Tax incentives add to alt energy allure
Increasingly, Island homeowners benefit from a combination of technological advances and federal and state tax credits for heating systems that are not dependent on fossil fuels.
A solar heating system using the latest technology - known as "evacuated tube" design - means that hot water can be at your fingertips year-round on Martha's Vineyard, according to Tim Twombly, American Independence Energy of West Tisbury. Mr. Twombly has installed three Evacuated Tube Solar Hot Water (ETSHW) collectors atop a house he shares with Diane Hartmann in West Tisbury. He uses the project as a working model for a business that promises what its name suggests - greater independence from the high cost of fossil fuels.
"I watched the craze in solar panels, and I was not excited because they did not work in the north, but the evacuated tubes do work in the north. When the evacuated tubes came along I said, 'that's it.'" Mr. Twombly, a mechanical engineer, also has a system installed on his house in Oak Bluffs.
The evacuated tubes, mounted on the roof of a home at a 20-70 degree angle, absorb 97 percent of the light generated by the sun and convert it into usable heat. Like a teapot on the stove, the thermos-bottle-type tube units transfer heat from the sun to an insulated copper pipe through which a heat transfer liquid is circulated. The heated transfer liquid moves along 80 feet of piping to the glass-lined thermal storage tank in the basement.
Depending on the water heater's volume and the season, heating water from the 50 degrees at which it leaves a well to the 120 degrees most users seek may be powered solely by the sun or a combination of traditional fossil fuel (oil or propane) and that solar energy. During the period of October through March (when sunlight is often scarce here) Ms. Hartmann has been able to reduce her dependence on propane from 1.3 gallons per day for hot water to less than half a gallon per day (relying on only two collectors). She uses solar for approximately 65.4 percent of her hot water needs.
"I love it when the propane truck comes, the driver shakes his head and leaves," says Ms. Hartmann. "This is so long overdue for us. It is so simple and creates cheap energy."
To create a residential system to serve the needs of a family of four, Mr. Twombly estimates the unit would cost $20,000 (equipment is estimated at $12,000 and labor is about $8,000). Mr. Twombly suggests that there is now room to negotiate on the cost of installation due to the downturn of the economy.
The year the equipment is installed the federal government will give a 30-percent (uncapped) tax credit. Massachusetts will also give a 15-percent (up to $1,000) tax credit. Ms. Hartmann estimates that through these tax credits she will realize a $6,000 savings, reducing the cost of converting to approximately $14,000.
There are other federal government grant and loan programs for small businesses and farms interested in converting to solar heat hot water.