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Natural Awakenings Boston

New England Renewable Energy Systems: A Holistic Approach to Green Energy

Apr 02, 2012 06:36AM ● By Kim Childs

 

Ed Malloy, president of New England Renewable Energy Systems, spent years in the semiconductor business, where he worked on the design, application and marketing of computer chips. This made him familiar with silicon manufacturing and sparked his interest in silicon-based solar photovoltaic (solar PV) cells, used to create energy. As Malloy explored the state of solar and other renewable energies, he determined that they weren’t being introduced to building markets in an effective way. Last year he opened the offices of New England Renewable Energy Systems, in Weymouth and Hyannis, to offer what he calls a “holistic approach” to integrating renewable energy technologies. Natural Awakenings wanted to learn more about Malloy’s philosophy.

What do you mean by a “holistic approach” to fitting buildings with renewable energy?

Some people may aim to meet the heating and cooling or electrical needs of a building with a single renewable solution, but that’s not looking at all the variables and what’s best for that particular building or geographical site. It may also not fit the financial profile of the building owners. “Holistic” to me is saying, “Let’s look at the building itself, consider its needs and how it can be improved, and consider all energy sources integrated into a single solution that’s based on the characteristics of the building or community.”

For example, solar PV is not always the best solution for a building, or at least not until we reduce its electrical load. Geothermal may not be the ideal solution for a building until we consider better insulation to reduce the heating and cooling needs. If a home or community is located in an area where wind power is not appropriate, we’d look to implement geothermal or a combination of geothermal and solar PV. Solar thermal is another technology with the added benefit of heating water in the home. So combinations of these technologies can lead to a better solution when they’re collectively applied. The other point is that renewable technologies can complement non-renewable solutions, which reduces the dependence on fossil fuels.

So you might recommend changes to a building before any new technologies are installed?

Yes. You can modify the envelope of the building so that it’s more energy-efficient to reduce the size, and therefore cost, of the heating and cooling technology you’re implementing. While we don’t do energy audits, we sometimes recommend them to determine how the envelope can be improved before we move forward in creating a high-efficiency energy system. Changes that can improve energy-efficiency include better insulation, new windows and doors and blown-in insulation, all of which are relatively inexpensive and help to reduce heat loss. Reducing the building’s electrical load through more energy-efficient appliances and lighting is another step.

What kinds of clients are you serving?

We have large-hotel clients, private homes and commercial buildings, and we’re working with developers and contractors who plan to adopt more renewable solutions. One example is a community geothermal loop we’re helping to install in Provincetown. The project includes nine homes on a single geothermal loop. Each home will be heated and cooled from the stored energy beneath the earth’s surface. We’re also installing 26 large-scale geothermal units at Otis Air Force Base on Cape Cod.

Are more people embracing renewable energy despite the up-front costs?

The commercial industry is willing to adopt these new technologies sooner than the residential because it’s often more compelling. Renewable energy offers predictable costs that are lower and less volatile, especially geothermal. But if these investments weren’t being subsidized or incentivized by the government, there would be a much slower rate of adoption. These technologies and methods of retrofitting the buildings can be expensive, but the costs are tempered by government subsidies. As a result of these incentives, tax credits and utility rebates, the rate of return on your investment is much faster, and typically it’s within five years. In my home, we installed a combination of high-efficiency gas and solar thermal and it’s reduced our heating costs by nearly 50 percent. Not only is this saving us money, it’s improving the value of our home.

New England Renewable Energy Systems serves clients in Boston, Cape Cod, Metro West and the South Shore. For more information, call 855-637-3639 or visit NERenewable.com