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Solar Energy: Is it right for you?

Scott Clark

Scott Clark shows solar panels on the roof of his solar- powered facility in Fletcher Business Park

Alumnus Scott Clark has made an entrepreneurial career in renewable energy. With his father, David Clark, and Wesley Dodge, he formed Appalachian Energy in 2001 and purchased the first energy asset, a hydroelectric facility in Madison County that produced enough power for 650 homes. In December 2006 with other partners, he purchased the former Steelcase facility and launched the solar energy division of the company. Since early 2007, Appalachian Solar Energy has completed 150 installations.

With an eye toward expansion last fall, Clark facilitated the acquisition of Appalachian Solar Energy by Vanir Group of Energies, a $3.5 billion international construction management company based in Sacramento, Calif. Vanir Energy, of which he is executive vice president, began this year launching a $14 million investment in solar thermal projects across the state.

Meanwhile, Clark’s Vanir facility in Fletcher Business Park is the largest solar thermal heating and cooling project in the world, according to the International Energy Agency in Paris. The former Steelcase facility has 640 solar thermal panels on the roof and a 27,000–gallon storage tank running 300 tons of cooling to the 900,000 square-foot building. It houses offices and warehouse space for Earthfare, Concept Packaging, Diamond Brand, Volvo and Borg-Warner and donates storage space to Hearts with Hands.

“We took an eyesore and made it into an asset,” Clark says. “There’s a synergy among the businesses and tenants.”

Last year Clark and his team of eight engineers, construction managers and sales representatives installed about 140 residential systems.

Is solar thermal the right investment for you?

If you plan to be in your home at least five years, and if your house is at least three bedrooms and two baths, it makes sense because you’ll recoup the initial cost within a few years as you save on energy bills, Clark says. “It’s an investment that adds value, like adding on a deck or upgrading your kitchen.”

Clark says that a $12,000 investment gives the homeowner a net cost of $5,500 after all federal and state tax credits—and homeowners save about $800 a year on energy costs. That’s roughly a five-year return on your investment.

“If you believe energy costs are going up, it’s like an insurance policy to protect against higher rates. Every dollar saved can increase the value of your home 10 times.”

How does solar thermal energy work?

Solar thermal panels, usually installed on the roof, collect solar thermal energy, which creates hot water, stored in a standard hot-water tank.

Through a small boxlike appliance that attaches to your hot-water tank, cold water comes in at 58 degrees, and because it is connected to the solar panels, heat exchanges as water fills the tank. Water goes out at about 140 degrees—generating more than enough hot water for dishes, laundry and showers, Clark says.

Solar panels last 50 years. They have aesthetic appeal (they look like skylights) and have no exposed piping, he adds.

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