Eugene may be the scene of a new wave of home solar water heating, if one local manufacturing company succeeds with its expansion plans.
Energy Wise Lighting of west Eugene is hoping to start production of a locally made low-cost solar hot water system as early as this summer.
“It wouldn’t take us long to get going,” company president Peter Greenberg said Monday.
Greenberg’s firm — with $3 million in annual sales — specializes in energy-efficient lighting fixtures for large buildings, including factories, prisons and schools.
Greenberg said the firm has installed 50,000 fixtures that save a total of 75 million kilowatt hours a year, a record that won recent recognition for the company from the Energy Trust of Oregon.
The lighting installations were spurred by tax credits and utility incentives that are meant to encourage a decrease in energy use, Greenberg said.
“Oregon is probably the best place in the country to do energy-efficient lighting. And Eugene is probably the best place in Oregon,” he said. “Many times, between the EWEB incentive and the state tax credit, it covers 100 percent of the (lighting) cost, so if you haven’t put in energy-efficient lighting in Eugene, you’re crazy.”
The incentives are helping Energy Wise Lighting weather the recession.
“Last year was the first year where it really wasn’t slow all year. It just never slowed down. Some days you kind of scratch your head but everybody has got lights and everybody wants to save,” Greenberg said.
But now Greenberg is looking to diversify his eight-person company by taking it back to the future. He started out in the early 1980s with an Albany firm that made and installed 1,600 SunFlame solar water heaters. He left the water heater business after 1986, when the federal government canceled its tax credits for solar energy.
Greenberg recently decided to revisit his old pursuit after Oregon adopted a 50 percent tax credit — for up to $40 million — for renewables manufacturing initiatives.
A recent trip to China to source a cord for his lighting systems also made an impression.
“Over there, everybody has got solar water heaters,” he said. “If the Chinese can afford this stuff why can’t we do it?”
Solar hot water systems heat the water through absorbing heat energy directly from the sun. They don’t, first, use photovoltaic cells to generate electricity — and so they’re much less costly.
Greenberg figures that he can sell his proposed solar water heating systems for about $4,000. The buyer can get $2,800 in state and federal tax credits. And the homeowner outlay will be recouped within four years through energy savings, he said.
There are some green incentives in the federal stimulus package, but Greenberg doesn’t know yet whether it will help businesses such as his. “Who knows if it will dribble down to us, but obviously energy efficiency is a big word these days,” he said.
Greenberg said he’ll meet in the next week with the Oregon Energy Department to talk about whether his proposed system will meet state specifications. A requirement for testing in a federal laboratory would mean a delay, because the labs are running an 18 month backlog.
“They could say, ‘Sure. We’ll approve whatever testing you have,” Greenberg said. “They’re thinking of having provisional approval because the waiting list is so long.”
Energy Wise’s proposed hot water tanks and their mounting systems would be manufactured by the metal fabrication companies next door, which are owned by Ronald Anderson.
Anderson’s companies already fabricate Energy Wise’s lighting systems, bus parts for a Los Angeles transit district, and corn husker machines that are sold in 28 countries around the globe.
Anderson’s businesses — A&K Development and Pacific Metal Fab — also have proved recession-resistant, said General Manager Troy Vitus.
Sales of Anderson’s corn husking equipment — invented and produced locally since the 1970s — continue to be strong, he said.
“People have to eat. Corn is one of the least-expensive items. They’re doing ethanol and everything else (with corn), so it helps our business,” Vitus said.
Anderson’s companies and Energy Wise Lighting maintain a symbiotic relationship. Energy Wise Lighting leases factory space from Anderson, and Energy Wise buys parts from Anderson’s companies.
“They are a very sharp machine shop,” Greenberg said. “We say ‘Here’s what we want’ and ‘poof’ they design it.”
Anderson plans to build a 15,000-square-foot industrial building to house Energy Wise’s new and continuing operations.
The new building, at Third Avenue and Almaden Street, is across Chambers Street from the Energy Wise’s current operation.