Tag Archive | "SunStream USA"

Positioning Solar as Affordable Energy Source

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By Emily J. Weitz


Our nation’s dependence on foreign oil is a subject that is impossible to avoid. With gas prices surpassing $4 per gallon and wars ravaging oil-rich nations, the need to find another source of energy has only grown more pronounced since it dominated the presidential elections in 2008.

While the link between oil and solar energy is not direct (a house that’s heated by oil is not going to easily morph into a house heated by solar), the connection is certainly there.

“Most of the solar systems are replacing electricity as opposed to oil,” says Mike Bailis, Co-Owner of SunNation in Southampton and Vice-Chairman of Long Island Solar Energy Industries Association (LISEIA). “But what’s the difference between a dollar saved on your electric bill and a dollar saved on oil? A dollar is a dollar.”

As people are finding their non-negotiable expenses rising to an unpalatable amount, they are starting to look at alternative ways to power their lives. And the sun might be the brightest idea there is.

Businesses involved in installing solar energy systems are generally run by passionate, progressive people who have a lot to say about the issue. But the consumers who invest in solar are growing more diverse. It isn’t just the greenest folks looking to make a political statement. It’s not even just about lowering your carbon footprint.

“Solar grew out here on the East End first because people like healthy living, and being in touch with the environment,” according to Gary Minnick, President of Go Solar in Riverhead. “It matches the lifestyle of a lot of people who want to live in the Hamptons.”

But then, once the federal and state governments and LIPA started offering incentives to make the investment more affordable, switching to solar became a good move financially.

“Now that [solar technology] is more advanced, it really makes sense financially. People are buying solar because it’s cheaper. That’s the new customer. Now solar is moving into the average household everywhere on Long Island,” said Minnick.

There have been people in solar powered houses off the grid for decades. But solar energy became much more mainstream in 1999, when New York State passed the Solar Choice Act. This basically allowed houses powered by solar to hook up to the grid.

“The law required utility companies like LILCO and LIPA to buy power back from those homeowners,” said Minnick. “That means when people’s roofs were generating energy that they couldn’t use, it went back into the larger system. Every house that has solar on it is a power plant. The power they generate from their rooftops is put out into the whole grid and infrastructure.”

If a homeowner produces more energy than he or she consumes, when LIPA comes to read the meter they will find that it has spun backwards. When this happens, the consumer will not just have a lower bill – he or she will actually get paid.

Everything was going swimmingly for the solar industry, with businesses reporting growth rates of about 30 percent per year between 1999 and 2009.

“In 2009,” says Bailis, “rebates were very high, tax credits were good, and the cost of equipment was dropping due to efficiencies of production and a glut of solar modules.”

But business got a little too good, and in October of 2010 LIPA could no longer afford to keep offering rebates. The program was shut down, and sales slowed. The harsh winter didn’t help, and “The industry took a hit,” says Bailis.

“But now we’re recovering,” he added. “There is some significant legislation that was moved forward in Albany last week.”

The New York Solar Jobs Act would set the target to produce 5000 megawatts of solar energy by 2025.

“This would make a huge difference in the solar industry,” says Bailis. “Right now there are between 70 and 75 megawatts in total produced in the state.”

Another big boost to the solar energy business on Long Island is the announcement just a few days ago that LIPA will be offering rebates again.

“LIPA will offer a rebate of up to $1200 to homeowners  who install a solar thermal hot water system to preheat their water,” says Mary McPartland of SunStream USA. “This means, SunStream, as a solar contractor comes out to your house, puts in two attractive solar thermal panels, and uses the sun’s rays to preheat your home’s hot water.”

This rebate, in conjunction with tax credits, brings the cost of installation down to about $3700. And with $800 per year in savings on your hot water bill, McPartland says “the payback is just four years!”

Switching to solar can mean a variety of things. These solar water heating systems “pick up the heat from solar panels and transfer it down to the water,” says Minnick.

“This cuts down on the oil or gas you use, and it can get rid of your hot water bill,” he said.

Then, of course, there are traditional solar panels that can replace your electric bill. But unless a house is really built to be solar heated, you probably won’t be replacing your heating bill. A solar house is like “living inside a solar panel,” says Minnick.

“Solar houses take heat from the daytime and move it through the floor (slab of concrete) to store it,” he added. “Then when the sun goes down the floor is warm, and that keeps the house warm.”

Other exciting possibilities in the future of solar energy include solar powered cars and boats, both of which already exist but need development.

“What if we drove our electric cars to the train station or another hub, and then all day while we were at work, they were charging under a canopy that had solar?” asks Bailis.

But the primary thing that needs to happen before solar can really become a leading source of energy is an improvement in storage.

“We need a better way to collect energy during the day to use it at night, or to collect energy in the summer to use in the winter,” observed Bailis. “That’s going to come at some point. When that comes you’ll see solar electric plants all over… This is not science fiction. This is right around the corner.”




Turning On the Power for Those Who Want an Alternative

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By Andrew Rudansky

 

With Americas’ dependence on foreign oil and fossil fuels a hot-button issue in Washington, Americans are turning to alternative sources of energy in droves. SunStream USA, founded in 2005, offers a variety of renewable energy products for these customers, ranging from geothermal heating and cooling systems to solar electric panels. Brian Tymann, Director of Operations at SunStream USA, calls the young company “a full service renewable energy product and service provider.”

SunStream USA, one of seven companies in the J. Tortorella Group, owned by CEO John Tortorella, has made it their goal to help the environment by providing the East End with greener energy alternatives. Tortorella started SunStream USA because, as he said, “We have so many energy options, and we need to be more efficient and cleaner in our lives…it makes a lot of business sense and a huge amount of environmental sense.”

The company practices what it preaches, making their office building an example of the economic and ecological benefits of their products. The J. Tortorella Group building, located on 1764 County Road 39, Southampton, which houses SunStream USA gathers 50 percent of all its power needs from solar panels on its roof. Tymann says that these solar panels save the company tens of thousands of dollars each year.

“We can show our clients very simply how our energy bills go down every year,” said Tymann.

Tymann said all of their alternative energy products are ecologically smart and can save consumers money, but it is solar panels in particular that are the most popular. Currently solar energy and heating products makes up about 85 percent of their business.

Tymann said that what separates SunStream USA from other renewable energy companies is their involvement with the solar panels throughout the whole process. SunStream USA not only sells, installs and maintains, but makes their own SunStream USA brand solar panels. Because they make their own panels, a practice done by only a handful of companies in the country and no one else on Long Island, they are able to save their clients money, he said.

The initial cost of a solar panel system can seem steep, starting at around $18,000, but with government tax credits and LIPA rebates that cost can be slashed as much as 65 percent. Tymann said that the average consumer’s power bill increases an average of five percent every year, while a consumer with a solar panel system gets most of their energy from the sun for free.  Tymann showed how the cost of installing solar panels on your roof pays for itself in six to seven years.

“Nine out of ten calls we get are from people looking to cut the cost of electric bills,” said Mary McPartland, Energy Consultant at SunStream USA, “and this is a way to do it.”

Tymann and McPartland, believe the BP Horizon offshore oil rig gusher in the Gulf of Mexico has clarified Americas need for clean alternative energy.

“Everybody who works in this business feels a sense of tragic loss,” said McPartland about the disaster, “and people are beginning to ask, what can I do in my home to get off the oil cycle?”

“I’m not sure what the ramifications are going to be exactly, but they are going to be huge,” said Tortorella about the oil gusher. SunStream USA believes that the environmental movement is approaching critical mass, with more and more individuals moving towards alternative energy and green living.

“It’s a slow process of education,” Tymann said, “very few people know how electricity is made.” That is something that SunStream USA is trying to change. “In general when people ask me why I am involved in renewal energy I say, it just makes sense. Oil is a finite resource and our habits have to change,” he said.

With our planetary fossil fuels running out and disasters like the BP oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico, it seems like a change in our countries energy practices might come. Tymann thinks so, “I don’t think that it is a question of will it happen, but when.”