Tag Archives: solar thermal

Fact: Solar panels work with light, not heat so it doesn’t matter how cold it gets outside.

Solar panels don’t work well in cold climates. Solar Myth #11 – Busted

Fact: Solar panels work with light, not heat so it doesn’t matter how cold it gets outside.

Fact: Solar panels work with light, not heat so it doesn’t matter how cold it gets outside.

Solar Myth # 11 Myth: Solar panels don’t work well in cold climates.

Fact: Solar panels work with light, not heat so it doesn’t matter how cold it gets outside. In fact, solar panels perform better in cooler temperatures than very hot temperatures.  Solar panels are built to withstand varying temperatures, and they can produce electricity from indirect light.

Solar Guru times Two!

SBS is proud to announce that we now have two NABCEP certified installers in the house.  NABCEP is the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners.

Greg Guscio, our solar thermal expert, has just passed the NABCEP test. This means that both Dan Brandborg and Greg are NABCEP certified.

Congrats, Greg!

Renewable White House: Solar in DC!

In a post by the Council on Environmental Quality on the White House website, it was announced today that the President “plans to install solar panels and a solar hot water heater on the roof of the White House Residence, a project that demonstrates American solar technologies are available, reliable, and ready for installation in homes throughout the country.”

Please take a moment to read the entire post here.

Passive House News

This is a great article from the NY Times Energy and Environment blog about Passive House trending, standards, technology and more. One of our Energy Technicians, Zandy Sievers, recently finished the Passive House training this summer with Katrin Klingenberg, the director of the Passive House Institute-U.S. based in Urbana, Ill.

The story concedes that while the upfront costs can be 15-50% higher, the lifetime energy consumption is roughly 80% less than a normal home.  Even this Vermont home will need no furnace, with heat generation coming from radiant floor heat and a small wood stove.  Their hot water will be heater with solar thermal tubes.

Read the entire story here and check out the video below.

Green Blocks, Phase II

WOW – 120 solar site assessments!

That right, out of the 300 participants in the City of Missoula’s Green Blocks Program we were chosen by 120 participants to do solar site assessments.  This is great news.  I had hoped we’d be a popular Side Order, but this blew our minds.  In fact, we are even getting a second intern from the UM-COT energy program to help with the work load!

Over the next 6-week our interns will be going block by block through the 120 sites to do a basic assessment with our Solar Pathfinder.  We will contact folks a week in advance so they know their block is up next.  Then we’ll do a quick visual assessment and/or a Pathfinder assessment in each yard.

Each participant will be told if they are a good, fair or poor site, why, and what options are available to them according to their results (i.e. PV, Thermal or other renewables like ground source heat pumps).  We will also provide info on available grants, tax credits, rebates and financing for their Solar and Renewable options.

SBS is very excited to be working with the City of Missoula, Northwestern Energy, the COT’s Energy degree program and all of the other Green Blocks Side Orders.  This really is a model public-private project to be duplicated.

SBS Teams up with “Cool Green Home”

The Montana Radio Company and Sustainable Building System’s have teamed up to bring Cool Green Home to Missoula, where over $135,000 in home renovations will be given to a few lucky Missoula homeowners.

The project was started with a simple idea, take an existing Missoula home and create a “showcase” for energy-efficient and sustainable products offered by local businesses.  It has gained so much attraction that 24 area businesses have partnered with us on this unprecedented project, and each will contribute in their area of expertise.

Our goal is to show our community that sustainable and green homes are not only good for our planet but good for our bank accounts, and with planning, big improvements can be made with modest steps.  We intend on setting an example as to what a sustainable green home could look like.  We don’t intend on building one from ground level but getting an existing home started on the path to green. We will start the home remodel by completing an energy audit of the home to identify the best places to improve the energy efficiency.  For the next year we will continue to monitor the Cool Green Home and track how much money the family saved in energy costs and how their lives improved.

We received over 180 applications from Missoula-area homeowners and paired them down to a set of 10.  From here the winners were chosen.  Congratulations to our winning homes:

  • Elke Govertsen & Paul Donaldson
  • Jana & Chuck Doyle
  • Ross & Norma Nickerson
  • James Dodge & Jenny Daniel
  • Paula Raines & Michael Hoffer

Keep checking here and at www.CoolGreenHomeMissoula.com for updates and information on the progression at these five homes.  And if you entered and were not a winner, do not fret, there are great tips and DIY projects associated with this year’s projects and we’re already looking to 2011 for another round.

Official Solar Day – June 19

Did you know that June 19th is officially Solar Day?

There are already events scheduled for 40-cities across the country, although it was only started in 2009.

What can we do to get something going in Missoula?


Molly Bradford
SBS Marketing Director

Simple Payback Not Simple

I was emailing recently with Bradley E. Layton  Ph.D., Associate Professor in Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics at Drexel University, after reading his article A COMPARISON OF ENERGY DENSITIES OF PREVALENT ENERGY SOURCES IN UNITS OF JOULES PER CUBIC METER.  We had been bantering back and forth on the concept of simple pay back.  Sometimes if feels like there is really no such thing as simple payback, as we’re not comparing apples to apples.  The goal of his paper is “to provide a new perspective on how to compare energy sources on a more fundamental basis. Finally, the article provides a method of estimating the dollars-per joule for natural resources versus human resources and concludes with commentary on how political decisions may be affected by energy densities and energy costs.”

In the banter relating to the energy analysis SBS gives to a customer after an audit, Layton replied to me:

Dang dude, that’s a lot for one house. Do you give them a “break even” point? I would hate to have to go out and buy an new toilet if I was broke, if I knew it would only save me money on my water bill after I was dead.

Touche!  And right back to simple payback (and his toilet example above).  I agree on the simple payback on a toilet.  I think most folks would.  But we know the value of water and how simple it is to conserve, so we just buy the better toilet without the simple payback analysis.  So how do we get to apples on energy?  Hence, Layton’s article (and my response to his email above.)

Yes, we usually do include pay-back information.

But due to the size of this project and the client’s desires we didn’t feel like we needed to with them.

We’ve also developed some bigger picture financial payback info that looks beyond “simple pay-back” which is typically not a strong selling point of these technologies.

I had a chance to read your article more carefully. Very cool and something we struggle with all the time. (i.e… comparing energy savings between gasoline usage, propane usage, natural gas usage and electricity usage for our customers, each of them using a different measure.)

From a broader picture- here is something to consider: (just very rough notes)

From your article it is so very clear that oil and it’s derivatives are a massively compact and powerful source of energy. As we are forced to transition away from these fuels and from “the age of oil” is there anything on the radar screen technology-wise that offers similar amounts of energy in such a small package with the same mobility? Right now obviously the answer is NO, but can we expect to replace this incredible gift of energy that we have enjoyed for the last 200 years?

From an economic perspective, it is certain that the growth we have experienced in the last 200 years is absolutely tied to the amount of inexpensive energy we have had access to through these liquid fuels. To continue to grow and prosper as a species we must be able to continue to feed at the trough of an INCREASING energy source in a world that shows an ever DECREASING ability to provide this through traditional discovered forms of energy. Is it scientifically realistic to replace the amount of energy consumed currently, and to indeed, increase that level of energy consumption in order to continue to grow? Or are we doomed to run out of energy and see a decrease in growth of the species?

How much of a part does efficiency play in this equation? It seems that we can safely assume that there is generally speaking a 15-20% savings in energy to be had through efficiency measures. World wide we continue to waste large amounts of liquid fuels due to the fact that for so many years the supply was huge and the price was low.  If 15-20% is a safe number for “free, inexpensive efficiency measures that wouldn’t get in the way of growth” than how does that play in the macro environment of overall energy consumed and remaining supply.

STUDY IDEA NUMBER ONE- I suspect, that if one were to look at the overall total of available energy through liquid fuels remaining on the planet, as compared to the growing desire to utilize this energy by the earth’s human population, that we would see a near tragic confluence of graph lines coming in the near future. (20-50 years? or sooner?) Then, if one were to graph in the savings made possible through efficiency and the resulting decreased demand, would things look different? (I hypothesize, not really) Then, if one were to graph in the possible energy savings from current renewable technologies employed on a big scale what would the graph look like then?  Probably quite different, but I’m still not convinced that it can transition us from this oil boom train we have been on for so long, to another train of equal speed and size!

STUDY IDEA NUMBER TWO- Does this mean that we must invent new energy technologies to replace oil and it’s derivatives to sustain our growth as a species? Do we even want to try, given the population of the planet? If we don’t find a replacement at equal price and mobility, should we be working on designing a “soft landing” where the planet’s population will shrink slowly and without major unrest? What does that do our current economic models where shrinkage and non-growth are equated with death?  Can you design a society that is peaceful, sustainable, and healthy in an environment of economic shrinkage?

I’d love to see the first question addressed (simple analysis of the world’s supply of available energy as compared to the world’s appetite for the stuff.) Then so many other questions would come to light.

I’m sure someone is working on this already, if you see something will you pass it along?

Jeff Crouch, President
Sustainable Building Systems, LLC

Maui Part II – Ready to Install

After five weeks of designing, ordering and coordinating over sea shipments, we are about to depart for the final installation phase of our Maui PV system.  As things move a bit slower in this part of the world we have needed every day to bring the pieces and people together to be at this point.

Several hundred feet of buried conduit are being set this week in advance of the final week push of installation.  A new concrete pad has been poured for the 500 gallon propane tank which will fuel the backup generator.  Project objectives have grown which is typical yet always different.  As we found a place for this tank it was decided to pull the old above ground diesel tanks which died long ago.  It is amazing to see what this rainforest climate can do to steel.  The top portion of the tanks have literally rotted away.  Don’t stand in one place to long or a vine will start growing up your leg.

We will be installing 27 Sharp 235 watt modules, three of which will operate the swimming pool circulation and filtering pump directly.  An Outback power panel including 4 outback inverter/ chargers will be placed in the equipment room along with 24 -2 volt cells to give us a large battery storage system.

Check out the video clips of our initial inspection.


Not a bad place to have to work as long as the vines don’t get ya!

Dan Brandborg
Photovoltaic Energy Specialist
NABCEP Certified