of child abuse.

MAREA is a non-profit organization dedicated to informing and educating the public about renewable energy production, energy efficiency and sustainable living.

When MAREA took into consideration the energy demands on Opportunity House to function on a daily basis as well as factoring in the cost involved in various renewable energy solutions, it determined the organization could best benefit from a solar hot water (solar thermal) system.

“What makes solar hot water great for Opportunity House is they have a huge demand for hot water for the shelter, day care” and daily operations, Hennessy said. “The more hot water you use, the more solar will benefit you.”

He estimates Opportunity House will save approximately $4,000 annually with the solar thermal system.

“About $6,000 is what their gas bill is right now,” he said. “Every dollar they don’t spend on heating water they can spend on services for the poor and homeless.”

Determining that Opportunity House had solid roof space in addition to ample solar access were more reasons MAREA felt it was the ideal candidate for a solar hot water system.

Modesto Fiume, president of Opportunity House, sees the project as a great opportunity to partner on a shared vision.

“It ties in with our focus as an organization about being sustainable,” Fiume said. “It will also help us save some operating costs each month.”

He also added it will complete a goal he has been working towards for approximately six years. Since that time Opportunity House has successfully accomplished building a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified technology center for children ages 4 to 13.

Hennessy said the solar thermal system would consist of 18 roof-mounted solar collectors, each 4 feet by 10 feet.

He explained that a pump circulates a propylene glycol and water mixture to the rooftop to the collectors where the sun will heat it and then it returns to a heat exchanger and heats the water in the storage tank. The heat from the that water tank is then transferred to a second heat exchanger and warms the incoming cold water when needed. The tanks will hold at least 2,500 gallons of water.

A backup water tank provides hot water on cloudy days or during the winter months.

“The natural gas backup is making up the difference if water isn’t hot enough,” Hennessy said.

After considering various hot water systems for the project, it was determined a pressurized glycol system would be most suitable.

MAREA anticipates installation of the system, which is scheduled to happen in the fall, will take two weeks.

The cost of the solar thermal project is estimated to be $110,0000, but thanks to the help of donations in labor and materials the cost currently stands at approximately $50,000.

“We go out in the public to raise funds,” said Hennessy, who added no government funding will be used for the project.

MAREA launched their fund drive in May. Fundraising is being coordinated by Pier Ignozzi-Shaffer of Reading.

In addition to their fundraising efforts, MAREA has been successful in securing the donation of services and materials necessary to aid in completion of the project.

Individuals in the renewable energy field have been eager to get on board to offer their skills and resources to design, manage and successfully complete the project, which has led to a solid lineup of local leaders in the field coming on board.

MAREA board member, Tom Green, a professional engineer and certified energy manager, will be lead engineer on the project. Green is also the director of campus energy services at Kutztown University.

Bob Elwell, heating, ventilation and air conditioning manager of Energy Systems & Installation, in Jonestown, Lebanon County, is on board as well.

“The company will be donating its services as contractor for the installation,” Hennessy said.

“It’s a great project,” Elwell said at a recent monthly MAREA meeting. “We want to do our part.”

Elwell’s son, Bryan, is manager of Hickory Ridge Solar, District Township, which joins the project as a supplier. It distributes UMA Solar products.

“The company will provide the solar collectors and other materials for the project at cost or at a greatly reduced rate,” Hennessy said.

In addition, Entech Engineering, 4 S. Fourth St., is donating engineering and drawing services for the permit application.

“These companies are sharing their resources with the community,” Hennessy said. “We hope this generosity is contagious and we are looking forward to the contributions necessary to complete the installation.”

Contact Courtney Diener-Stokes:

Article courtesy of the Reading Eagle newspaper