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Quixote's fighting mythical windmills. All this education paid off—sort of. The bird kill issue was temporarily dropped until it could be studied further. The setback was reduced to 100 percent of tower plus turbine height, but the request for all future towers and turbines in Dubuque county must still go before the county board of adjustment, where public input could very easily stop any residential wind project.

As to humor and education, years ago the same county tried to stop a big solar heating project by requiring all solar collectors to be under a roof and inside a building because "it is a boiler system" and could explode. Education is a big part of getting RE mainstreamed!

Tom Snyder • Dyersville, Iowa

Masonry Heaters

Dear Home Power, I read the article on rocket mass heaters in HP115 and noted that you mentioned that this type of unit is not commercially available and that the experimenters should take caution. I agree with this statement 100 percent. People should not take chances when their homes and lives could be put in danger by uninformed experimenters.

From the article, I noted many similarities between rocket heaters and commercially available masonry heaters. A masonry heater uses a wood charge, plenty of air, a huge amount of thermal mass, and an extended chimney structure to extract heat from a high-intensity fire. Masonry heaters are site built, but the internal components can be purchased from reputable manufacturers to create a stable heating platform. They can also be built with glass doors so that you can watch the 1,500°F fire. If HP readers want a similar product, with similar features, built by a professional, they can contact the Masonry Heaters Association ( For a manufacturer of internal components, they can contact companies like Temp Cast ( Others are available. Masonry heaters are also recognized as being incredibly efficient, just as the rocket mass heater claims to be.

Larry Tabor • Palisades, New York


The diagram presented in "Big Heat from a Small Stove," in HP115 was intended as a conceptual drawing to convey the general components and workings of a rocket mass heater stove. As such, it should not be used as a construction drawing. For step-by-step instructions, read Rocket Mass Heaters: Superefficient Woodstoves You Can Build (and Snuggle Up To) by Ianto Evans and Leslie Jackson, available for order online at

In "Biofuels: Revolution or Ruse?" (HP115) by David Max and Richard Engel, the text on page 49, first column, second paragraph, should have read: "Converting every acre of land in the United States to soybean production would replace barely half of our current gasoline and diesel fuel consumption."

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United Bicycle Institute (UBI) owner Ron Sutphin's reason for going solar was simple on the surface: "UBI supports sustainable transportation through our educational efforts in the bicycle industry. Now, we're supporting sustainable energy too." But when the rubber met the road, Ron's decision to go solar had as much to do with greenbacks as it did his with his green ethics.

Ron Sutphin, owner of United Bicycle Institute

Ron Sutphin, owner of United Bicycle Institute

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Joe Schwartz

©2006 Joe Schwartz

From Solar to Cycling

Ron took an interest in solar energy technology in the mid-1980s, and had seriously considered a career developing communities with energy efficient buildings powered by renewables. But these plans took another turn in 1986 when he was presented with the opportunity to buy the United Bicycle Institute in Ashland, Oregon, and administer its business and educational programs. So Ron sidelined his interest in renewable energy (RE) and turned his attention toward sustainable transportation, focusing on cycling education, training bike mechanics, and successfully building a small business. This past year, UBI certified more than 500 mechanics and frame builders, and currently has more graduates working in the field than any other bike mechanic school in the United States.

A few years ago, UBI's profitability put Ron in a position to invest some additional capital into his business. Their building had been renovated and upgraded for energy efficiency, student workbenches were outfitted with the latest bike tools, and the shop was well supplied with equipment.

commercial solar

UBI's solar-electric system provides 50 percent of the electricity used in the building, and the remainder is purchased from the local utility's green energy program.

UBI program administrator John Baxter, who had been a frequent participant in Ashland's annual solar home tour, suggested that they investigate the cost-effectiveness of a solar-electric system to power the Institute. That suggestion was all the motivation that Ron needed to rekindle his interest in solar energy.

Smart Business Decisions

The City of Ashland operates its own municipal electric utility, and has always been a friendly environment for grid-tied solar-electric systems. In 1996, Ashland implemented a citywide net metering policy. This voluntary action occurred three years before the rest of Oregon's investor-owned utilities were required to participate in a mandatory net metering program passed unanimously by both Oregon's House and Senate. Net metering allows both homeowners and businesses to offset monthly or annual electricity use with site-generated renewable energy, with the utility paying the participating customer the retail rate per kilowatt-hour (KWH) for RE generated.

commercial solar

Top: Installer Eric Grisen wraps up the inverter, disconnect, and wire raceway mounting. Bottom: The completed power wall—ready to go.

Ron's first call was to Larry Giardina, a conservation analyst for the City. Ashland currently offers a cash incentive of $2.25 per installed watt for grid-tied solar-electric systems, with a maximum incentive of $10,000 per site. To receive incentive money, the City requires that the proposed PV array location is unshaded between 10 AM and 2 PM. The site must also receive 75 percent of the total solar resource available when compared to a completely unshaded, south-facing array on a year-round basis. UBI's large south-facing roof has no shading, even in the winter, when the sun's path is at its lowest point in the sky—making it a perfect place for a highperformance PV system.

Ron's next call was to his accountant. Federal business tax codes allow for a five-year accelerated depreciation schedule for PV equipment. At the time, a 10 percent federal tax credit also was available for commercial PV systems. Now, business owners can take a federal tax credit equal to 30 percent of their solar equipment and installation costs for systems brought online in 2006 and 2007.

In addition to the corporate depreciation benefit and the federal tax credit, Oregon's Department of Energy

Tech Specs


System type: Batteryless, grid-tie PV Location: Ashland, Oregon

Solar resource: 4.9 average daily peak sun-hours Production: 990 AC KWH per month average Utility electricity offset: 50 percent


Modules: 48 Sharp NT-175U1, 175 W STC, 35.4 Vmp

Array: Six, eight-module series strings (two per inverter), 1,050 W STC each, 283.2 Vmp, 8,400 W STC total

Array installation: Direct Power & Water RGM mounts installed on south-facing roof, elevated 30-degree tilt angle

DC array disconnects: Three, Square D H361NRB

AC disconnects: 20 A, 2-pole breakers

Balance of System

Inverters: Three, PV Powered PVP2800-XV, 2,800 Wp, 170 to 450 VDC operating range, 500 VDC maximum, 240 VAC output

System performance metering: Built-in inverter displays; utility KWH meter provides a business energy tax credit of 35 percent taken over five years for commercial PV systems. When Ron and his accountant considered the incentive available from the city, the state and federal tax credits, and the accelerated depreciation schedule, investing in PV seemed like a no-brainer. "Our business makes enough money to pay a pretty big tax bill, and the tax credit from the state of Oregon is the same as cash back," says Ron. "It's the only way I get to vote with my tax dollar, so I decided to go for it."

Mounted on the roof, the array is completely unshaded throughout the year—optimal for solar energy production.

Mounted on the roof, the array is completely unshaded throughout the year—optimal for solar energy production.

commercial solar

UBI Batteryless Grid-Tie Photovoltaic (PV) System

Photovoltaics: Forty-eight Sharp NT-175U1, 175 W each at 35.4 Vmp, wired in six, eight-module series strings for 8,400 W total at 283.2 Vmp

DC Disconnects: Three, Square D H361NRB

Inverters: Three PV Powered PVP2800-XV, 2,800 Wp, 500 VDC maximum input, 240 VAC output

Photovoltaics: Forty-eight Sharp NT-175U1, 175 W each at 35.4 Vmp, wired in six, eight-module series strings for 8,400 W total at 283.2 Vmp

DC Disconnects: Three, Square D H361NRB

Inverters: Three PV Powered PVP2800-XV, 2,800 Wp, 500 VDC maximum input, 240 VAC output

Note: All numbers are rated, manufacturers' specifications, or nominal unless otherwise specified.

Racking and stacking the solar-electric modules.

Racking and stacking the solar-electric modules.

Sizing the System

For years, Ron had read in Home Power about RE systems designed and installed by local, long-time installer Bob-O Schultze of Electron Connection. After evaluating the solar exposure at the site and examining the structural details of the building, he and Bob-O pored over a few years of electrical bills to get a good idea of how much electricity the Institute was using, and talked about Ron's expectations for the system. The previous year, UBI had consumed close to 24,000 kilowatt-hours (KWH) of electricity. Ron decided that offsetting half of the Institute's grid-electricity use with solar was a good initial goal.

commercial solar

Small Business Solar—Step by Step

With the bevy of incentives available, like tax credits and rebates, investing in a solar-electric system for your business is a smart financial strategy. Here's how to get started.

Find a qualified local installer. While an experienced installer is essential for high-performance commercial PV system design and installation, most PV installation companies also have substantial experience in handling the logistics of applying for and maximizing a system's financial incentives. An experienced installer will likely be your primary guide through the list of financial incentives that are available to you.

Check out the Installers Directory in each issue of Home Power magazine or on the Web at:,,, and When selecting an installation company, follow the same steps you would with any other building contractor—get more than one bid for your project, and get references from past clients.

Seek out incentives. Find comprehensive and current information on federal, state, and utility rebate and tax incentives for both commercial and residential renewable energy and energy efficiency projects at the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE) Web site (

• Many states offer tax credits for business PV systems. Contact your state energy office for more information. If your company does not have enough of a tax liability to maximize state tax credits, check into pass-through options, which may allow you to partner with another business to maximize the tax incentive for your PV investment.

• New federal tax credits have been implemented for both residential and commercial solar-electric systems commissioned in 2006 and 2007, and legislative work is currently underway to extend the tax credits beyond 2007. Residential PV tax credits max out at $2,000 per system, but incentives for businesses are even more attractive—30 percent of the installed system cost with no cap.

• Even some electric utilities offer financial rebates for commercial PV system installations. Check the DSIRE Web site, or contact your local utility and state energy office for PV incentive program details. And don't forget to keep an eye out for weatherization and appliance upgrade incentives as well. It's far more cost effective to save energy than to generate it, and every dollar you spend on upgrading the energy efficiency of your business can save you roughly $3 to $5 in PV system component costs.

Make an appointment with your accountant. Your business accountant can help you determine how your company's tax status will influence taking advantage of incentives and accelerated depreciation schedules. Many states have property tax exemptions for renewable energy equipment as well. Getting your accountant involved in your project from the beginning will help greatly with your system's financial planning.

During that time, Ashland's solar incentive was $3.50 per installed watt, with a cap of $10,500. A 3-kilowatt (KW) PV system would max out the rebate. With UBI's annual electricity usage in mind, Bob-O ran some preliminary numbers and it became apparent that a 3 KW system would generate approximately 350 AC KWH per month at the site, falling far short of Ron's goal of offsetting 50 percent of UBI's annual electricity use.

"When I looked at the numbers, 3 KW wasn't going to make a big enough dent in our electrical usage. So I was like, OK, what's it going to take to get this over 50 percent?" says Ron. After running some more numbers, it became clear that if Ron wanted to hit the 50 percent mark, an 8 KW PV array would need to be installed, and that any PV installed over 3 KW would not receive an incentive from the city.

"It made me swallow kind of hard at first because it was a huge outlay of cash," says Ron, who has a reputation around town as being a pragmatic guy who doesn't do something unless it makes sound economic sense. As he gathered more financial details on the proposed system, the benefits—both ecological and economic—made it an easy decision to move forward with the system. At the time of writing, UBI's PV system has produced more than 20,000 AC KWH and has offset 40,160 pounds of carbon dioxide, a notorious contributor to global warming.

Solar Savings

Electron Connection's final system design specified a 48-module, 8.4 KW solar-electric array feeding three PV Powered 2,800-watt inverters. The inverters were chosen in part because they are manufactured in Oregon, and their selection helps support RE equipment manufacturing in the state. The installation was straightforward for Bob-O and apprentice Eric Grisen. Direct Power & Water mounts were set at a tilt angle of 30 degrees to maximize summer energy harvest. Because Ashland has very infrequent utility interruptions, a batteryless system with no provision for backup was installed. Batteryless PV systems require no ongoing maintenance, which was a plus for the busy UBI staff.

UBI's PV system came online on April 29, 2005, and has been offsetting 50 percent of the Institute's annual electrical use—just what Ron had expected. During the summer months, electric bills have been as low as $28, down from $200 to $250 a month before the system was installed.

"If you have a business and you're at all profitable—and you own the building—investing in PV makes good financial sense," says Ron. "The only way it couldn't be an absolute winner is if I wasn't operating profitably, and in that case what would I be doing investing in something like PV anyway?"

Besides supplying their building with clean, renewable energy, another benefit for Ron and his business is the positive PR the system generates. "There's a bike component manufacturer down in Redding, California, I called with a bike tech question. Halfway through the conversation he interrupted and said, 'You guys just did that solar thing up there, didn't ya? I'm thinking of doing the same thing too.'"

commercial solar

PV System Payback Analysis

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