There’s a lot of news about solar photovoltaic installations these days, but solar thermal is heating up, too.
SunUp Energy in southern California has a backlog of 1,000 solar panels and has already installed solar hot water systems for 8,000 housing units, CEO Rick Rothman said.
“It’s so rare the press covers solar thermal,” he said.
But his project at an Indio, Calif. apartment complex was featured in a recent Desert Sun article. It’s just one of many apartment installations he’s done.
The payback period for solar thermal is short at properties with a high demand for hot water. Rothman said low-income complexes that qualify for additional California incentives and rebates typically install systems that pay for themselves in savings within one to two-and-a-half years.
Market rate complexes pay their systems off in savings in two-and-a-half to five years, he said.
That’s faster than the average solar photovoltaic payback of five to seven years.
“We’re trying to situate ourselves for the fastest payback possible,” Rothman said.
He started in the solar hot water business in the 1970s and had a good decade of work before the rebates dried up and the work followed. From there he got into home building and opened a real estate brokerage.
“Solar thermal has always been my passion,” he said. “I’m a solar guy.”
So, when the market started to come back about four years ago, Rothman changed the name of his real estate brokerage to SunUp Energy and shifted his focus back to solar thermal. The business is a re-launch of his Solar Transitions, which petered out in the 1980s.
He manufactured 25,000 solar hot water panels and installed about half himself. He distributed the other half to other installers.
He opted to focus on commercial installations, primarily at multi-family residential buildings.
“Wherever there’s lots of daily hot water demand,” he said, “that’s where we’re focused.”
After years in homebuilding and real estate, Rothman said he wasn’t content to slap panels on rooftops. His installations are thoughtful and artistic.
“If a property owner is going to make the investment, it should add long-term value,” he said.
And that’s not just about providing free hot water for swimming pools, showers and dishwashers. It’s about making something useful and beautiful that make a property more attractive.
He’s been installing a lot of carports and shade shelters.