Solar Products for Consumers

Recently, several thousand people from around the country and abroad focused on the merits of solar and other renewable energy resources at the 2007 Solar Conference in Cleveland. Over 150 companies from as far away as China and as close as Ohio showed off their products. The Allegheny Front's Lisa Ann Pinkerton perused the exhibits at the Solar Conference and brings us this report.

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Recently, several thousand people from around the country and abroad focused on the merits of solar and other renewable energy resources at the 2007 Solar Conference in Cleveland. Over 150 companies from as far away as China and as close as Ohio showed off their products. The Allegheny Front's Lisa Ann Pinkerton perused the exhibits at the Solar Conference and brings us this report.

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For Lenny Zemon of Atwater Ohio, there's no better birthday present than a convention on renewable energy. So on the day he turned 43, his wife Terry Benko and their four year old son are treating him to this year's conference, held by the American Solar Energy Society in Cleveland Ohio. They're planning an addition to their house and they want to built it Green. Benko says their house came with geothermal heating, but she wants to go farther.

BENKO: This is exactly what were looking for. We want to do part of our dream, which is to make the home a little bit more sustainable and maybe get more off the grid.

Benko thinks if her family can successfully become more sustainable, it might rub off on their neighbors. They're interested in solar panels or a small wind turbine... and there's no better place to start than the conference's exhibit hall.

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Here the majority of exhibits market photo voltaic arrays, or solar panel systems. At one booth, Al Frasz designs electrical systems for solar and wind, along with solartubes, which funnel natural sunlight into homes from the roof through a tube and series of mirrors. FRasz says his company, Dovetail Solar and Wind, grew 135 percent last year and he expects that to continue in the coming years.

FRASZ: We're projecting over 100 percent growth just this year. We're expecting probably over the next five years at least 300 percent.

Frasz says as more people are realizing most of the country gets about the same amount of peak sun hours and its increasing businesses like his. Pennsylvania, he says gets anywhere from 4.2. peak sun hours a day in Erie and Pittsburgh to as high as 4.6 in Philadelphia. Frasz says that's not much more than so called SUNNY states.

FRASZ: Arizona gets 5.5, they get more...but it's not way off. San Diego gets 4.9, Florida 4 and a half, a little bit more than us but not that much more.

Most solar panel systems run upwards of 25 thousand dollars installed. If consumers aren't ready to make that kind of investment, they can visit Ohio inventor, Doug Simmers. Surrounded by large silver disks he's pretty easy to spot. He says for $200 dollars, people can discover the power of solar energy by using the disks to concentrate rays of sun light...

SIMMERS: From 4 feet diameter down to about 6 inches diameter and over 1000 degrees farenheit. So you can bake bread, cook roasts, pretty much anything you want with it.

Down the aisle from Simmers, is Don Sandler of Innergy Power. For around the same price as the solar cookers, visitors can purchase portable solar panels for remote or emergency situations.

SANDLER: We've come up with a series of products such as a notebook binder that has a solar panel built into it that in an emergency when there's not power, when cell phones are dieing radios, are dieing you open it up, plug them in and it recharges them.

Consumers looking for something sustainable for their home without the huge price tag of a photo voltaic array can find it in a solar boiler. Scott Desilva of Detroit sells systems that use solar panels and pipes to heat household water. Hot water may not seem like a large expense Desilva says, but this system can provide 30 years of free hotwater.

DESILVA: Out of pocket its running about $5000 for the family. A typical family of four would use about maybe about $1200 in hot water for the year. That's just a guess-tamit. So the system pays itself off in about 4 to 6 years.

A pool heater Desliva's company, Mechanical Energy Systems sells, costs about the same. However, he says pays for itself one year quicker. It consists of around 10 solar panels and system of black tubing about the size of a briefcase.

DESILVA: The water runs across the small tubes, across the panel to the top, and then comes back down to the pool. There's no pump even involved, we just use the filter pump that's already installed on the pool.

Whether these any of new products using renewable energy technology will take off on a scale large enough to rival the traditional market leaders remains to be seen. But it's clear that to these environmentally connected consumers, they represent the path to a much cleaner, greener future.

For the Allegheny Front, I'm Lisa Ann Pinkerton